I wake in my little chalet in the woods and come outside to marvel at the place I find myself in. This a bodger’s workshop, and I discover that the popular usage of the word bodger couldn’t be further from what it actually means; a bodger is a chair maker, maker of fine chairs and other wooden items, from green wood. This means the wood is worked when it is freshly cut, meaning hand tools can be used to shape it. The finished articles, which can be seen all over the site, are of the finest quality, practical yet delicately fashioned and strong. To find out how you can come and learn these skills and many others, such as earth oven making and charcoal burning contact www.cherrywoodproject.co.uk .
Getting ready to leave is an exercise in remembering how long it takes to do things properly, and how satisfying it is too. I light the fire in the wood fuelled stove for breakfast tea and to heat the kettle for washing up water. First dry kindling must be found, and small, dry logs, I discover the earthen floor of the kitchen is the best source of dry kindling; the morning dew is still about and the log pile still damp. I realise I don’t know how to chop wood to get smaller chunks and make a mental note to ask someone to teach me when I next get the opportunity.
I marvel at the poo for humanure for trees and pee for the reed bed system reached by crossing over a rope and plank swing bridge in the trees; now there’s a loo with style!
I enjoy the sense of peace there is and wish, not for the first time on this trip, that there weren’t things to do and places to get to and wonder how to simplify my life in Totnes when I get home, to stop living governed by the clock, and begin living according to natural rhythms.
I walk through the most idyllic wooded valley I have ever seen and marvel at the views and villages I pass through. It is a most beautiful walk today and it ends eventually in Batheaston where I am stunned by the most beautiful toll bridge crossing over the river Avon, soon followed by another lovely crossing over the Avon and Kennet canal. It has turned out to be a stunning day of warm August sunshine and blue, blue skies and there are people out enjoying their Sunday outside both the pub at the side of the river with its working water mill, and one besides the canal with its beautiful grassy banks with benches facing the brightly coloured barges as they move slowly past. It feels like the dream holiday destination and I am amazed it is not more widely known about.
I walk another half a mile till I reach Bathampton where I head for Holcombe Farm where I witness the very first day of the rebirth of Dry Arch market garden, as a CSA (community supported agriculture) supported by Transition Bath. There I am handed a leaflet about the day by organiser Jamie Colston, who has invited me here today and I am inspired by what they are doing. A local farming family, the Hughes, have approached Transition Bath to ask for support in setting up a CSA for the 6 acres of land called Dry Arches, that was a productive market garden until the eighties when it stopped being viable to manage it. The Hughes family love the land and have used it over the years as a family and have picked the fruit, but they are sad to see how much of it going to waste so now they have come forward to ask for help and support from the community.
The schedule for the day, organised by Jamie on behalf of and with support of Transition Bath, who have allocated funding to him to do this kind of work, and to fund raise so that his work can continue, is full and ambitious; an introduction to the Hughes family, to the notion of a CSA, and to the concept of Open Space planning. He goes off to think through his opening introduction as people start to arrive , and continue to arrive, in their ones and twos, families with children, groups of young people and friends, older retired couples, all types of people come rolling up, and keep on arriving, all through the opening talk, it is wonderful to watch. They stroll up the path, spot the ripe fruit hanging in abundance from the trees, and start picking, and eating, and filling the punnets they are given to take fruit home.
Around 70 people take part in the day, and lots and lots of children.
“Where do I put the stone?”
asks one young girl worriedly, plum in mouth, ah, so much for our children to learn about the beauty of being in nature where there are no obsessively clean surfaces where things cannot be dropped to take root and grow new plants. What a pleasure it is to watch these children running about the site with parents, grandparents, with friends, old and new, picking the fruit, filling their punnets, filling their mouths, juice dripping, purple from the lush blackberries, red from the sweet plums, yellow from other varieties of plum, sticky fingers, laughter, fun, relaxed grown ups, picking too. The joy of the hunter gatherer in all of us, a feeling of good spirits, simple pleasure, collecting the fruits of nature, freely given; it is a scene to melt the most hardened of hearts. I feel blessed to have been asked to take part and witness what seems to me to be a historic occasion, and the sun gives its blessing too, it is warm and sunny , and not a cloud to be seen.
I talk to Roma, Jamie’s wife, who is preparing the signs for the welcome table, with the traditional sayings for open space:
“Whoever turns up are the right people”
“The law of two feet”
“When it’s over it’s over”
Jamie has set himself a task for the day; to introduce people, possibly for the first time, to the concept of CSAs (…), which are in the UK supported by the Soil Association and work to organic standards, the Hughes family, the local farmers who approached Transition Bath to help them set up this community project on their land, and to the notion of Open Space, familiar to all us transitioners maybe, but a completely new idea for many. There is the usual nervousness amongst the transitioners whilst Jamie introduces this democratic system of giving everyone the opportunity to share their ideas, fears, hopes, knowledge and skills to a new audience, and the usual slow start until people realise that nothing is going to happen until they start coming forward with questions they’d like to discuss, but true to form the ideas come and soon the central blackboard has several questions and meeting places across the site written up.
