Collaborative Agroecologies Part 3 – weaving scales of transformation from the interpersonal to the bioregional
Part 1 of Collaborative Agroecologies explores the importance of people working across boundaries in the great work of food systems regeneration. We need both sides of the coin – effective collaboration and an agroecological approach, weaving together the meeting of need with a socially and ecologically regenerative worldview. Part 2 examined the tools within this framework that are already displacing the old destructive models of hierarchy and domination culture. This third post aims to bring these threads together and complete the circle of collaboration, from the interpersonal to the systemic. Collaboration is not simply a definition for working together in teams, but instead can describe a deeply nuanced approach to life, and openness to widening our lens beyond the self so that it includes all of life, and thus the health of the whole is interwoven with its interconnected parts. This is a core tenet of many indigenous worldviews, and so the modern mind finds all sorts of resistances and blockages to embracing and adopting it. I personally feel the tension and have to take the courageous leap of faith every time I’m confronted with this invitation to widen my self to include other kin and planet earth. This is the return movement from the Separation Era, the brief moment in evolutionary history where a single species thought themselves to be separate from and better than the rest of nature. The re-emergence of earth consciousness from this rubble is like a Spring flower bulb, rising powerfully from the ashes of winter’s descent. But this bulb will unlikely give way to a glorious Summer, unless it is connected to the myriad of life that must re-surface and collaborate to bring a beautiful vision into being. For this level of collective synergy to truly create a more beautiful world, collaboration must be realised at every level from our internal landscape to the bioregional and wider systems we are nested in.
We must begin with the personal and the inner landscape, for it is only through these groundworks that collaboration can be invited in, like the joyful song of a Wren on a dark empty winters morning. For all of us that have grown up in this modern culture, we have internalised biases against collaboration, having reinforced our self as a separate entity, reinforced by the mainstream identities of ‘human as consumer’, ‘human as selfish’, ‘human as dominant species.’ We’re then pitted against each other in competition from a young age, rewarded and punished based on societal norms and ideals, despite the fact that the most creative, visionary and inspiring people in human history having been non-schooled and/or followed alternative paths. We spend adult life moving from box to box, nowadays accompanied by an endless screen of distraction. We generally pour the majority of our energies into serving an economy that is destroying the basis of life, and reducing exponentially the health of the world we bequeath to our children. We have either closed off feeling into this, or are kept too busy to deeply reflect, so we continue on autopilot in the making of our own unmaking. And sometimes, when we reach a wall with this, there are moments of rupture and a crack is opened to illuminate the insanity of it, enough to let some light in and perhaps begin to see another way. This often happens in collective shocks (e.g. a pandemic) and personal life events (e.g. death of a loved one), and at these times the ‘Overton window’ of change is shifted, our baseline expectations of reality and what is possible can shift dramatically overnight. What also shifts is our openness to collaboration, and to finding togetherness amidst the difficult realisation of temporary separation. There is a growing number of people realising that we urgently need pragmatic and hopeful alternatives to the dominant way of human operations on this earth. These people are teaming up and collaborating like a diverse mycelial network collectively and spontaneously deciding it is time to begin fruiting. Beautifully, indigenous languages have such vocabulary for this particular emergence, which Robin Wall Kimmerer gives example to: “puhpowee”, translates as “the force which causes mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight.”
This ‘puhpowee’, a collective and spontaneous emergence, is what 2023 calls for, and indeed what this phase of humanity requires to survive and thrive. It is not the individual fruiting bodies themselves that we must focus on, but that collective life-force underpinning the emergence, the same that tells the earth to come to life every spring, and orchestrates the most beautiful sunset for millions of beings simultaneously. As above, so below. From the micro forces underground beneath our feet that make life possible, to the cosmic forces that keep the universe in both balance and flow, we are lucky enough to dance between these, and utilise transformation at every scale to make this regenerative era possible. This necessitates a re-inhabiting of place. The systemic transformations need not be some abstract or global phenomena, for every localised transformative action is connected to earth consciousness and global ripple effects. This systemic work can manifest at a bioregional scale, in the unique area of our local water catchment area or valley, broadly defined. This is return to both a natural scale and a human scale, and a re-harmonisation of the two. This is where collaborative governance should take place, nested in its specific ecosystem and purposed to steward the lands, waters and beings of place as best it can. At this scale we can also design appropriate scale regenerative practice, for example sustainable food production from the densely populated urban farms to the more sparsely populated rural areas for nut production, community coppicing and agroecological farms, collaborating across the region to meet the needs for all in harmony with the ecosystem's capability to regenerate. We are working on such a project, moving from incubation to seedling phase in 2023/24, called We Are Avon, to collaborate across the Avon valley as producers, landworkers, stewards nested within diverse communities of practice. The power and potential of this is so much greater than one person or one farm could ever manifest, and it is paradoxically also rooted in the personal: in the gifts, intentions and actions of all those who choose to come on board, thus widening the work to the collective consciousness, opened to the dance of collaboration, to then be widened further into systemic scales of transformation.
We cant navigate these scales of transformation alone. We can’t face the grief of what we’re doing to the Earth in isolation, let alone alchemise this into regenerative action. Both collaboration and agroecology require confronting the apathy of the modern illusion of separateness. But only together will they truly transform this apathy into heartfelt action and effective mobilisation for repair and creation of alternatives. So the scales of transformation dance, beginning as incubating seeds in the winter of our inner landscape, and fruiting collectively in a giant cosmic ‘puhpowee’ earth resurgence, with humans partaking in this glorious adventure! And this is truly a joy, which must be remembered even in the depths of dark hopelessness, up against the gatekeepers of fear, and in the temptations of mission drift. Always return to the seeds, and to the roots of this disconnect we aim to heal, which can be countered only with radical reconnection and feeling into all that is present within us in these turbulent times. All of this might feel easier to do within our comfort zones of individualism, and the leap beyond this is scary, but ultimately liberating. There’s no such thing as individual liberation. I cannot be free if fellow beings are not, for our suffering all feeds into the collective predicament, just like our active hope feeds into the collective ‘puhpowee’. Co-liberation is the only effective and true approach to freedom, and this requires not only unlearning dominant cultural teachings but also alternative spiritual teachings and environmentalist individualism. I have experienced myself these false paths of western spirituality eventually leading to greater focus on the self and disregard or bypassing of the whole, and similarly through being too ecologically dogmatic I have experienced the detachment from social interdependence, collaboration and co-liberation. This is not to dismiss the spiritual and ecological lenses, which we actually need more than ever in this time, but rather to invite them to integrate with each other and the whole, and to trust in the synergies of collaborative life flow which dance beneath it all, waiting to be re-embraced.
P.s. Happy New Year from the team at MGG ! May 2023 be the year of Local food, bioregional regeneration and joyful collaboration!