The secret seed society

One of the current joys in the garden is in the beauty and the wonder of some of the vegetables that we have left to go to seed.  This week we harvested parsnip seeds, selected from the best of last year’s crop.  The plants were 8ft tall when the seeds had matured sufficiently for the plants to be cut.  Not quite ready yet are the leek seeds from the late variety ‘Bandit’.


Again, we selected and saved the most wonderful specimens of last year’s crop, and left them to live on into their second year (like parsnips they are biannuals).  They also are taller than me (I am 6ft 5in) and have incredible, joyful pompoms of seeds forming that were absolutely covered in a dozen types of insects a few weeks ago.  We have also been collecting poppy seeds and then shaking them out of their incredible pods.

Seed saving really is a lost science, a lost art.  In the UK today, agriculture is dominated by F1 hybrid seeds which are truly industrialised seeds.  They can’t be saved on the farm, and help to concentrate control of the seed business in the hands of a few big businesses.  One hundred years ago all seeds were open pollinated – locally adapted, containing a healthy genetic diversity, producing true offspring and a wonderful variety of produce.

summer 2014

There has been a 75% loss in this biodiversity since then and there are very few people keeping the remaining populations of OP seeds alive, despite our future being reliant upon them.  Because of this, we are only growing OP seeds, and are saving a few varieties each year.  Later this year we will be hosting an event launching a group called south west seeds saver’s cooperative – a grower’s led seed saving group, that will endeavour to contribute to keeping alive one of our most precious inheritances – an inheritance that has always been in the hands of the people – peasants or farmers in particular – and must come back into these people’s hands.

I was in Brussels last week for a meeting as a representative of the Landworker’s Alliance, learning about the current legislation which is in process of working itself through the EU Commission and Parliament. There is huge pressure being put on governments by multinational companies to open the gates for GMOs into Europe and to introduce very controlling legislation regarding the control and marketing of seeds.

Seeds have been at the heart of ceremonies for cultures around the world always, and it is well over time that we stood up to claim them back as our own – not patentable, not something a company can open, but the product of countless generations of peasants who have worked with nature to create an increasingly rich diversity of seed for future generations. ,

A conversation with Stephan Pfaff, a reflection on LIFEBeat

A conversation with…

Stephan Pfaff: LIFEbeat Faciltator, Embercombe Education Apprentice


Working on LIFEBeat has changed me. I already knew that living in this world didn’t mean love, peace and happiness for everybody. I knew that not too far away from me there are people growing up in desperate situations. But I had no idea how big the difference is between knowing this and actually meeting it.


As a facilitator on LIFEBeat I heard the young peoples stories who were here for 7 days. They transported us to a completely different place and the reality of the desperate hardship they had lived was suddenly heartbreakingly real.


The stories of some of the participants were stories of violence, pain and despair. I wouldn’t judge any of them if they had given up. Yet I witnessed more joy, more love for life and more faith on LIFEBeat than I experienced with any other group of people I’ve met before.


In my experience Embercombe has never been so vibrant, so alive, so joyful as with these 50 young people. Building a capsule for these kids in which they felt safe to open up and show their true selves was incredibly demanding, but profoundly satisfying. Working together with an amazing group of skilled, passionate and humane facilitators showed me what it means to be in service. Something I will never forget and will take with me when I leave Embercombe this week.

Last blog from me…

So here it is, the last blog entry for me. No pressure! That’s been a real theme this week, releasing of pressure. I’ve had the opportunity to reveal in my domain of the kitchen, flexing some culinary muscles and delighting in cooking treats. With the garden heaving with produce growing quicker than we can harvest it, the selection of incredible organic produce is just one aspect of the Embercombe magic I will for sure be missing.

lucy luluI could give a recipe for one of the incedible chtuneys and jams, ferments and breads that have come out of our incredible Emberfest, but really, in this last week, what I have been involved in most is cooking! I have loved running our kitchen and the joyious dance of making our sometimes coatic ways work. So, these are the recipes for what we served at our harvest festival and it was yum!

