Land Matters is a land cooperative in beautiful Devon, where we are holding our Earth Activist Training. Started by activists, a number of whom have taken our training in the past, it’s an experiment in low impact living and permaculture: ecological design, which is what we’re teaching here.
I’m sitting in a bender typing on Maren’s internet line. A bender is a house made of branches, hazel boughs bent over, lashed together to make a framework, and covered with tarps and blankets for insulation. It’s a traditional way to make a cheap, temporary structure, long used by the poor and by itinerant country workers in Britain, and still favored by those with little cash or who have not yet received permanent planning permission. This bender is a bit higher on the comfort scale, built on wooden platform and not the bare earth, with real doors and windows and solar power. Still, it’s an example of what can be done with very little money and lots of creativity.
Land Matters has a beautiful permaculture design, with one field for structure clustered around a village green, others for camping and courses. They have lush gardens full of greens which we eat every day, with raspberries and currants getting ripe. They’ve planted young trees in shelter belts and the beginnings of forest gardens which will someday provide lots of food. It’s primitive here—if we’re lucky and we do well installing a graywater system tomorrow, we’ll have showers! But it’s beautiful, with long views over green, English fields to wild Dartmoor on the horizen. I’m amazed at impressed at how much the folks here have done in a few short years, and hopeful that they will eventually receive their permanent planning permission to stay. (After a long struggle, they got temporary permission for three years.)
When I’m teaching these courses, I’m pretty much working 12 hour days, so I may not write much for the next week or so. However, I want to post some pictures, and try to give at least a taste of what we’re doing here.
We have twenty seven students, two teachers and three assistant teachers for this course. The students here are all activists of some sort—from street activists to permaculture teachers, full of questions and lively debates. As might be expected, climate change is central to our focus and discussions.
I doubt that most people would be willing to live quite as simply as our friends here. But it’s worth seeing what they’re doing, to realize that a very low impact life can still include comfort and beauty, good food, flourishing gardens, friends, song, flowers. Everyone finds their own comfort level eventually—my own place in the country has running water, bathing facilities, off-grid power, and comfy chairs, although it has outdoor composting toilets. I’d have a hard time reconciling myself to a life without comfy chairs, although I suppose if I really knew for sure that I could save the planet….no, let’s not go there. I believe we can save the planet and still have comfy chairs, if not SUVs in every garage and mini-mansions for everyone. In fact I believe we can only save the planet if we set out to provide comfort, beauty, and lives full of dignity and friendship for everyone. But comfort does not mean excess, and beauty is as much about the living things around us as it is about the things we buy.
Ok, time for our daily meeting. More later.