Have you heard the story of the Palestinian married to a Jew and who together are selling Christmas Trees? Read on……
Wheelbarrow Farm is a mixed small holding just outside Stroud in Gloucestershire. It is owned and run by Fadia and Bernie Courts, who gradually acquired the land piece by piece and consolidated into the single holding of 10 acres over the years. Fadia has been the mainstay of the farm whilst Bernie also held down a job at Ruskin Mill College in Stroud where he is currently Vice-Principal. Located in a 140 acre, wooded valley the college caters for over 100 students who range in age from 16 to 25 and have complex behaviour and learning difficulties. These can include autistic spectrum disorders, epilepsy, dyspraxia, Asperger’s, speech, communication difficulties and mental health issues. At Ruskin Mill they are supported in a patient, understanding, supportive and respectful environment with education and care treated as a journey rather than a race.
Fadia and Bernie though have now decided that the farm is sufficient size from them to move on to it as their home and fully develop it as a self sufficient operation. As a result when I was there, the yard was more like a demolition site as the ground was being prepared for the new farm. In and amongst the demolition, a small wooden house was being constructed in order to provide accommodation in the short term, while long term it will be a house for guests. The farm house itself will be an imposing building of straw bale construction at the heart of the operation, and the whole site, living accommodation and farm, will be off grid power and water wise. A panel of 22 solar panels will feed electricity into two large lithium batteries, whilst a 22,000 litre storage tank will form the mainstay of a rainwater harvesting system.
Even with awareness of this background, the full extent of the extraordinary situation of these two people came as a surprise. Bernie was born in Britain, but into a Jewish family. Fadia came here separately, as an immigrant from Palestine, over 25 years ago. For over twenty years though Palestinian and Jew have been happily married, and have four children. It is a relationship based on love, compassion and respect for each other – an ethos which seems to permeate through even the farm buildings. My time there was one of the most remarkable few hours of my life, my very soul felt touched and my own personal issues calmed. The icing on the cake so to speak was learning that Fadia and Bernie produce and grow Christmas trees! You couldn’t make it up – if a soap opera had a Arab and a Jew happily married and generating an income by selling traditional Christmas artefacts – in England – you would say it was too far fetched to ever be true!! It is though, very true. Why, oh why, oh why can the world at large not be more like this……just living with love, compassion and respect.
I wiped a tear from my eye as I drove away feeling truly to have hit lucky in meeting this amazing couple.
For an artists view of Fadia and Bernie’s straw bale house see the website for Art Hand Architecture (you will need to scroll about half way down the page)
For more on the wonderful work of Ruskin Mill College and the Ruskin Mill Trust in general see the website for the Trust
[Double clicking on any of the images below will open up that image up in a slideshow format. You can then run the slide show using ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. Personally I prefer to go also to full screen having opened the slide show – F11 on my PC, don’t forget to get out of full screen is the same button , not ESC!]