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Regenerating hope in the dark


There is a great but complex stirring of hope as the regenerative movement takes hold across the ravaged plains of Earth. Soil, a precious and fragile resource built over millennia to incubate all of life, is being washed away at alarming rates in the name of ‘feeding the world.’ The definition of ‘World’ in this narrative, is limited in space to those who can access food in a market economy, and limited in time to those in older age categories, as the UN predicts only 50 harvests left at current topsoil erosion rates.  Our extractive economy of greed over need has depleted so much that it is too late for the ‘sustainability’ of an unsustainable trajectory; my generation has no choice but to regenerate, at pace, at scale, and from totally different mindsets and heart-sets to those which got us into the predicament. Entering adulthood and entering farming in these times is not often correlated with hope; meeting crisis and degeneration in every sector of society, and then colliding with immovable systemic barriers at every attempt to be part of the solution. But something curious happens when we act despite of the issues and without certainty of the future; a bubbling up of a renewable resource called hope pushes its head through the dark barren earth.


This is a story of my own gritty dance with hope and struggle as a new entrant farmer in the great unravelling times of today’s ‘polycrisis’. A non-linear story of my cyclical emergence, composting and re-emergence through the inner and outer seasons of farming. I am 26 years old, I have been born into a time of total uncertainty and unravelling of culture, ecosystems and worldviews. I am from the Earth’s garden/farm but not from a typical farming background. I was not schooled in tractors, sprays and antibiotics but trained as Nature’s curious apprentice from a young age, full of awe and wonderful weirdness - the kid in the corner of the playground finding solace in the plants, trees and birdsong.


I moved onto a tiny solar powered canal boat at age 16, discovering a world of independent living, ecological ethos and regenerative community from a young age. I left my beloved boat and community age 18 for an almost moneyless pilgrimage across the world, working on farms and hitchhiking between them (from Ahmedabad to Sulawesi to Jerusalem). This gave me an exciting lens to view the world, one of active hope and empowerment to just crack on with the work in all contexts - from farming in warzones of Palestine to restoration work on the last indigenous land of a whole nation. These communities of hope and teachers of nature took custodianship of my soul from teenage years. Crucially, these schoolings in hope came before the fall…


The inevitable fall from Eden came, as academia and rationality took me in its grip, feeling the societal pressure to attend university, I returned home and studied a range of social sciences, environmentalism and economics. This seeded a deep curiosity for knowledge and a quest to unravel a paradox I now held, between the active hope for a regenerating world and the rational reality of its improbability in an age of ecological crisis. Keeping hope alive (just), I continued amidst my studies to grow food and put energy into solutions, starting a market garden to feed local community with veg boxes delivered by bike. This kept me going through the darkest night, as university’s universal culture lured me away from land and into the mind, and into the monocultural machine of productivism; meanwhile I was being called at a deeper level to real productivism and creating value in my community from a blossoming relationship with soil, fungi and plants.


The combined love for Earth and despairing knowledge of her systems collapse led me into several years of intense activism, leading movements, protests, and campaigns - opposing the current system and trying to speak truth to power, to sound the alarm bells and protect the life which was rapidly depleting before my eyes. To some extent this oppositional activism worked; the youth climate strikes, extinction rebellion and other actions woke the world up and put climate and environment onto agendas in a way it had never been before; the new climate momentum shifted the ‘Overton window’ for change in just a couple of years around 2018-2020. The Covid pandemic both highlighted our ecological imbalances and revealed for many a renewed connection and appreciation of nature, shifting the window for change once again. But it also brought a lot of suffering, surfaced trauma, and the separation mentality prevailed to destroy the flames of many movements and momentums in this time. It left many at a crossroads and a decision whether to totally redirect their lives or to return to business as usual when restrictions lifted.


During the pandemic I fully focused on a different form of activism. I had departed academia with a published dissertation on ‘Prefigurative Activism’ – how we create the new systems in the shell of the old. To me this is what regeneration is all about. Bridging where we are now to where we need to be, navigating todays predicament by practical action prefiguring tomorrow, utilising the tools of hope, action and right relationship over the weapons of fear, apathy and separation. I took my thesis to the land, composted it’s intellectualism in the intuitive soil of ancient knowledge, and launched my body into full-time farming, land custodianship and regenerative enterprise. Starting a successful organic business from scratch, the project mushroomed in just 3 years, from selling a few cabbages to the local shop to a 200 member veg box scheme run by 7 living wage employees on 15.5 acres of co-owned land in the Cotswolds.


The stories of collapse are all around, even if we put them off apathetically. Highlighting the personal stories of regeneration not only rebalances this lens, but also reactivates hope and gives me the courage to face the realities of today with undeterred action. On my own new entrant farming journey I have come up against so many of the systemic barriers and challenges that are blocking both the emergent generation and the regenerative transition. I’ve been a tenant farmer on 1 year leases kicked off land at the throw of a hat. I’ve been a broken student putting savings into starting a farm business. I’ve been through years of planning and regulatory battles to simply establish the basic infrastructure of a sustainable farm. I’ve faced the mental health struggles that too often come with farming in todays economy and culture. I’ve made lifestyle, relationship and personal sacrifices all in order to give back to land and regenerate in the little time we have. I’ve battled the inner and outer seasons of breaking into farming from scratch, and persevered through all of it, rooted in hope and passion for the land’s regeneration.


Witnessing this regeneration of both the land, surrounding communities, and eventually myself, has kept hope alive. And so has the realisation that I don’t have to do it alone; humans thrive in a regenerative community and as part of something greater than ourselves, part of a broader food and land movement. I’ve lived the struggles and barriers, but also lived the incredible growth, joy and purpose that farming brings. I’ve tasted tomorrow, and it is like the first spring blossom after a dark wet winter. Sensing such blossom, and the potential fruits of tomorrow, I wrote this poem from our ‘next generation’ orchard, on the lands where farmers of yesterday have also written poetry (such as John Osbourne), on the lands that weave our lives and generations together in a conversation with soils and souls.


Expressions of Love


Farmings much more than a job lad

A way of life – not so bad

That’s what he told me

Wrinkled eyes of sparkling glee


Full of respect for this wisened man

I wondered how I began

How I came to be in this field

For reasons deep to me concealed


He says a way of life for sure

I came to give and so much more

Jewels of nourishment beyond bliss

Begged the questions I dare not dismiss


And when they ask

Why do you farm

I tell a tale of grief and hope

A gipsy tale of action spoke


Ignited by love for this land

Starting with solutions where I stand

A universe beneath our feet

Dancing with problems we dare not meet


Driven by grief and despair

An earth almost beyond repair

Its this deep pain I feel

That drives me to heal


So grief and hope combine

To weave this tale of mine

A story told so true

A tale I must grow through


Its roots run deep

Yet through them I weep

Tears of great joy

Beyond the ego’s ploy


For that old man knew well

Beyond tales he did tell

Of a farming beyond activism

Beyond the opposition prison


Nourishing my way of being

Into natures way of seeing

Its true on earth we’ve made a mess

But I’d be in this field regardless


Even if there were no ecocide

Would I still be in this tide?

Why would I choose a different course

One that splits me from the source


This sacred work is protest true

Its vital part of being crew

More than that its expression of love

For earth beneath, for air above


A daily practice, dance of bliss

The humble gift to feel earths kiss

The soil brings great life to me

‘Tis what the old man could foresee


Entering dialogue with dark and light

My fears are held my stars are bright

I could not know that in this field

We would find such jewels of inner yield



Hamish Evans, Middle Ground Growers

[Submitted to the Chelsea Young Writers Prize and achieving runner up in the UK competition]


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