Friday, 22 July 2011

nutritious soup

I was reading a permaculture manual last night in which the author describes needing to put some time and effort (and muck) into a new food garden before things went ‘pop’. I laughed as I realized that this describes what has just happened in the forest garden that takes up a third of my allotment. In a permaculture design you’re advised to put 80% of the work into the design and initial structure so that you only need to put in 20% of your energy into maintaining it – unlike most systems which are the opposite. After two and a half years (and some before that by Chloe and Tilo, the previous owners of the allotment) of mulching, feeding, planting and weeding, I now have a garden that is more of a steady state, where weeding will become reduced as the perennial clovers and self sowing bee-attracting understory of phaecelia, annual clovers, borage and poached egg plant have settled in.

That ‘pop’ view of systems reminds me of my friend Mike Grenville’s talk to Transition Town Lewes last week. Change doesn’t happen slowly, incrementally along a timeline, he told us. Rather, the pressure to change builds up when an old system resists change. The more it resists, the more the pressure builds up, until it can’t resist any longer and it inevitably ‘pops’ or flips into a new state, with a period of turbulence in between. So Transition, he said, is totally different to the old environmental model of trying to persuade more and more people to change. That doesn’t work. Most people don’t want to change until they are forced to. Transition Towns are about engaging people, when they want to, to help each other create resilience in their own communities: preparing for the pop, so to speak.

He told us a story that’s apt for this time of sudden and unexpected change: The Hungry Caterpillar. When a caterpillar is nearing its transformation, it begins to consume ravenously (sounds familiar?) It becomes bloated, shedding its skin many times and, unable to move, attaches itself onto a branch, forming a chrysalis. Within the chrysalis, cells which biologists call ‘imaginal cells’ begin to appear. These are completely different to caterpillar cells. At first the caterpillar perceives these new cells as foreign and attacks them. But the imaginal cells increase, bonding and clumping, until the caterpillar’s immune system is overwhelmed. The caterpillar’s body then becomes a nutritious soup for the growth of the new butterfly.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

trouble in store

I’ve started to store food. I feel slightly embarrassed to admit this, because it’s  not normal behaviour. Last year our family waterproofed our under-street coal hole, turning it into a dry, cool store for both fresh and dry food. In the autumn I stored 12 squashes from the six plants on my allotment. This year I’m growing 15 squash plants for the winter store: Uchiki Kuri, Potimarron, Turk’s Turban, Butternut, Crown Prince. They’re as exotic to eat as they sound, making golden, warming, nutty soups and pies all winter. 

But why, when you can simply feed your family for fifty quid from the supermarket? Because big change is ahead andThe World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Assessment shows that the greatest risks facing us in the coming decade are climate change, ‘extreme energy price volatility’ and fiscal crises. Some say that high food prices are here to stay. I’m not saying that we’re going to go hungry in the south east of England, but I do want to live in a world where responsibility for feeding ourselves doesn’t lie with multinationals; I want to get more food skills under my belt; and  as food prices rise and our income is vulnerable, we might just be happy to have some hearty food to hand.

So, it’s time to get resilient, no matter that the politicians, corporations and popular media would prefer us to be shopping. Over recent months I’ve deliberately created more time for growing food and learning how to preserve it. I’m growing most of our vegetables for about ten months of the year from my allotment (apart from potatoes, onions and carrots, which can be grown in fields and stored in sacks in my basement). Now, as summer brings abundance, I spend some time each day growing, harvesting, drying, pickling, fermenting, freezing and storing.

And I’m about to take another step: next time I put in my bulk order with Infinity Foods, instead of a five kilo bag, I’m going to order a whole sack each of rice (25kg for £28), chick peas (£35) and lentils (£36) – all from Europe - and I’m going to store them in our food store. I know that I’m only as resilient as my neighbours are, and I'm not planning on defending my stash. Maybe I’m mad, or a decade ahead of my time; maybe in ten years our town will have a huge food store under the castle. Who knows. But my gut is telling me to do this and it feels really good.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

this is evolution

There’s talk about a change of consciousness ahead that will help us humans move to a new way of living. It seems popular to imagine that a ‘rapture’ type of experience will happen on 21 December 2012 and until then we can talk and read about it and speculate, in fear, hope, whatever. There’s a whole new age industry focusing on these transcendent ideas, and I view this as another form of escapism and denial of the real issues facing us. 

But what if a change of consciousness is already happening? I was having tea with my friend Jemma recently and she told me about a recent article stating that Ikea’s 2008 cotton harvest in Pakistan used the equivalent of the drinking water of Sweden over 176 years. Such shocking information had led her to question her use of cheap cotton products, just as watching Food Inc had led to her changing her diet to one that’s more local and healthy. Yet, she said, many of her friends had the same information but didn’t choose to do anything about it, often saying that one person couldn’t make a difference. Maybe Jemma's consciousness is changing. She reads information and she takes personal responsibility by acting on it. 

It’s not a high-faluting spiritual thing, this, but it’s based on common sense, ethical imperatives and a feeling for the collective, the whole. Perhaps we are moving to a more global, tribal mind, where it’s widely unacceptable to live in a world where 15% of the world’s population use 85% of the world’s resources, and where we see every living being on this planet as an Earthling. 

Although it can be isolating and even confusing at this time to be undergoing the consciousness shift to a global mindset, it also helps to make sense of what’s happening. As this Hopi elder says in this short video, ‘America is dying from within because they forgot the instructions for how to live on earth. It’s not negative to know there will be great changes. This is evolution.’