Wild Mushroom casserole

diced celery (small)

bite size chopped mixed root veg like carrot, potatoe and onion.

loads of Garlic

field mushrooms or any other foraged or non foraged mushrooms

red wine

thyme, fresh if you can get it.

rosemary (not so much)

a bay leaf

cooked puy lentils


Start by frying the veg and celery in a good amount of oil. Chuck in the bay leaf and season it with salt and pepper, a very wise person just showed me that trick, the potatoes soak up the flavour of the salt and keep it the whole way through the cooking process, this way they taste amazing in the casserole! When they are nearly there, add the loads of garlic. Fry untill they are done, if the veg is sticking to the bottom of the pan, add a ladel or two of liquid, fresh stock if you have it, or water is fine too. Not packaged stock, we don’t need it in this. Keep adding as and when. Add the herbs, really go for it with the thyme, be more shy with the rosemary. Add wine, keep adding it, having a glass at the same time with your fellow cooks, until the bottle is done. It is important the casserole gets it’s fair share. Throw in any other liquid you have around, the water from the puy lentils for instance. Shove in the lentils and cook through. Leave to stand if you can, this casserole as with all casseroles, only improves with time.

Serve with yorkshire pudding and fresh lightly cooked cabbage with butter in it.


Baked Apples

cored apples sliced horizontally but left whole

brown sugar

sunflower seeds (soaked)

chopped dates



pinch of salt

Make a mix with the sugar, salt, dates, sultanas, seeds and grated nutmeg. Stuff the apples with it. Pour some sherry over the apples, if you want lots of juice, add more sherry. Bake on a low heat for a long time in a covered tray/ pot. Something like gas mark 4 for 30 mins. Take the lid off and bake for another 5 mins to brown it. Leave it in longer if it looks not done or less if it looks too done. Trust you instincts!

There it is! Over and out!


A beautiful pea green life

How does a mobile phone wielding, supermarket shopping, petrol-consuming parent (like me), start travelling towards a greener life? And is the grass really greener over there, anyway? I am a 32 year old mother of two, and I joined Embercombe as a volunteer six months ago. This is the story of how my family has become part of this social enterprise.

natural learning

Low impact living means living in a way that has a low impact on ecology. Being in harmony with nature. There are great and good green goals, living off grid (creating your own energy supply through solar or similar sources), building a straw bale house, eating a diet of only home grown or local fresh produce… I know from experience that to the uninitiated, low-impact life can sound suspiciously worthy and very hard work. Even a bit hobbit-in-the-shire.

High impact living means living in a way that is driven by consumerism, the capitalist utopia of having it all and always striving for (and somehow affording) more. Working for a corporation, driving a car, gobbling up energy with the same enthusiasm my children raid the biscuit tin. With the same naïve assumption that when the biscuits are gone, someone will provide more, in a limitless, gratifying supply.

Digestive biscuitsRealising that filling up the biscuit tin is getting harder because the cost of living is rising, may seem like a very minor introduction to the global energy crisis. But these tiny, everyday events are an entry point to understanding that energy everywhere is becoming costly. Deeply, frighteningly costly. And these are the same, day-to-day experiences that each of us can relate to – exactly where we are.

We can’t tackle the monsters of consumerism on our own any more than most of us can move into a hobbit house. But many of us care about them all the same, without an ounce of an idea where our own actions fit in. Among many things, Embercombe has become a jumping off point for individuals to meet a different way of life and celebrate the first tentative steps we take towards sustainability.

I began bringing my children to natural learning at Embercombe in March this year. Witnessing their rapid immersion in farm life was an absolute joy. Moving out of city centre, indoor playgroups to gathering handfuls of clover to feed sheep and leaping off haystacks in the sunshine has given them both an explosion of confidence. Physically, emotionally and practically.

Their curiosity has also come alive. Stopping to examine beautiful purple and green crickets, stripping black current bushes bare until their fingers (and cheeks) are dripping with deep red juice. Asking the gardeners what we are eating – and oh! The excitement of seeing them choose salad for lunch and eat it, because they picked it. This one weekly adventure for our family has sparked an equivalent confidence in me. The gradual expansion of Embercombe into our home began with a packet of pea-seeds, a tub and some compost.

boys peas

I recognise that planting a little bit of food in the garden isn’t going to translate into a small-holding overnight. But planting something we will eventually eat has been an empowering step. Helping my children to grow something, to nurture it and harvest a (very tiny, but exciting) crop for their tea demonstrates how our farm visits are influencing a lifestyle change.

I have witnessed my children become more interested in the pea shoots than the biscuit tin. We get in the car less, play out more. Turn the TV off, go bug catching instead. The cost of living has reduced incrementally and as our low-impact activities take off, the biggest impact is on our wellbeing.

It’s a story of small beginnings, sparked by the beauty and enthusiasm of Embercombe and the vibrant community here. We hope that many of you experience similar small beginnings – please share your stories with us here!

