A couple of times a year – in the warm summer months when maintenance needs are high – the good folk of Abundant Earth near Durham invite the young people of Europe, en mass, to come to a residential volunteer fortnight – a fortnight of fun and frolics, community and some not inconsequential land work!!
Tucked into the folds of County Durham, Abundant Earth is a Permaculture Association LAND Centre. Set up and run by a small workers cooperative it produces fresh organic vegetables and chicken eggs which are supplied to the residents of Durham through a weekly veg box scheme, and for their mixed salads through local eateries. Organic methods are the foundation of the operation which aims for self sustaining systems, an outcome where first view can belie the multiplicity of planting and interrelated activity across the site.
All four participants in the co-op, Wilf Richards and partner Beth Currie, along with Matt Whittaker and partner Jo-Anne Bolton, have a substantial history in environmental activism and permaculture teachings. Moreover all have a real and infectious passion for growing and making things from the land. Combine this with the feisty, sensual intensity of getting on for a dozen young adults away from home and ‘living the dream’, if only for a couple of weeks, and you have a very special place which it was honour and delight to part of for a few hours on a fabulous July day.
The group had literally come together from all corners of Europe – German, Italian and French I can certainly remember, plus Southern English, Northern English….I think somebody even said they were Scottish!! They were joined by Wilf and Beth’s two young sons and Fabio, a young Italian who from the fact that he was in residence when I first visited in April, seemed to be making Abundant Earth his home! In many ways you just can’t buy this sort of experience – structured only around the work needing doing to maintain a place of organic growing, and with the freedom to taunt, to flirt and to challenge as you experience the ups and downs of living from the land.
A key element has to be the mixed nationalities of the group – borders define and divide in the real world, here they unite as each works out his or her distinctiveness and melds it into the unique whole which is the group. Little did anyone have on their mind the game changing decision the British public were to make less than 12 months later in terms of their relationship with the rest of the world.
It would be easy to get sentimental and mournful about such opportunities as I witnessed being about to disappear – certainly for me as a keen ‘remainer’ as regards the EU vote. But since that day back in June, with the manics of Gove and Duncan Smith seemingly sidelined through their own greed, and Johnson being given enough rope to hang himself, I have returned to reading Schumacher’s ‘Small is Beautiful’. Its simple truth is difficult to ignore. If only we can overcome the current wave of antagonism which is abroad in Britain to anyone ‘different’, the volunteer fortnights at Abundant Earth can have a long future, strengthened, rather than weakened, by a decision which fundamentally seems to call for a re-evaluation of the seemingly impregnable essential of continual increase in ‘bigness’. In the meantime though, we would seem need an awful lot of crossed fingers.
For more on Abundant Earth, including links to the co-op website, see the post for my April visit here.
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!]