Growing Well (June 30th) Day 94
By Steph Bradley 7th July 2010
I take a look at “How Bad are Bananas” TT Kendal & District’s gift to the next transition initiative – it is by Kendal ‘s own author Mike Berners-Lee and is a work of scientific interest aimed at the general public on the carbon footprint of everyday things. Mike works in Lancaster so it is a fitting gift to present to Transition Lancaster.
I find his book a bit simplistic; it sets out to raise awareness of the problem without suggesting any solutions; an approach I personally feel is counterproductive. He suggests a box of eggs has a higher carbon footprint than bananas but doesn’t explain that keeping your own free range chickens in your garden is a whole different ball game to buying a box of eggs from a supermarket; this could easily leave people thinking eating eggs is bad for the environment and be more likely to switch off than feel inspired to make a change.
It also says in the book that strawberries bought locally are better than those flown in; great, but with never a mention of growing them in your allotment, or in a tub in your back yard.
It seems Berners Lee sees the population as needing to be educated and yet is not about to empower them to the point of taking responsibility by telling them the tools they have at their fingertips to be able to make the changes very easily. It will no doubt appeal to a particular audience, with its facts and figure arranged in order of the quantity of carbon used, but I cannot see it alone encouraging any meaningful change in behaviour.
His comments about cattle are also very suspect and I wonder what Vandana Shiva and Graham Harvey would make of his suggestion that cows are bad for the environment because they emit carbon through releasing methane (p71) – what about their role in the eco system of fertilizing the soil, though I do agree that grain fattened beef and milk are bad for the environment, as well as for us, not to mention the fact that the soya and grain fed lifestyle and being cooped up in small (for them ) fields being bad for the animals themselves!!
My favourite bit, of course, typically for me, is the information that the World Cup is really bad for the environment, using 2.8 million tonnes of carbon, and thankfully here he does suggest kicking a ball around on your own street or park, though forgetting the rather anti social aspect of football played in a public place, that of getting hit in the face by a flying ball or having your property damaged. Making the town’s football pitch available for general public use would seem to make slightly more sense, and have people playing their beloved game themselves instead of watching a few overpaid and over rated players having all the fun for us.
Berners Lee clearly doesn’t set out to advocate being socially responsible, still “Are Bananas Bad For us” does raise awareness and the profile of the issues and I suppose that’s better than nothing and if you want to ask him about his work he will be speaking at the Brewery Arts Centre on Thursday, 15th July at a SLACC TT event costing £4. Contact SLACC to book.
I walk to Kendal town centre via the castle route which involves walking up the footpath straight up the hill at my side of Kendal to the castle at the top and then down the footpath at the other side in to the town centre. It is just glorious, especially as I have been watching people up there all morning as I have stayed house bound writing my blog.
What a resource this place is for the community; there are clearly marked footpaths going all over the hill; a haven for all ages and used by dog walkers, teenagers, children, and adults alike. I learn from a heritage information board about the destructive power of grazing, which I have been gleaning from the various comments made about parasitical sheep. 500 years of sheep and cattle grazing have decimated the trees on this hillside and the soil is now infertile; crested dog tail and timothy grass growing are a sign that the rain is washing all the nutrients out now that there is not enough grass and plant life either to hold it in place whilst living, or to feed it minerals as it dies back.
The heritage board explains that if no grazing occurs on land buckthorn and hawthorn will eventually return and later our native Oakland will re emerge. This site is mown in places to prevent this regeneration and to preserve the ancient meadow with its 50 species of wild flowers and herbs. This is such a reminder to me of how plants naturally grow where they are needed. The minerals that can be got from these plants by grazing animals are so obviously good for them compared to the grain that can be bought. Our cattle are not getting the nutrients in their food which they need and consequently the meat we buy is equally lacking in goodness. We have overdone everything to the point of being nonsensical. When are we going to wake up and remember that nature knows best?
In the town waiting for Val I read in the Westmorland Gazette (dated 17/6/10), that most conservative of newspapers, that there have been lots of cases of walkers being attacked by cows and the article, in the farming section (p34), warns farmers that new laws might want to keep cattle off footpaths and advising them to get advice about which breeds are safe to put in fields where footpaths are and that they could be liable if they put up warning signs implying they know the cattle are not safe, and can be prosecuted if fields where cows are kept are muddy if a public footpath goes through. The tone of the article suggests farmers will not be in support of a law that favour of walkers.
