Updated: Dec 1, 2022
Keeping hope alive through the darkest night and emerging into the most glorious sunrise of tomorrow
The waxing and waning of hope has been felt by many in these turbulent times, living through a health pandemic, ecological destabilisation, and a looming cost of living crisis. All of these are interwoven manifestations of a culture that values profit and individual competition over health and collective regeneration. This is not about polarised left or right politics, or blaming games for the crisis, but simply a clear link between a destructive paradigm and its consequences on people and Earth. Its time to re-write this script before it goes up in flames, or perhaps salvage what we can from the ashes, as wildfires are already sweeping the globe at ever increasing magnitude and velocity. But there is always an undercurrent, a subtext and a plot twist in the stories of our time. Even at the final hour there is the possibility of salvation and regeneration, however unlikely this may appear to the ultra-rational mind that got us into this mess. We need to think, feel and imagine differently to believe and taste this more beautiful world amidst such darkness. And then we need the courage to live it and breathe it so resolutely that the light becomes infectious and the fire of hope begins to burn brighter in each soul, until the tipping point is reached and we create the reality we were born to dance in.
We have been thrown into such a dance, moving through these turbulent times to prefigure the world of tomorrow. This work can feel at times despairing or ineffective, situated in the seemingly empty shell of today. Those impermeable boundaries are transcended neither by apathetically ignoring nor violently fighting against the hardened shell, not through resistance alone but through the interweaving of new webs and new structures which displace the old by their sheer potency and beauty. Our journey in the last few years has been an active experiment into this trickster of a dance, amidst a whirlwhind of challenges and a curious resistance from the old paradigms of thought and privelage (structures and individuals that have so benefited from the destruction we aim to heal).
This resistance has taken many forms, and will continue in even more insidious ways as our work deepens in scope and widens in systemic impact. The challenges came in part from entitled individuals wishing to preserve their bubbles of privilege - amidst a world that is calling on them to reconcile. We tried reconciliation and offered conflict resolution, but realised that healing, just like harm, requires consent – and the conflict resolution offer was ignored and not responded to. The supposed ‘visual impact’ of our beautiful project (including ghastly orchards and wildflowers!) affecting one neighbours view was maddeningly at the core of this years struggle, and led to legal battles, now over £20,000 costs for us as young farmers, not to mention an unpaid full-time job having to be our own lawyers, consultants and defenders. We had to defend our established access rights, after threats to remove them (and thus our livelihoods) from skilful yet immoral corporate legal firms, financed by the objectors. This is no individuals fault, but an inevitable outcome of a system that privileges one voice above thousands of others because they had money and good lawyers. Vulnerability can both highlight and heal inequality, as we experienced when our livelihoods and dreams being tossed around like pawns in a bureaucratic and selfish game. Even if the privileged 'lose' in theory, the cost is minimal when the treasure chest is full; they had to pay the secretary of state’s fees after making false claims against us at the highest level; it cost the local council tens of thousands that could have supported low-income families in food poverty; it very nearly cost us our livelihoods and farm.
So our hand of forgiveness and offer of reconciliation through conflict resolution was perhaps the greatest act of faith we could have made – and this too was tossed aside and disregarded. This sort of experience is not unique to us, and young growers, change-makers and solution pioneers are facing the same insidious cultural challenge everywhere in the country in this colonial heart of the world. This is born from an individualistic mindset, but its root run deep into historic structures of exploitative, colonial midsets which we still carry around to our own and the planet’s demise. We also faced challenge and objection from status quo preserving bodies such as Natural England, the Conservation Board, Bath Preservation Trust, Cotswold AONB and others that should be supporting ecological growing amidst a countryside of degradation - even the local parish council did not support and effectively sided with the wealthy objectors who had political-economic influence in the area. As did several other local residents, perhaps influenced by a barrage of conspiratorial twitter posts from the objectors personally attacking myself with false claims, to which I did not respond or warrant any attention/energy. Despite the overwhelming majority support from many residents, veg box customers and the wonderful people of Weston, we couldn’t help but feel a chillingly cold welcome, and our hope diminished to such a small candle wick from such abundant beginnings - the waxing and waning of hope!
