Seeds of a new food and land revolution in the shell of the old
Does anyone else feel as though we are in a new and distinct moment for the environmental movements and social change? Is the ‘Overton window’ for change already shifting, if we only listen and respond to it rather than passively praying for it? The Overton window shifts when change that previously seemed near impossible becomes plausible, and begins to be acceptable. Such collective moments for example when the world rises up and says no to violence and demands a ceasefire, or when mainstream politicians declare climate emergencies and debate who will plant the most trees (albeit in a watered down stylised fashion!). Perhaps if we begin to accept that the Overton window is continually shifting and we all co-create this, then the global threads that bind us will actually begin to respond to this life dynamic and we will enter the dance of regeneration collectively. If we are indeed in a ‘new climate moment’ then what does the emergent future call us into? My sense is that this unique phase of action requires us to step into collaborative and active regeneration of life, to lead by example, realness, vulnerability, integrity and gritty determination to give back to the gifts of earth that we so often take for granted. There are many prophecies of this time from indigenous cultures across continents, pertaining to this crossroads of humanity when mother earth offers us an ultimatum, a life-defining choice, after so much patient love to her adolescent species – do we want to co-operate with life and take the rite of passage into a mature symbiotic species? Or do we continue with business as usual, ploughing on with a failed experiment that leaves little left for our grandchildren to salvage from the ruins.
We have had decades of reformism in a watered-down green movement, interspersed with waves of more direct action and protest, such as in the whirlwinds of climate action from 2018. These ‘whirlwind moments’ (Engler 2016) are necessary points of challenge and inflection, and the radical edges of them serve to catalyse some of these issues and debates into mainstream awareness, speak truth to power, and halt or slow some of the destruction. We have achieved these things to an extent, and the awareness shifts in environmental issues has sky-rocketed in many ripples through society. We won’t make further transformative change through more awareness alone, more of the same, be it reformism or oppositional protest. For sure we need these things to keep happening, but we also need the essential Yes’s with the No’s (Klein 2018), we need to begin actually building the more beautiful and regenerative tomorrow, actively creating the solutions at our feet, with our hands, in our places, today. This is the heart of prefiguration, and must be central to our actions in the day to day moments and the larger life callings. Its too late to ‘hope’ that government will act or the unjust and consumptive economic system will suddenly shift from above, we need to take each into our own hands and feet – into local living economies, communities of conviviality and resistance and regenerative activism in transforming every sector of society.
It sounds big, and yet so is every meaningful leap in human history, and in every individual life. Mother Theresa famously said; “there are no great acts, only small acts with great love.” We need to not worry ourselves with the enormity of the challenge or the unpredictable outcomes and specific pathways there, we need to step more into our bodies in the now and act from love. This takes daily practice, cultivation and the growing of convivial communities more connected to land. We need to just take some first steps on this long arc, and it may be that the grander picture is realised beyond our lifetimes, and indeed has already begun – and we are born here, now, for a reason. So often the fears, overwhelm and insecurities in our movements are the very reason they are not long term or transformative (personally or collectively), and hence become complicit in the co-creation of the very reality that was so feared. Fear is like this, it perpetuates itself by its attraction to more fear creating a loop of self-fulfilling prophecy. Fear is a less durable fuel than love. And once we step back into love for life returning, the renewable fuel, drive and life-force is truly unstoppable. I feel this every day, even if sometimes quietly shining through a dark cloud or passing storm. Like nature, the more it is observed and thanked the more magical it becomes in our lives and drives. And with every action my hope feels fuelled – this hope and action cycle is reciprocal, mirroring our relationship between inner and outer regeneration. We embark on this journey not relying on some sort of self-motivation from a social media reel, but driven by the day to day collective liberation, life force and active hope that goes far beyond the self. This is both the therapy and the medicine of our times, to enter active regeneration, together. It’s a truly beautiful time to be alive, not in the cosmetic, perfect, light sense but in the dark, earthy, complex sense of beauty.
It might feel like a leap, to embark upon a regenerative journey individually, let alone become part of a wider regenerative movement, and yet we must do both simultaneously, and urgently. We must also be patient in the urgency so that solutions are not from the same mindsets as the past mistakes. And most of all we must dance with the unknown, and act regardless of probabilities or rationalities of expectation or outcome– this is what the unconditional part of love pertains. There are seeds of renewal and hope lying in the fertile edge of today’s collapsing world. We are living the great unravelling/degeneration, whilst also living the great turning/regeneration. Ecosystem collapse, climate crises, social disharmony, disconnection, mental health epidemic and many more interwoven ‘poly-crises’ are all very real and converging for a ‘perfect storm,’ one that we have felt early ripples of in recent years of global pandemics, climate shocks, food crises and resource conflicts. These build ups are all tensions on the fragile wire of a complex but vulnerable system of our own making, a system of extraction, short-termism, and degeneration. But from the fractures and fragments there are cracks of light emerging and illuminating a way out. The healing is so often in the wound, and it is from those that have suffered so much under the current system that the powerful transformations are coming about, even though these people have the least responsibility for solutions. It is the women, young people, landworkers, global ‘south’, working class, people of colour, and all our intersectional diversities that are leading the budding movement of regeneration and active hope. We are taking charge and taking custodianship of spaceship earth once more, to steer it away from collapse and towards renewal, without certainty of the outcome but a faith in life force, an activated hope and remembered joy in the process of becoming.
