A Country Estate’s Adventures in Permaculture

If Stonehenge is the heart chakra of the Earth, and the Midlands the UK’s logistical crossroads, then Stanford Hall is a likely spot to take a collective journey from head to heart. The river Avon passes right through this estate on its journey to Stonehenge.

   

This is an estate of many things: of pioneering men, of aviation, of hydroelectricity and thinking, thinking, thinking. So close to the historic site of the enclosure riots, where our ancestors fought for our right to common land, and lost. So entrenched in the history of bloodshed; blood that was spilled so that the land could be taken from the privileged and divided amongst just a few more privileged men. The birth place of what went wrong may well be the place where agriculture began, but here is the historical epicentre of disenchantment for the common man. So what about the dawning of the age of the heart!?

It’s here, amongst the mandala of ancient oak avenues. It’s here, within the ring of whirling wind turbines. It’s here, flying the flag of permaculture; of Earth care, people care and fair share.

    

There has been a lot of talk of the community supported agriculture – and yes, it’s a big deal! Feeding our next generation with nutrient dense, biodynamic vegetables is worth shouting about. Giving our school children the opportunity to join in with their food production, and to learn about sustainable agriculture is a ground-breaking way of supplying the school canteen. But what of the rest of the estate. There’s 1000 acres of it out there.

    

Having spoken through the brimming possibilities with Nick and Lucy – the current custodians of the estate – it’s easy to see that their recent immersion in a permaculture design course has sent them home full of ambition, direction and the bolstered sense of responsibility that newfound knowledge imbues.

      

Being a site of special scientific interest brings restrictions, but for species as rare as those found here, the added level of care seems little bother. With the guidance of Natural England and that of the principles of permaculture, it is clear that the whole estate can offer sustainable output without compromising any living being.

The estate already boasts some of the most sustainable solutions, with Captain Compost gathering the festival food waste before hot composting it to feed next years festival goers. The educational gardens, with their huglekultur, no dig heirloom vegetable trial beds and accelerated composting systems. The vital work of LifeBEAT, introducing inner city youth to the ways of the land and to their inner selves. The pioneering water powered electrical generator that’s being developed right here on the estate. All of this going on and you can be sure it’s well protected for its wildlife inhabitants too.

    

On a recent walk through the woodlands Nick spoke of charcoal production, coppicing, tiny homes, agroforestry, habitat improvement, and new spaces for leisure. They’re pipe dreams, but having seen what’s already been achieved we know the pipe flows strong. You can’t help but get the feeling that with the right people passing through there’s a whole lot more the estate is destined to become.

    

Ultimately it’s our connection to the land that determines our sanity and wellbeing. We are born of this soil; I don’t mean that in some biblical sense, or some historical sense. I mean that right now, in present time, the very fabric of your body is evolved up through the life forms of the soil. As is so in physicality, the same goes energetically and emotionally. Biodynamics is the invitation to heal soil, body and soul. We may try to distance ourselves from the obvious but unfathomably complex truth of our creation, yet we and the soil are inseparable. When we feel lost and far from home, it is this truth of the soil that we long for, it is this journey that an invitation back to the land offers.

Here, that offering is clear. The facilities are built; a chain of yurts strung like pearls along the river’s edge. The curvy compost loos with views, and hot showers for all. There’s the Stables cafe and a dining room fit to feed an army. The estate even boasts a caravan site with power, water and a shop full of supplies. Here the journey may begin for all who wish to take it.

    

A snowflake has been ambling down the slope here for some years. Now I hear the creaking pressure of a sizeable snowball. And as it rolls, it picks up another curious soul. A man at a crossroads, a student looking for a better way, a women with a kindling idea, a guy left disenchanted and looking for connection. I hope to see them all passing through, leaving their mark, with a 1000 acres of sanity in their hearts.

 

Find out more at www.StanfordHallCSA.co.uk

 

 

Please Brexit Through the Gift Shop…

With Brexit looming a few of us are starting to ask the question “What does it all mean anyway!?”. As an agronomist the question for me is “Where’s my dinner coming from, and at what cost to the Earth and my bank balance?”. 2016’s veggie price hikes give a little clue to what happens when Europe stops sending lettuce our way. With there only being a shade over 0.2 acres of British arable land per capita, the answer doesn’t seem to be in growing it here. Currently the British diet costs between 15 and 16 acres per capita, so we’re very short indeed.

Maybe it was misguided information, maybe it was no information at all or maybe it was for reasons outside of my capacity for understanding, but most British farmers voted for us to leave Europe. The consequences of that decision effect every one of us at least 3 times a day. We import twice as much food from Europe as we export to it, and until now that was without restriction or extra taxation. In fact it was a market lubricated with very favourable subsidisation for the British farmer. Labour at harvest time too, was hugely supported by European workers. “They took our jobs”  and thank goodness they did, as it appears that the British didn’t want to pick their own, or pay another pricey Brit worker to do it for them. Bankruptcy now looms for many British fruit producers, which brings us back to the question, how will we feed ourselves?