We are to talk about awareness raising amongst those who didn’t come along, whether to keep animals as part of the project or not, and what to do about the fruit that is ready to harvest right now, with more possibilities for later in the afternoon, time permitting. The open space rules are explained, use the law of two feet, if no longer engaged with one topic get up and join another group, convener of the question stay put and elect someone to take notes that can be shared amongst the whole group later. I join in with the awareness raising group and together we discuss the many ways of reaching others, through existing groups in the village like the WI, through the school once children are back in term time, and fun fund raising events as well as local community events held on the site.
When we all come back together there is a definite strong group of people who have not left before the end and a core group of people very keen to get started. Two work days are chosen in the very next week to start to pick the fruit, and beginning to liaise with the local shop so that they can be partners in the scheme and sell the produce is seen as a priority. It is just wonderful to see a seemingly disparate group of 70 or more strangers come together and one afternoon of fruit picking later a committed group of people emerge ready to take things forward and make a community supported market garden happen. Young and old all have had a good time, and the power of giving people a voice and trusting that they will make good choices is proven yet again.
I talk to Simon Hiughes, the farmer’s son who approached Transition Bath for support. He is clearly touched by the response from the people, and their support, he received a resounding round of applause when he spoke about his love for the family land and what he’d like to achieve there, together with the farmer. He is also upset and hurt by the two middle aged heavily made up village housewives who objected to the whole thing on the ground that people would drive to the garden and congest the village even more. When Jamie had suggested they bring the question of traffic to the open space discussion so that the group could discuss it and find acceptable solutions they left in a huff; clearly they had seen the open day as an opportunity to air past grievances about traffic down the lane, and were not seeking solutions but sounding off time.
When it was suggested that it could be built into the agreements for how the garden would be managed that people would walk, cycle, or car share, or that a delivery scheme could be set up the response came back that
“People do not change. They do not keep to agreements”,
Later at Jamie’s home, with Roma, and friends Brendan and Laura, we decide that they were no doubt referring to their own difficulties with making changes, and I feel sure that the group that stayed to make the project happen will be extra sensitive to the objections raised and will build in structures to encourage less use of cars, for environmental reasons, first and foremost, but also taking into account the villagers concerns about adding to the traffic down the lane.
I tell my tale to those that want to hear it at the end of the afternoon and hear from Jonathan of Positive Living, a local group that have set up a shared allotment and are looking to try and live just from what they grow. He has learnt a lot, he says, about what he did before that was unnecessary and how nice it is now not to go to supermarkets, and how the group have been experimenting with raw food, and understanding how it is often a more healthy option, for many of the important enzymes present in food are broken down by heating them. A lot of this depends on your state of heath to begin with of course, cooked food that is soft and easy to digest such as soups, steamed veg, porridges, rice, and dahls, are important for those whose systems take a long time to digest food.
I have a last wander around the site as things begin to pack up, there has been a free BBQ and cordials available all day, and a small compost loo which has kept the children greatly amused. I look through the Soil Association literature on the welcome table and enjoy their 5 top reasons for buying local organic produce:
-it supports local jobs,
– it tastes better,
– you can trust the food because you know where it comes from,
– it benefits the environment,
– you get fresh seasonal produce
I talk to some of the Transition Bath hub group; there is Ailsa, Tim (local food expert), Jenny (my saviour from yesterday), Jill, and partner Hugh, who had done so much to make this day happen. This is very much a Transition Bath assisted project, for the farmer approached them, and not a transition project in itself. This feels like a very good example of the way Transition groups are organically moving; bringing people together and facilitating the process wherever possible. I leave thoroughly inspired that a group that knew nothing about transition have come together to get a very transition project off the ground, and in deep admiration for the way Jamie and the others made this possible in a fun, non threatening, non jargon type way.
The day ends with us all knowing that not only the two next work days are organised, but that an open meeting in the village hall is planned for three weeks hence to decide how to take the project forward. A success story in the making that I feel privileged to have witnessed.
Jamie and I go back to his home in Bathford and have dinner cooked by Brendan and Laura in honour of Roma, a bleated birthday treat. Zephyr entertains us all with his two year old take on life and the star of the feast for me is Roma’s chocolate and blackberry cake. I have been musing, these past days, as I had grazed on wild blackberries in the hedgerow, on why we never see blackberry and chocolate cake! A highly recommended combination!
We talk over dinner of Mark Boyle, the moneyless man, friend of Brendan and Laurie, and my host at Radford Mill in a few days time, and of NVC (..) and consensus decision making, and they are interested to pick my brains about my experience of community living and the pros and cons of consensus decision making and the different ways of setting up new communities; whether by getting together a group of people first, or by talking through clear goals first. We talk too of the Transition Bath Economics group and the Open Source Conspiracy, a term coined by Brendan for a way of introducing economics that is inclusive and fair. The group are to start discussing the possible alternatives to our current system in their next meeting and I encourage them to keep us all posted by the transition network website, for this sounds like a valuable discussion for all, especially in the light of the right wing extremists objections that have been recently made against the tide turning book “Sprit Level” (..) reported in this week’s Guardian. There is real breath of fresh air permeating the air in recent years, coming from intelligent young people who will not be held back by outdated, outmoded, stale ideas issuing from those who are simply protecting their own interests.
These young people know what they are doing, have an acute sense of fair play, understand non violent communication, and are so much more mature in their thinking than many older people who have grown up within a system that is old and jaded and about to crack wide open. If the future is in these capable hands, then all is well.