I arrive at Keveral Farm Community Farm and Veg Box Cooperative late afternoon after a lovely walk along the coastal path from Looe. Mum and I set out from her home near Pelynt, dad walking with us to the top of the road, as far as he is able these days as he waits for his body to recover its strength and rebuild muscles after his third hip operation last year. We walk along the lanes to the coast where there are stunning views of the sea and do lots of climbing up and down steep hills as we follow the coast to Looe. It’s about three and half miles and the most mum has walked for quite a while and we both feel pleasure that she is still able to walk that distance.
We pass a new development along the way; someone has bought up part of the cliff and is busily obscuring the view with tall wooden chalets all in a line along the clifftop. Later we pass a farm for sale with farmhouse, barns and outhouses, and 123 acres of land.
“Cost a fortune”
says mum, and of course it probably does, and most that see it would say the same, but it’s that belief that will sell another huge chunk into the hands of developers and yet more growing land will disappear beneath layers of humanmade structures. The sooner more of us club together to buy these tracts of land the sooner we can return to a situation where land is not all in the hands of a wealthy few.
After lunch in a cafe in West Looe we cross the bridge into
At Keveral I am met by Oak, one of the early members of this successful community land project that has been going some 30 years, supplying a living to some of the people here as well as organic and biodynamically grown vegetable boxes to the locality. I am shown the campers’ barn where I am to stay; there is a beautifully cosy shared kitchen and lounge and then a room at the end where I can lay a mattress and have my own space. I eagerly soak in the information for visitors and wwwoofers on the walls and enjoy greatly the land care poster headed by Mark Twain’s immortal saying* reminding us that land is precious and should be thought of and treated as such.
I really appreciate the calculations that have been made on the poster (fairshares) which shows an estimate of how much productive land there is available on the earth (13.1 hectares) and how many people we are (6 billion) and therefore how much each of us would be entitled to on which to grow our food. It is 1.9 hectares as things are now; if population continues to grow, by 2030 we’d only have 1.2 hectares each. The poster advocates doing our utmost not only to grow our food on this amount of land but also to recycle and reuse all of our waste too on this land. It appeals to me greatly, in a very satisfying way, and though I feel sad too for all the land currently being tied up as landscaped gardens, and the acres and acres all over the world owned by the minority, the wealthy, whilst close at hand the majority, the landless, have no means with which to grow their own food, I also feel empowered by the sense of knowing what it is that I can do; find my 1.9 hectares and start growing food and recycling and reusing the waste, for the more of us that do this the more examples there will be for others to follow, and the more land will be being used in an appropriate way. Hectare by hectare, we can transform our land, each one of caring for our bit in a responsible manner. It is by focussing on what we can do that we change our world, for focussing on what we cannot is the route to disempowerment and a perpetuation of the very things that we would have different.
I make rice and mung bean kedgeree and Oak supplies veg stew and we sit to eat and drink his apple juice and are joined by Bill who brings us homemade raspberry smoothies. We eat the remains of my Cornish produced chocolate, and Oak’s toffee cake and talk about communities and how they are and I learn a lot of well balanced mature thinking from theses communards who have years more experience than I about community living and feel very blessed to be having the opportunity to hear their tales.
I hear from Oak, twenty years on this land, of the different phases of the farm’s life, the vibrant and lively times when there was lots of community socialising taking place in the main house and how that changed now that many are in their forties and have children. Bill, thirteen years in, tells us the long legal process they are just coming through to have planning permission to renovate the barn and other outbuildings to homes they can rent out to members and new people, and of the challenges of having a near neighbour who doesn’t agree with what they want to do.
I hear of the different ways the communards find to make a living; from eco consultancy to tree surgeon, from medical herbalist to teacher in a local school, from joiner to housewife, from producer of speciality salads to Jamie Oliver’s restaurant to permaculture teaching, and of the veg box scheme they have been running successfully for more than ten years and how after various attempts at different models for running it they are currently happy with a system whereby they all do certain jobs voluntarily which ensure the overall smooth ticking over of the scheme to perhaps receive a small bonus at the end of the year if there has been a surplus made, and with them each leasing a plot of land from the community, sub letting from themselves, on which they grow veg and then each sell veg to the veg box scheme to make an income which supplements what they do as well.
I learn that their involvement with the wider community is very important to them, with friends and ex communards in the local villages, and of their connections with local growers and farmers, sometimes leasing pieces of land, and buying in produce they don’t grow from surrounding land. I learn that though permaculture principles are really important to some of them they are not a priority to everyone and some things are done by some because they make economic sense rather than because they are permaculture followers, so for example they all power their vehicles on used cooking oil.
We talk about the challenges facing those who would live on the land and the constant work to go through legal processes to be able to live in this way, and the great success story of Lammas, the community in Wales and the recent Welsh One Planet policy which enables low impact communities to set up providing their carbon footprint is less than 2.4. Bill explains that though this is low it is 1.8 we have to aim for if everyone worldwide was to be using a fair amount, but how hard this is for us over here to achieve often simply because of the initial financial outlay required in order to set oneself up in circumstances which allow such a low impact lifestyle.
I am delighted by the model they have used to own the land, first renting, and then eventually buying as a cooperative and then sub letting from their own company in order to meet costs. It sounds like an incredibly fair way of doing things and differs from the community where I live in that those that left would leave with nothing, and need to start over, but perhaps that is a good way to be sure commitment is truly there for the right reasons, in this case, ensuring others that want to live in this way in the future, even if you move away, are able to do so.
It is heartening to hear of the phases of life the community has passed through; starting out life as a group that wanted to help and rehabilitate drug users and pretty soon changing focus and becoming a self sufficiency project. Looking in at it nowadays it seems a very mature community of co-housing with a shared cooperative business that enables any that grow to make some income from the veg box scheme, as well as supporting each to make their own way life as they sit fit, to bring in an income for their families and to pursue what interests them personally. A weekly meeting takes place and people talk to the others about matters arising at other times.
As a model for a transition community it is an attractive one and both Bill and Oak participate in Transition Liskeard meetings when they can and offer support where they can, but essentially see themselves as Transition Keveral and most of their energy goes into making their little 12 adult, ten children strong community function well, as well as maintaining their own work interests.
Bill and I talk about our shared experience of having lived in
We talk briefly about the different types of people that come into community too; the vegan and vegetarian question that caused quite some tension at one point here, and the born again Christian contingent that form a small part of the community now and how those different points of view affect the overall dynamic of the community and of how a mature community is able to accept all of that diversity and be tolerant. The skills people bring to the community and the skills that leave the community are important too, so that when the charcoal burner was here some of the willow was used for that, and when the basket maker lived here more people did that , and when the beekeepers lived here the bees did well, and all of the diversity that comes and goes is part of the life of the community and those that do best are those that are able to accept the changes that occur as natural and accept the way a community is is exactly what it is are happier than those who expect it to be this way or that, and that some people are in community to find out what it is they want and it may not always be this community and they will move on if they find that to be the case.
I have a thoroughly good time talking to these two men who have so much more experience of community living than I, and feel immensely grateful that not only have I been offered hospitality but that I have also gained so much from the conversations, and realise how rare it has been since I have lived in an intentional community that I have got to discuss it with others who also live that way, and have done so for much longer than my community has been in existence. How valuable experience is, and how precious, and how wonderful too the ability to remain flexible, and not to set up systems that become dogma. It is my constant delight that Transition is an organic process and embraces all the very many, possibly infinite, and constantly changing, possibilities that can help bring about sustainable and resilient communities, and a society that is interdependent with its environment.