We are in grief

When we turn our faces out to the world, the destruction and despair we meet can be overwhelming. So much pain, so much trauma, so much grief. News that flows from Gaza from Iraq from Syria from Liberia and here at home conveys the palpable suffering of our children.

A deep sadness sits at the heart of our experience of our world, as we witness their destruction. For the love of our children we must allow the sadness to be expressed and acknowledged. Beyond outrage and politics, beyond national borders, economics and television there is the simple truth that we live in an age when the Children’s Fire has been extinguished from the institutions of power that govern us.

“A society that would not place the children’s fire at the centre of its institutions of power…is an insane society. A society that is lost to itself. A society that is caught within a dream that is self-destructive to the Nth degree.”

Mac Macartney

But this is not a time to be hopeless, or to excuse ourselves with a story of our helplessness. Each one of us carries a spark that can rekindle the flames that once guided our great leaders, an inner flame that tells of our innate knowledge of The Circle of Law. This inner fire is the birthplace of our outrage, and our sadness – it is the place where we remember how nature has taught us to govern our people, and our lives.

Sadness and pain are wise messengers. They bring us truths, that however painful have the power to set us free. Pain does not tell us what our future will be, pain simply tells us of the lessons of our past. Where people are still willing to listen, and to welcome these messengers as the great gifts they are, each one of us has the power to send back a message of hope and of courage into the world.

What would that message look like from you?

Are you brave? Have you freedom of thought? Have you the determination to step forward and be proud of your life? Lighting the Children’s Fire in your own sphere of influence is an immensely courageous thing. Can you honestly look at your own life and carry the responsibility of protecting our world, for seven generations to come?

“You wield power. Honour that which is sacred in nature in everything that you do.”

Mac Macartney

A place of appreciation

the mount What is more satisfying or fulfilling than to eat food when we are truly hungry, drink water when we are thirsty, or find company when we are lonely?

In these moments of appreciation we are reminded of our deep interconnectedness with life. We instinctively know that everything that brings delight into our lives – community, friendship, beauty, nourishment – comes from nature.

Through our bodies we can receive so much delight and understanding. But so often in the modern world this experience is distorted and confused; through objectification of our bodies or the sedentary, limited nature of our work. For no-one is this effect more profound than on our children and young people.

Outside of this deep connection with our own natural being, it is harder to feel anything at all. The great hubris of mankind is still busy weaving a story of our otherness, our greatness, our superiority to the rest of the natural world. But this story denies the absolute truth that we, too, are nature. hubris

As we go further into technology, we reduce our relationships with each other so much that loneliness, isolation and anger become our normal experiences in the world. We have become less conscious of this primary and crucial relationship that each person has with nature. And in doing so, we have lost sight of our place in humanity.

This week Embercombe welcomes 48 young adults attending the Lifebeat summer school. In keeping with the Creative Community Model which informs their work, these 14 – 18 year olds will be challenged to explore their relationships with themselves, their world, their friends and the land through a range of creative, arts, crafts and land-based activities. To meet each other with fire, stars and the forest as shared ground.

“It is one small effort to bring our kids home to themselves. To help them reclaim a lost understanding of our interconnectedness, and the incredible joy that this can bring.

“We instinctively love that place where relationships and physically working bring us back to the land – when we reach a place of knowing that we, too are nature.” Mac Macartney

An adventure in learning…

This week we have been working with students from South Dartmoor college. The woods have provided the rich resource for learning skills including fire making, spoon carving, nature connection and black smiting. Fire making by friction, leaning to be invisible and exploring what it really takes to work as a team have been some of the highlights!

Everything led to the resilience challenge where students had a wonderful adventure. Working in groups they built a shelter, foraged and cooked their dinner; sleeping wild with very little adult help. One group managed to put the skills they learnt into action; lighting their own fire by friction and cooking a two course meal!

Let us know if you were on this programme and how you found it?


A conversation with … July 2014

A conversation with…

Nomsa Fakude: Catalyst participant

Nomsa is 18 years old and took part in Catalyst as part of her GAP year, which she is spending travelling to the UK for six months, from South Africa.


What did you expect from Catalyst?

My gap year is essentially a year just to find myself and to discover (as clichéd as it may seem) my purpose. Unlike most people my age, I am certain where I would like to end up in life, I am just not sure of how to get there, and I think doing a program like Catalyst, will help me to discover the necessary steps to take in order to find my way there.


What was Catalyst actually like?

