“A SYSTEMATIC CHANGE IN OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE NATURAL WORLD IS NEEDED.”
I’ve spent 30 very rewarding years working on nature reserves, undertaking restoration projects to convert farmed land back to their more natural states, mainly wetlands. This helped me see first-hand how changes in our climate and the surrounding land management were impacting the natural world. What I also experienced was that given the right conditions, natural systems will re-establish, finding balance and effectively restore themselves. A critical component of this natural balance is the need for diversity; where biodiversity is allowed to get a foothold, it will flourish. The opposite is also true; where diversity is squeezed out, the natural world only becomes more depleted.
I also realized that a systemic change in our relationship with the natural world is needed. By far the biggest interface between the human population and the natural world is our food. As Michael Pollan said “ We vote three times a day for the world that we want!” This led me to work with open pollinated organic vegetables, herbs and flower seed.
My work with the Seed Co-operative is focused on supplying farmers and gardeners in the UK with a diverse range of locally adapted vegetable varieties that they can then save seeds from. Seed Co-operative is a community owned seed company with over 420 shareholder members. Our mission is about democratising our food, putting the control of seeds back into the hands of the community.
What does “dreaming locally” mean to you?
Local is about connections. If you buy food from a local farm where you can go and collect it, see the farm, talk to farmers and understand a bit more about what goes into growing your food, it enriches you more than simply eating. If you grow food in your garden, this enrichment is deepened even further. If you can find out who grew the seed and where, and even who bred that variety and what inspired them to do it, a whole web of connections starts to take shape.
Local is about a different way of looking at the world. It’s not just about stuff that is magically generated out of thin air and arrives beautifully packaged as if never touched by a human hand. Local is all about the touch of human hands, and the people that those hands belong to.
“LOCAL IS ALL ABOUT THE TOUCH OF HUMAN HANDS, AND THE PEOPLE THAT THOSE HANDS BELONG TO.”
“LIVING LOCALLY BUT THINKING GLOBALLY IS KEY.“
What are the biggest challenges that prevent us from connecting with nature, locally?
I believe people need connection with nature that is tangible. For instance, learning about orchards through going to buy cider at the orchard, or seeing how the fuel for your woodburner is cut from the coppice, or seeing the farmland birds when visiting the farm shop.
I also believe that connection with nature is cultural. It is as much about people and our values as a society as it is about the state or availability of nature. If our culture is linked with the natural world, then so will the people.
What kind of impact do you imagine local living has on society and the environment?
Living locally but thinking globally is key. We need to value the world in which we live and everyone we share it with, regardless of where they live in the world, their race or religion. We have to start caring about our locality, both the natural world around us and the people who live there. When we work close to where we live, eat food from our local producers and value the work of our local traders, it builds a network of support.
How can others dream locally?
I try to go out for a walk everyday, normally with my partner Kate. We are lucky to have open space where we live. It is a great source of calmness for us in what are generally very busy days. I love to see how the seasons pass, watch the changing light, the colours come and go and the migratory birds as they arrive or pass over. The intensive agriculture that surrounds our farm is not hospitable to wildlife, but even so we generally see something that delights us. Having that time of connection is so valuable.