I read also that a local farmer who has provided cheap caravan homes for those that have no means of buying land and living in the countryside is in court for having put 15 new eco homes up on his land. I feel the tension here; locals who had turned a blind eye for years to a few caravans objected when the number of inhabitants grew; their fears were around the carrying capacity of the land; could the river support such extra use, and could the tiny lane support so much more traffic. I am aware that we just do not know our land so intimately any longer, we do not know its carrying capacity, how many it can feed, and sustain, without having a detrimental effect on it so we are not able to know when is the right time to have children, or to accept newcomers of other kinds; refugees and those simply choosing another life. It feels like it is time we had open discussions on this potentially emotive issue and looked seriously into how our land is distributed and how we can best make use of it in a resilient transition future.
Val comes along and takes me to Lower Sizergh and the Growing Well community owned organic veg growing business which uses volunteers with mental health issues www.growingwell.co.uk . Val is a member of the scheme and shows me around. I also speak to Jamie, the growing manager; the business also runs NVC horticulture courses and employs another manager who is responsible for these, an administrator, and a volunteer coordinator.
They and their volunteers have been managing their 6 acres of growing fields which now provide veg boxes for all their members for 5 years. They used to provide to wholesalers but didn’t like the impersonality of it and have been operating the veg box scheme for 1 year now. They grow 500,000 plants and 60 varieties of fruit and vegetable.
They also keep a population of very content looking free range hens who look like they have a proper community in their spacious half acre enclosure with very comfortable looking hen houses.
Growing Well ask £24 a year to become a member and those that join become part of regular social events and get 10% off their veg boxes and off any courses they want to do. They can also come and work on the land. The veg boxes Growing Well supply come with recipes for the veg provided and Val and Jamie reminisce about the delicious chard stir fried in balsamic vinegar one he included when there was lots of chard in the box. The new veg introduced this year is the tomatillo, a fleshy less juicy member of the tomato family which was the original veg used in the South American salsa. We learn how cherry tomatoes fruit abundantly and earlier in the season if they are not treated too well in the beginning so that when they are finally planted out in poly tunnels and watered well they revive and are prolific. I am not too sure how I feel about the ethics of doing this; I am much more a forest gardener at heart, but the cherry tomatoes are certainly delicious tasting.
Val and I visit the herb garden basking in the sun and smelling divine. We both agree this is our favourite kind of plant to keep. There is sage, and mint, rosemary and thyme. Val points out the apple trees growing up around the fences of the scheme. They are local traditional varieties and have been planted in the order in which they will fruit along the fence so that there is a cascade of blossom in the Spring, and an ease of picking as each variety is ready.
The rest of the divisions in the scheme are beautiful hedgerows, full of all sorts of plants. I am also delighted to learn of the no weed policy and to see rows of onions and other crops sharing their bed with numerous other plants and not a scrap of earth exposed to the drying, killing effects of the sun. I first came to understand the value of gardening in this way in South America with the Native Indian gardens; they plant their crops apparently higgledy piggledy amongst the plants growing naturally. They do this because in this way they are not depriving any of the local bugs and small creatures of their natural food supply and so don’t get their crops eaten.
I am often amused by our gardeners worrying first about weeds, and then battling against slugs, if they didn’t worry about one they wouldn’t need to worry about the other. Nor would they be repeatedly killing their soil; I learnt on the Forest Gardening course I did with Martin Crawford (…) last year about what happens if you expose the soil to the elements; the heat of the sun kills the microorganisms and the rain washes the nutrients away. Plant covered soil not only retains its nutrients; it also gains new all the time as the multitude of plants die back at their different times and replenish it.
Growing Well uses land on the Lower Sizergh farm site. Lower Sizergh keep a dairy herd and you can watch the milking as well as buy produce from the farm shop and stop for a drink in the cafe. It feels like a very healthy sort of business has grown up here, combining traditional farming with innovative projects and generating an income through selling directly to the public and involving them more in the process of where their food comes from.
I end my stay in Kendal and District by a visit to Jayne and baby Rob who is growing well too; a lovely last day to an enriching stay in transition town Kendal.