The main crisis we are struggling from, beneath all of these physical manifestations in ecology, society and conflicts, is a deeper crisis of our lost identity as humans, as a species that separated themselves from the natural world and began to live without reciprocity, and thus without meaning, without soul. The identity crisis is deep, historic, and largely unexamined, because addressing it is to acknowledge that we have been parasitic to our home, our mother. And yet it is only when we face this wound that the possibility for healing is invited in, and we can begin to weave new stories, reclaim our identities of people of place and humans as regenerators. This story isn’t over, we’ve had a dark chapter, and we are emerging/awakening out into a beautiful tomorrow, if we can keep hope alive and relearn what it means to live in gratitude, reciprocity, and joyful kinship once again. It’s a long road, and we can start, imperfectly, as the ancestors of tomorrow who gave our descendants a fighting chance for renewal, just as others have done for us.
The hope that emerges from the cracks in the dark will continue to take many forms, and the works needs to happen in all places, transforming all sectors of inner and outer life and society. If this work is fragmented and born from a paradigm of separation or individualism, it will not be a true solution but repeat the mistakes of yesterday that led us here. Heroic tech solutions, individual battles, dogmas, ‘corporate social responsibility’ and greenwashing are all forms of ‘business as usual’ masquerading as solutions, as are many of the individual actions such as recycling more or using a bamboo straw. For sure, some of these things might make a difference to an extent, and be useful, or at least make the destruction a little slower, but they will not deliver the transformative changes needed unless our actions are united, our hearts and minds as one. And it is important that this oneness is not sameness, as Christie Mitchell (2018) communicates in ‘Sacred Instructions.’ Oneness can be moving forwards in the era of regeneration in all our diversity, all playing out our unique gifts and roles in this great turning, not uniformly but in a beautiful collective dance of our creation songs, an expression of what we are here on earth alive to do.
This is what a regenerative movement looks like: collective flourishing. With each of us that wakes up to the beautiful intersection of our gifts, purpose and passions, this sends ripples outwards and inwards and begins a momentum, which becomes a community, which becomes part of a movement. It is important that a regenerative movement does not become limited, or watered down, as too often the movements of environmentalism and sustainability have been – co-opted by the same powers and mindsets that they aimed to overcome. This is a core purpose of the regenerative movement - to re-establish a holistic, rooted and true regenerative movement and counter the ‘greenwashed regenerative’, or ‘shallow regenerative’ as Soloviev (2016) distinguishes so well in his levels of regeneration. For the movement to be integral it must also realise and centre its deep roots in history, indigeneity and ancient earth cultures (Carlisle 2022). Belonging to place and regenerating place can meet beautifully when we remember the original custodians of these lands, and learn humbly from their teachings. With very few surface threads remaining of these lineage, at least in my lands, it is ever more important to look beneath the surface, learn from the land, find and honour our elders and accept our non-knowing. It also necessitates an emergent redefining of our relationship to place in this era, this context, and finding our own ways to some extent. With guidance from the lands memory and our embodied membranes we can re spark the intuitive wisdom traditions, earth cultures, rites of passage, songs and regenerative practices of yesterday. New seeds in an old pod.
The new seeds in the shell of the old reflects our wider systemic action. There is a new food and land movement emerging, as business as usual land practice reaches crisis point in so many ways, its outer shell crumbles. The degraded soil cracks dry meanwhile the floods wash away the nutrients on the other side of the globe, a billion go hungry whilst a billion overeat factory food. ‘50 years of harvest left’ sing the few remaining curlews and crickets, and more animals (human and non) are raised in factories than in nature. So a new food and land movement must emerge, and is emerging. But this movement for regeneration becomes factionalised and weakened by the polarising likes of Monbiots, Dysons and twitter warriors of the world. Not realising that we’re all in it together in a triad of our complicity, unknowing and simultaneous becoming. A truly regenerative food and land movement is a move away from reductionism and towards holism, an embracing of life’s gift and a commitment to give back. This land movement starts very simply from place, from where we are and the food we eat every day. There are complex systems built around this, systems of destruction that we must oppose and withdraw our complicity in as much as possible, whilst also building the new systems. Building community supported agriculture, local living economies, bioregional land trusts, river guardian groups, Schools for regeneration, land hubs, convivial communities and so much more.
The old adage by Buck Fuller is more relevant to society and food systems as it ever has been: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Buckminster Fuller
Can we all get behind a regenerative movement, and co-create what this means in our places? Beginning from a bioregion, we can rebuild the systems and return to our role as custodians of land, keepers of water, regenerators of place.
Footnote: I am collaborating on a new book called 'A Regenerative Movement'. Reaching out to farmers, authors and activists from across the diverse fields of the regenerative umbrella, I aim to help bring together the threads of movement that is required of this unique time. With chapters on regenerative culture, social change, food systems, land trusts, bioregions and more, this work weaves the Head, Heart and Hands of cultural transformation. You can pre order your copy by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for now until we set it up the pages for it! And/or contact us for ideas or support for it!
We are also running a Regenerators course and day workshops on similar themes: https://www.middlegroundgrowers.com/copy-2-of-training-workshops-1
Carlisle, L., 2022. Healing grounds: climate, justice, and the deep roots of regenerative farming. Island Press.
Engler, M. and Engler, P., 2016. This is an uprising: How nonviolent revolt is shaping the twenty-first century. Bold Type Books.
Mitchell, S., 2018. Sacred instructions: Indigenous wisdom for living spirit-based change. North Atlantic Books.
Soloviev, E.R. and Landua, G., 2016. Levels of regenerative agriculture. Driggs, ID: Terra Genesis International.