Tucked into the folds of the land of County Durham lies the hidden permaculture gem of Abundant Earth. Here a small workers cooperative produces fresh organic vegetables and chicken eggs which are supplied to the good folk of Durham through a weekly veg box scheme, and their mixed salads also going to local eateries.
Permaculture is an important driver of the design and operation of Abundant Earth. In some way permaculture is a loose association of design ideas, in other ways it is a structured design process whereby people and environment are given fair and equal share in the development of ways of ‘doing’. Whilst its principles are relatively simple, the outcomes are site specific, as they should be if genuinely refection a fair deal for the environment, so plurality is feature of the permaculture world. There is a well written and insightful article on the Indie Farming website if you are interested in reading more.
Suffice to say here, organic methods are the foundation of permaculture along with the creation, as far as possible, of self sustaining systems, through integration of dynamic links between elements of the activity so that one thing feeds and supports another. The result can often be a misleading simplicity in appearance, one which when examined further reveals a quiet complexity of relationships. Such in the case at Abundant Earth where a first view can belie (i.e. as it did with me!) the multiplicity of planting and interrelated activity across the site.
Abundant Earth is the creation of two family couples, Wilf Richards and Beth Currie, along with Matt Whittaker and Jo-Anne Bolton, on 15 acres of land just on the outskirts of Durham city. The vegetables are grown in a one acre garden, whilst elsewhere a very free-range hen flock provides eggs for our veg customers. There is also a flock of sheep and plenty of fruit trees, and the team make craft items for sale such as wooden bowls, willow baskets and felt fairies, and run both permaculture and craft courses working with wood, willow and wool. If that’s not enough Beth is a registered celebrant for weddings and funerals! Sustainable living is not a simple monoculture!!
All four have a substantial history in environmental activism and permaculture teachings. More importantly all have a real and infectious passion for growing and making things from the land. They use no mechanised operations here, other than the distribution of the veg boxes by the old Land Rover, and everything is worked by hand. The result is a site which is recognised as a ‘centre of excellence’ in permaculture by its award of LAND Centre status by the Permaculture Association
The day I was there was the day for making up the veg boxes. There was a real feeling of spring being close by as warm sunshine bathed the site (in contrast to the day before with Jonah Maurice in Allendale), the last of the winter veg were being eked out into the boxes and new growth was starting to be clearly visible across the site with live-in WWOF volunteer from Italy, Fabio, and local volunteer, Matthew, beginning seasonal plantings. It was easy to start thinking of rural idylls with the warmth of the environment and the people…….idyllic it may be but it is also real thanks the commitment and energy of those involved.
For more on Abundant Earth, see the co-op’s website and a write up under the Permaculture Association LAND Centres directory.