Today, as the moon waxes towards the Beaver Full moon lunar eclipse, we received news that we once again have full planning approval to develop our Ecological Farm for Bath (side note: our wonderful planning agent and consultant who has supported us through this process is called Mr Beaver, and the moon goddesses theorise that he was waiting for his Beaver Full Moon powers today to bring the decision to us!). Following this, we are Beavering away (last Beaver pun I promise!) and ordering solar panels, 'visual mitigation' trees for nuttery/food forests, local wood cladding, putting up polytunnels for winter growing and getting to work once again building a model ecologically and socially regenerative farm for our bioregion. Even without this essential infrastructure this year, we have danced through the chaos, embraced uncertainty and grown our resilience – despite everything it’s truly been the most joyful and sacred year of providing community benefit and growing for hundreds of people their weekly fresh produce. We got through this with love and with each other; I don’t think any of us could have done it alone (see previous post on Collaborative Agroecologies!). We’ve trained and worked with 3 new wonderful growers who are multiplying this work in their contexts and projects. We’ve implemented the land design of 15.5 acres agroforestry, no-till market garden, coppice, beehives, nuttery, orchards, berries, hedgerows, wildflowers and so much more! We’ve operated across multiple growing sites whizzing along on our delivery bikes and supported our 2020 trainee’s market garden plots. The convergence of all of this, rooted in reciprocal community-earth relationships, is fuelling a re-emergence of hope after a despairing and heavy time.
It is so often at the edges of despair that hope ripples, like fresh spring water at the bottom of a deep dark well. It is at the edges and margins of our communities that the most potent change-force lies awaiting activation, and it is at the edges between ecosystems where the most fertile soil for regeneration lies. Similarly, hope can and does emerge at the edge of despair. Hope can fade, almost to nothingness. It can also be enlivened and re-activated after a dormancy, just like life re-emerges into the Springtime after such unbelievable stillness, darkness and inactivity. The trees can look so bare, so sullen and dead. And yet beneath the surface they are channelling the deep rooting energy of transformation and rebirth, into their greatest ever form, into a new spring of growth and giving and abundance. And then, the first signs of transformation and renewal; those Spring Ephemerals, those flowering bulbs that appear so briefly yet beautifully as vanguards of the new season, of new life-force and rebirth.
To renew fully and abundantly into a glorious Spring, there is deep work to do which includes reflection, integration and regeneration. That’s what winters are for, as the trees (and all natural beings) root their energy, shed leaves and incubate seeds, so we too can learn to turn inwards for some time. Right now is the beginning of the Celtic and pagan new years, and also symbolises the death of the old year – composted into the cycles of tomorrow. There is much to let go of and much to integrate in order to flourish personally. Perhaps this is also the evolutionary stage we are in as a species – humanity in its adolescent phase of realising responsibility, and recognising that our childlike ways of operating are perhaps no longer fit for purpose (although there may be aspects of them that should be maintained, like play!). We need the Autumn of reflective work before we can truly enter maturity as a species, and we need the winter of integration and incubation before birthing the new. We need to really let go of the old paradigms of thought and practice else we will not be light enough to emerge out of this mess, at the brink of social-ecological collapse. We cannot continue to live a half truth, to believe in the new world our hearts know is possible and yet to act with such commitment to the old world in our daily practices and systems of food, work, education and community. It all needs redesign and regeneration. This doesn’t necessarily mean throwing it all out with the bathwater, but instead mimicking how nature composts and integrates the old, letting go freely and yet remembering and restoring what was useful or truthful from the old paradigms.
We have to become both vanguards of the new and custodians of the old. This has been central to our learning at MGG through these seasonal cycles. We say goodbye this week to our original plot of land at Dry Arch, a beautiful no-dig and agroforestry market garden we co-created in Bathampton with the groundworks and support from Transition Bath, Dry Arch Growers, Orchardshare, the boating community, our original crew… not to mention many others including the original Dry Arch market garden custodians and ancestors who planted the now mature and abundant fruit trees – what a thought to imagine such 200 year old Bramley apple trees at Weston! We say goodbye, thank you, and let go, in order to make space and fully emerge into the new. But we also remember. Integrating this lineage, composting all the lessons/mistakes/experimentation/naivety. At a regional level this pattern plays out too, where we must integrate the old – the rich market garden heritage and local food cultures of yesterdays Bath/Avon. From this perspective the provision of all fresh produce for all local people is not a faraway ideal but simply a return movement, applied in a new context with different challenges and invitations for transformation.
Over winter we are incubating a particularly special seed currently called “We Are Avon”, a grassroots tapestry of collective food systems regeneration at a bioregional scale. This includes the development of 3 core missing cogs in our story of place; symbiotic community, land access and regenerative training/vocation. We must fill these currently empty shells with a wildly wonderful web (the new internet of earth consciousness?) and a new structure so beautiful that the simultaneous emptiness and greed driving our current system become obsolete, and composted! To fill these three voids, there are three interwoven proposals within We Are Avon, a project rooted in people and place:
1) Avon Producers Co-operative and the Bath Food Hub
2) Avon Community Land Trust
3) Avon Landworkers and the Avon School of Regeneration
The next blog post will go into more detail, and get in touch if you’re interested to support this emergence in any way. Watch this space and join this space in our mycelium web of regeneration, and you never know – hope might just re-emerge and there might be the most glorious sunrise on the horizon!