To provide a blend of heightened inspiration and lower concentrated delivery, sedentary patience and outward engagement, the West of England has a wealth of alluring, seductive projects and people to visit. Yesterday, as the forecast was hotter than Bangkok, a day on farms seemed suitable.
The drive to my first stop was part of the exercise too. Chepstow, well North of, towards Coleford along the winding route through the ancient Puzzlewood forest, is where there is potential to develop the project with a business who has land, buildings and needs curation. They grasp the vision and purpose too. Along the journey, I felt the softening of the transition into far, to further and still, I was but 40 mins from Bristol. Through a village I caught the end of the school run, joggers along the road-side, a bustle. And the land would just be beyond that, looking out over to the Severn. And if we are talking about ecosystem boundaries in our study here, and the productive margins, the energy and friction of that, then what is more apt than that of England and Wales.
Continuing on, I headed to The Fold and what an optimistic, fruitful (pardon the pun) welcome it is on a busy road opposite a recent drab housing development. On the way I had passed many rural trading estates one with a pertinent sign "PLACE YOUR BUSINESS NAME HERE" with seven empty boxes below, I gulped at the sobriety of attracting businesses to our site, and mustered on.
Meeting Lucy, Head Grower who I'd previously met a couple of years ago at a do at Patrick Holden's (Sustainable Food Trust / Soil Association / Farmer) house in Bristol. The trees were heavy with quinces and pears, the car park brimming on a Tuesday morning, and a sense of use, relevance and vibrancy. The old grain store has been transformed to a warm cafe serving their produce and ethical dishes. I was more interested in the outdoors, however as we finished our coffee and headed out in a dress and Birkenstocks... the rumbles began. The sky turned that ominous grey that illuminates green leaves to a lime colour. Covering up in waterproofs as the clouds let rip, Lucy kindly showed me still the farmhouse where twelve workers and the couple who own it live. The extensive polytunnels where she grows the vegetables, the nursery of thirty (!) polytunnels further down the site towards the bottom of the hill. We walked past their biomass producer that with 15 acres of willow and a harvest of 5 acres a year powers the whole site including nursery (PIC) along the Nature Trail to the Care Farm, where Lucy conducts her family gardening days and other assisted therapeutic programmes for vulnerable people. There she grows on 1.5 acres, and with four polytunnels produces enough for five outlets including the farm, and is seeking another market.
We talked shop in between the downpours, and I noted the scale they operate and how they have resourced it- the main enquiry in my research. It was also enriched by a successful business from the Nursery that oiled the cogs.
Squeezing out the rain from the dress, I popped on over to Stockwood Rush Farm, a business park that supports the operations of the farm. Rush Farm is headed up by Seb Parsons, who also runs The Biodynamic Land Trust and previously Dr Haushka cosmetics UK arm (we noted the correlation between the connection with cosmetic companies (me The Body Shop) and rural projects). Half way in our conversation on excel spreadsheets, implementers v ideas people, the politics of land ownership, we hopped and jumped into a Land Rover to help with a bull in a field. There I am in a soggy dress, in a soggy field with a bull, a vet, a farmer, Seb, his son Brendan and other helpers to hold the bull for the vet.
Walking back, I asked Seb about the Biodynamic element of his vision and how that informs the practice on the farm. It started with the consciousness of the farm, how it all integrates and is an ecosystem made up of living organisms, whom have their own boundaries and catchments to respect and be aware of, and then how those boundaries interrelate. I learnt about the preparations for the compost: seven blends of yarrow, valerian, chamomile, oak bark, dandelion, stinging nettles.. the water supply, the fields. I learnt about the four lunar influences on the plants: roots, leaves, flowers / fruits and seeds. To respect the type of crop you are planting or harvesting according to these types, e.g. if it is a 'root' day in the lunar cycle, then you plant the potatoes on those days, you harvest them on those days and they are flavoursome. Similarly with vineyards, Sainsbury's has reported a 20% rise in sales from wine that is picked on the fruit days as the grape is bursting. Sounds fun. He showed me the water sculpture where the cells of water are broken and repaired, broken and repaired in a figure of eight as it falls down the pools in the sculpture. The water preparations are added to this water, which is then sprayed on the land.
We discussed Steiner and the balance of power: politics, economy and personal development (health, education, culture) and the I (free), you (service) and us (the agreed). The higher self, the higher I in the ego, responding to the lower i, Waldorf and the development and refinement of feelings in our human development (in 0-7, 7-14, 14-21 cycles, that by the time we are 21 we have grasped our feelings so we are able not to get in the way of ourselves - a topic that is pertinent for me at the moment). It was a journey and a dialogue that enthrals me, to bear witness to how rearing cattle relates to this. To the propagation of land, to our ownership models, to how we want the world to be and work within, to wisdom and bravery of a few to draw it all in, to the ground. That is where I wish to stand too.