It is possible to feed a man on 1/3rd of an acre. It involves a vegan diet, biodynamic soil, close attention to the land from loving hands and a certain amount of appeasement of the gods. Even with those fates and figures… even if everyone in the U.K transformed into a barefooted, poncho clad, vegan over night there’s still not enough arable land to feed us. It looks like the super rich are going to need that wealth they’ve been hoarding after all, as someone’s going to be eating the super pricey imports.

But I jest. Let’s not get all doom and gloom about it. I’m sure we’ll still get to eat a little of that roast beef that we’re so named and famed for across the channel. There are enough neatly trimmed lawns, pony paddocks and golf courses to make up a huge chunk of the shortfall. With some extra care via community supported agriculture, community gardens and home grown vegetables this could be our opportunity to have a much needed lifestyle boost. The answer IS there, right outside our own back doors. Maybe now is the time to make lemonade, to Brexit through the gift shop, to pull together and plant our own little patch of Eden.

 

 

This Summer we are handing out 5000 Seeds of Eden Restoration Packs at festivals such as Give, One Tribe, Tribe of Doris and Positive Vibrations. Let us know if you would like to help us by handing out Packs.

Here are some clues as to what is in the pack

War and Peace

The history of man is littered with conflict. More often than not that has been down to the desire for a certain type of plant, or for a commodity that plants can provide. A part of your seed blend includes many of those species. Once you have the seed, you have abundance, now we can share it.

Plants for a Sustainable Future

There are plants that could bring down the plastic, petrol and poison peddling corporations of the World. For some reason the corporations aren’t shouting about them. Such alternatives are trickling into the market, but if we want to change anything we must all start using them. You’ll see some of these plants popping their heads up in your seed bed too.

The Birds and the Bees

We all know that the birds and the bees need a helping hand right now. Most of us also know that if the bees die out we die out very shortly after. This wildflower entry into the mix also brings a whole lot of beauty!

Famine and Feast

“Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread” 

 Ezekiel Around 540BCE

So who is this Ezekiel fellow!? He’s the the main man in the Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible. In Judaism, Christianity and Islamic Faith, Ezekiel is acknowledged as a prophet. What he was trying to tell the World is that wheat – the staff of bread – is going to start failing us, and unless we diversify our diet we’re all going to starve and die.  Not wanting to give us a load of problems without any solutions he also left us with a handy recipe for a very nutritious seedy loaf.

Well guess what!? His prophecy just happens to be bang on. We’ve depleted our soils to the point that most of our wheat is not high enough in protein for human consumption, and now goes into animal feed. The wheat we do eat has been inbred and genetically modified to the point that millions of humans can’t digest it, and as if that wasn’t enough, we’ve covered a 3rd of the World’s land mass in a handful of such species, resulting in the mass extinction of both animal and plant species worldwide. Ezekiel’s little recipe doesn’t sound like such a bad idea now, so yup, they’re in the mix. Spread genetic diversity far and wide!

Coming Back to Life

In the beginning Earth had no organic matter for plants to grow in. With the past 20,000 years of ploughing, soil erosion is rapidly sending it back into that condition. So you might ask, how did plants ever get started? There are certain species that we call pioneers, they don’t need much organic matter to get going and gather nutrients in different ways. These plants are still around, and move in when soils are disturbed by landslides, fallen trees, human activity etc. These are the species that can take dead soil and bring it to life. We desperately need to regenerate our soils, so you’ll find some of those in the mix too.

 

How to Sow Your Seeds

Sow from March to May for best results.

Find a sunny patch of ground that measures approximately 4 square meters. If you don’t have your own spot to plant them in, take them out and about and do a little guerrilla gardening. Unmaintained spots that couldn’t be much worse are ideal for low input growing.

Remove any large weeds that might restrict light, this will also open up the surface of the soil for sowing. Sprinkle your seeds on the ground and throw over a little earth. Do a ceremonial shuffle up and down the bed and tread them gently into the surface. If its dry water them in.

Be sure to pop back every so often to see how they’re doing. Give them a little water if they’re desperate, and weed out anything that’s taking over too much. Be careful what you remove, and research any plants you don’t know. Don’t forget, you can always post questions and pictures on our facebook page.

Exciting opportunity to start a Community Supported Agriculture Scheme at a beautiful estate in Leicestershire. We are starting from scratch on a 7 acre field and we need all the help we can get.  You can apply to stay here via WWOOF.org or contact us directly if you are interested!

 

https://www.wwoof.org.uk/news/where-will-you-wwoof-2018