I came to Suffolk in 2016 without a plan, or much of an idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I have always had a stubborn side, which found a welcome home in community activism. The feeling that society could do a lot better haunted me through my late twenties, I wanted to be involved at the heart to try to be a positive force.
As a practicing optimist, and in my first few months in the county, I found myself drawn to the very promisingly named Suffolk Greenest County Conference near Ipswich. One of the speakers, who was from a prominent farming organisation, maybe the NFU, divulged insightful and thought -provoking prose about the state of agricultural policy and the consequences of a failed payment system of the decades prior.
One point struck me with the type of anger that stubbornness clings to. A fuel that keeps a fire simmering, with a slow steady burn propelling itself forward along a path, one that you were never really aware that you were travelling but are nesciently wandering along one small step at a time.
The speaker’s story told of what the industry called ‘greening’, the term used to describe the extra activities farmers were encouraged to do in the name of improving the environmental impact of their farming practices. These include fallow verges, planting wildflowers, etc. The program was generous at the beginning and got more stringent for less rewards towards the end. The speaker went on, to say that many farmers were now opting out as the financial benefits diminished. The devastation was that all the years, maybe decades, of work were being destroyed with one feckless pass of a plough.
There is a doomed mindworm that the established balance in nature can be destroyed in one area and re-created, instantly, in another. You hear this echoed in the HS2 travesty of today that the destruction of ancient forest is okay because the trees will be replanted!
I now find myself at a crossroads, as a regenerative market gardener, creating a beyond-organic, wildlife-centric community farm. I find myself many steps along the path; part community activist and part green fingered horticulturists. However, the wanderer has another purpose, one that was spawned at that now distant talk, one that is far more important than my little farm, it is the idea of community ownership and how to protect our space for ourselves, our community, our diverse wildlife and the whole planet. For it not to fall prey to changing attitudes and the whims of the market.
What is beyond organic? We practice regenerative agriculture techniques, which places an emphasis on soil health and bringing the balance of nature back. The completely chemical free system improves with every season as you add more nutrients and organic matter to the soil and the balance of nature and pests find equilibrium.
What is a wildlife-centric community farm? The importance of reversing the biodiversity loss of our plant is one of our greatest challenges. A farm will never be big enough to isolate itself from the world outside its borders, the deer will always want to get in and the damage of other farmers and neighbours chemical use will always be a danger. This is why the cultivation of understanding within the community is vital to developing healthier growing techniques and a local demand for chemical free food.
What these both need is time. As the doomed idea of moving a forest is true, and so it is for our soil. The health and balance of our soil, built up over many years, can never be moved or taken with us. The soils are living organisms in their own right and the complex, beautiful ecosystem that they support are unique. Every small area of this planet is as unique as a human fingerprint. The pathways and relationships that make it up are linked and interconnected; from the effects the microclimate, the nutrients in the earth, the concentration of hummus, the network of mycelium, the makeup of trees, the migration of birds and the infinite other micro-factors that make the whole majestic picture that is nature.
This nature, that we are just a small part of willing it into existence, is our nature. It smells unique to us on the dew of a spring morning. The buzz of insects at sunset are humming to a rhythm unhear by anyone else’s ears. The peppery spice of our rocket is unique to our soils and our weather, that extra sunny day last week and my underwatering of the bed made it taste just that way on just that day. It is all a tapestry of godliness that no human can ever hope to understand but everyone can bask in if we find the moments to look up and soak it all in.
This is why I now see myself as a guardian of the soils. I am an inquisitor of nature, my mission is to root out the heresy of the world today that holds greed over nature. I am a farmer for me, I am a farmer so I can enjoy my hands in the soil and feel truly proud of the harvest of my endeavour.
For you I am the guardian, the inquisitor and the facilitator. I promise you that I will spend my days fighting for you, the community, to help you take back ownership of the land of your heritage and of the soils that gives life to us all.
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