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Ecological Farming as crisis response

I am 23 years old. I have been born into a time of seemingly perpetual crises. I was active in the youth climate strikes, after learning this stark fact: at the current human ‘development’ trajectory, there will be very little life on this planet left by the time I am age 60, over one in 5 species will be extinct, forever gone, much of the planet will be uninhabitable, barren desert and plagued by extremes of weather, disease and pollution. This will cause over 1 billion people to migrate and exacerbate resource and territory wars. There will be no topsoil left (we are eroding it at such a rate that there are only 40 years left of decent topsoil due to our farming practices. This means almost no food production, even if the extreme weather allowed any. No soil life which feeds and sustains the rest of life. Relatively micro-crises like Covid-19 and the increasingly prevalent pandemics, diseases and social crises are all rooted in ecological imbalance, and act as a warning sign of what’s to come – a practice drill for when we really need to pull together and act collectively, although it may be too late if we don’t do this in the coming decade (UN 2018). The human response can go in two directions: a great unravelling, mass extinction and exponential crises, or a great shift and intentional transformation of all our systems according to natural rather than anthropocentric economic laws. Both outcomes lead to massive transformation and overhaul of the existing paradigm – the former option is likely to be more violent, sudden and messy whilst the latter is a planned re-design and systemic shift in every sector and community. The choice is one that we face both individually and collectively. Individually, we must ask which story we choose to live by. Living by the story of great transformation towards an Earth community allows us to be conscious healers and solution activists, be it in politics, farming, nursing, community work, tree planting or natural building. Living by a story of Business as Usual is blindness to the current and looming crises. Conversely, living by a story of inevitable collapse and doom is not useful or motivating, but paralyses real action and shifts responsibility away from being part of the solution. Our personal choice of what story to live by will impact upon and be impacted by the collective story. When a critical mass of people, communities, farms and movements adopt the story of the great transformation, it becomes a reality – this is how the future is continually bought into being by the present consciousness. The story needs to be collective to really make a difference, individual action is great but not enough. And yet it only takes a small and committed minority to provide enough leverage to spark historic changes – studies into social change show us that it takes only 3.5% of the population in active opposition and/or proposition to create structural change. By individually choosing to live by this new story of transformation, we create ripple effects in our communities, especially if our life work is rooted in the cooperative and collective spheres, such as community agriculture, co-housing, or local currencies.

How did this understanding of crisis and stories lead to my choice to commit my life to ecological stewardship and farming? After a dark chapter of eco-anxiety and despair, I was able to use these feelings to propel my activism in a curiously hopeful realism – knowing that the feelings were rooted in love for a planet I wished to save. At age 21 I was arrested for Non-Violent Direct Action in Extinction Rebellion protests and active in organising strikes, rebellions and direct actions in the ecological movement for an intense period of 3 years. After somewhat burning out from purely oppositional activism – the saying NO to the current paradigm – I began to look for solutions and turn my focus to the propositional activism – the saying YES to the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. I had a background in Permaculture, working on organic farms and community agriculture. I also knew that our current industrial agricultural system was responsible for 30% of emissions and the majority of biodiversity loss as well as pollution, topsoil loss and dehumanised, soulless work. This reality intersected with an intuition that ecological growing (e.g. permaculture) is a major part of the solution – I now believe it to be the primary re-design lens for land, soil, diversity and communities. Regenerative agriculture has potential to sequester more carbon than the human population emits, three times over. Small scale ecological growing has potential to respond to the health crisis facing humanity, and distribute healthy food equally, addressing both epidemic obesity (impacting 1-2 billion people) and poverty (1 billion are malnourished). This form of food production is nourishing in every sense. For the soil, for biodiversity, for communities, for our bodies, for the Earth, water and air.

Finally, ecological farming responds to the spiritual crisis that humanity faces – modern lives are dominated by rampant individualism, loneliness, meaninglessness, endless want, emptiness and boredom. Work is not satisfying or fulfilling for over half of the UK population. I have experienced this work dissatisfaction, emptiness and loneliness that comes as a shadow of this society’s ‘development’. I have, more recently, found an unbelievably nourishing life pattern where I feel content and fulfilled (and exhausted!) at the end of each day on the farm and the trainees, volunteers and co-growers on the farm have remarked similar soul revival. It is a feeling of aliveness and return to our whole selves. The beauty of this is that a small farm future will require more labour to be involved in land-based work, regeneration, food production and stewarding. In this sense, ecological farming and permaculture provide an appropriate response to the spiritual crisis as well as the physical/environmental imbalances we face.

Hamish Evans

Middle Ground Growers

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