For me, Catalyst was nothing short of extraordinary. I had an incredible time not only learning about those around me, but about myself. Every single day was a different journey which all came together in the end as one whole amazing adventure.


What did you learn about yourself by taking part?

I came out of Catalyst possessing a level of self-expression that I had never had before and I am quite sure I wouldn’t have been able to gain it otherwise. The week was challenging at times, which it had to be in order to have the impact that it did.


What will you take back into the world now?

I want to become writer and director of feature films and use it to somehow make (if even a little) difference in our world. I am going to study Film and Journalism next year, but this is a year for me to do some things that are completely different and that I never would have done otherwise. I have spent some time at various companies doing internships which has been an amazing learning experience.


What made Catalyst special for you?

I am extremely grateful for the generosity of my sponsors without whom my journey at Embercombe would not have been possible.

Kitchen blog July 2014

Local Wild Rabbit Pie.


How we do meat here has been a slow evolution and is always up for debate, currently we are having wild meat about once every 2 weeks. The animals are brought by a well known hunter to us, sometimes coming from our own grounds or currently from local farmer’s fields as they are being culled to help protect the farmers crops. It’s common place for the programs we run here to be involved in the skinning and butchering in a sacred process of reconnection. A few weeks ago we culled some of our egg laying chickens, they had become to old for what we have them here for and to really meet the dark side of our egg consumption, many took part, including a school group, residents of Embercombe and volunteers, in culling the birds. I’m sad to say I didn’t take part, I hid away in the kitchen making breakfast for the group. But I’m glad this sort of stuff goes on here and next time I get the opportunity I hope not to be so easily distracted.



Rabbit meat, either cut of the bone and fried or boiled untill tender.

Finely chopped carrots, onion, potatoes and anything else rooty (not beetroots!)

Garlic chopped

Thyme (fresh annual is great at the moment) and dried parsley

Couple of bay leaves

Some wine/cider (optional)


Chicken Stock

Wholemeal shortcrust pastry


Fry up the onions and veg, let them sweat it out until just tender. You don’t want it to be on a high heat, start hot then go low and keep the temp down from then on. You don’t want to burnt anything on the bottom of the pan.

Throw in the garlic.

At this point you can add some wine/cider if you fancy, let it steam the veg for a few mins.

Add the herbs, be generous, especially with the thyme.

Time for the rabbit, just pop it in there (in bite size pieces), then add some cornflour, not loads, you don’t want it to taste of it, just help the sauce to thicken a little.

Stir it all up, then slowly add the chicken stock, it’s a good idea to heat the stock up first to help speed up the process. Add enough so it’s as moist as you like your pies to be. Season with Salt and Pepper well. Taste it, it should taste good.

Blind bake the pastry in a tin and when it’s starting to harden, pop the filling in and roll out the top. Make some fun patterns on the top and pop it back in in the oven, gas mark 4-5, untill the top is nice and golden.



The garden blog July 2014

Tuesday 22nd July

The first tomatoes of the season is always one of my favourite times of year.  It is late January when we start them off in heated propagating trays – hundreds of plants that will produce hundreds of kilos of tomatoes, all in 2 small trays!   Then it is a labour of love, as they are potted on through the spring, and eventually out into the tunnel and some outside.  Then the relentless side-shooting begins – it is just incredible the tomato’s desire to grow into a bush!  Also, we are very careful not to get the leaves wet at all whilst watering, so as to minimise the conditions needed for fungal diseases like blight to take hold.  And so, by this time of year, they have made a jungle of the polytunnel – a gorgeous place to retreat to on a summer’s evening with a cold drink!  This year we are growing about 12 different varieties – including some rare heirlooms – with a great range of colours, sizes and flavours.  I very much hope you enjoy them!

In your box this week:

New potatoes, beetroot, onions, garlic, courgettes, cucumbers, a mixed bag of salad, basil, kale, mixed french beans, mixed variety tomatoes and a bunch of grapes.

Looking for new members and salad nicoise!

We are looking to take on a few more members for the veg box scheme this year, so if you are enjoying this weekly dose of fresh produce, please do spread the word to your friends.  We’ll even give you half a dozen bottles of our delicious cider if you can find another member to join the scheme!

And finally, I’m sure it is a recipe that you know already, so let’s call this a reminder.  I couldn’t help but think of salad nicoise as I was packing the boxes this week.  What a perfect summer meal – green leaves, new potatoes, fresh tomatoes, cucumber and french beans.  A little sliced onion and garlic in the dressing! Just have to find your own eggs and a bit of fish!