An evening at Embercombe

An evening at Embercombe. September 26th, 2014

Over the years there have many opportunities for the local community to visit Embercombe but this Friday was different. A small group from Trusham had proposed a visit to see how people in their village might become more closely involved  -  and this led to Friday’s welcoming  get together of interested residents from both Ashton and Trusham.

Dominic began by giving us the background to Embercombe’s development and mission.   Outside, on this beautiful evening, we stood and wondered at the transformation all around of a once derelict site: the newly banked and planted hedgerows, the vegetable garden, orchards and fruit trees and the artistry of the small buildings and constructs.

 

Dan, the main organiser of the visit, told us how all this was used as a major educational resource for visiting school children, their teachers and for adults.  There was a wistful “me too” from some of the adults when a tractor ride was proposed to take the children to the gardens.  We walked down past the yurts to the circular vegetable garden with its blend of productivity, colours and scents.

 

Those of us who had failed to profit from our desk-bound science lessons at school were given a second chance by Jo standing beside his lime kiln and explaining the whole process of the lime cycle. Such hands-on education is at the heart of what Embercombe does.

 

Some of us had heard of the Linhay project.  Now we were being given the chance to see it nearing completion.  Phil,,head of the independent Embercombe building company, gave us an inspired account of the process. It is a building like no other we had seen:  much of it from recycled materials and using highly traditional skills of wood working, cob and lime plastering.  This  combined  with the latest technology in solar power, heat retention and water saving  -  and  with the involvement of apprentices, often from challenging backgrounds, trained up on special apprenticeship schemes.  Clearly, the future use of this large and adaptable building complex is something in which the local community would hope to be involved.

 

And finally, there was the chance to talk about all we had seen and learnt amongst ourselves and with community residents and helpers.  Drifting smoke from the famous Embercombe pizza oven; Jo’s cider; dusk falling on a still warm, late autumn evening.  Where better place to be?

 

Our warm thanks to all who worked so hard to provide this occasion to strengthen the ties with the local community. A clear Yes vote to “better together”.

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In the garden we’re…

SAVE OUR SEEDS – an inspiring gathering of growers

Last weekend Embercombe hosted an event organised by The Soil Association and The Landworkers’ Alliance, as part of The Great Seed Festival.  The event brought together food producers to be informed about the realities of the crisis we face regarding seeds, and to empower each other with skills, inspiration and knowledge to take strong and committed action to reclaim seeds into the hands of people, not industry.

The vast majority of the crop varieties that existed 100 years ago are no longer grown.  The biodiversity of our fields and of our diets has been reduced starkly.  Seeds are increasingly in the hands of – even owned by – large companies, no longer the free, unownable part of our world that they always were.  And the skills of seed saving – once, one of the most important practices of every farmer and grower – are now largely lost in our society.  This is where we are.

This weekend it was evident that there is a strong fire that burns inside people to reclaim control of our seeds, reskill in the art and science of seed saving, and stand up for the biodiversity of our land and of the future.

Seeds are full of wonder – they hold the potential of life within them in all its myriad forms.  They are our inheritance from the countless generations who have gone before and shaped our world.  They are what we will leave for our children.

This weekend we launched a network of seed savers who commit to standing up for our seeds and reclaiming some of what has been lost – who commit to learn the ways of saving and breeding seeds, of recreating locally adapted varieties, of exchanging seeds and knowledge and stories and rebuilding a strong land-based community.

Whether you are a grower or an eater (or both!) the choices that we make about our food are political, environmental and spiritual.  If you wish to learn about open pollinated seeds, about the politics of our seed industry, about the practice of seed saving, about the seed savers’ network or much else besides, then perhaps the following links will prove useful.

www.open-pollinated-seeds.org.uk

www.landworkersalliance.org.uk

www.soilassociation.org

A conversation with… Jenny Joseph, Volunteer, Volunteer Coordinator and extraordinary women, Embercombe.

Jenny Joseph, Volunteer, Volunteer Coordinator and extraordinary women, Embercombe.

Where has your life taken you in recent years?

Following a 1st in Environmental Science, my family and I moved to Brittany, France  25 acres where we attempted self-sufficiency. But despite coming close to the dream after we got jersey cows in 2004, the work was relentless (it didn’t help having another 2 children!) and even with a constant stream of  WWOOFers, we decided after 10 years that we needed a break.

So a new plan was formed; rent out the whole farm, animals and business for a year while we went to Africa and relaxed!

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This developed further as we were were asked to consider volunteering for Africa Beecause and go to the Gambia to promote sustainable beekeeping. Another friend gave us 2 knackered Renault 4′s and so the journey began. Within 2 months, we were driving to West Africa keeping the sea on our right in ‘Pinky Ponk’ (an amalgam of the two R4′s), a trailer and two small children.

Pinky Pic

Within 6 months, ‘Kumoo Kunda’ (‘the home of the bees’ in Mandinka) opened – a residential training centre for sustainable beekeeping.

After a year, we were approached by a Norwegian foundation, Africa Start-up to help establish a new project called ‘My Farm’, a sustainable education centre for children and young people. This was a great opportunity to draw together many of our previous experiences and skills and share them with 100′s of young people.

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Three years passed very quickly, we had rented the farm again to a travelling circus who wanted to settle down. This time without the animals (very sad day when donkey had to go!) as we knew we never wanted to go back.

Then, life just comes and takes you by surprise – I found a large lump in my right breast.I returned to UK for treatment, leaving Mick and the children in the Gambia to carry on running the project.

A double mastectomy and 4 months of chemotherapy later, I happened upon the name of Embercombe which was only 6 miles from where I was lodging with an old school friend. I applied to be a volunteer for a month but explained I would need regular time off for  treatment.

That was March 2012. I arrived here, completely bald and probably looking like death, and became part of this vibrant community. It also gave me an outlet for my still significant energy.

Mick (my lovely husband) came to see me and we both realised that we needed to bring the family back from Africa as it’s here in Europe that we really need to make the change. Being part of an organisation dedicated to just that was absolutely perfect.

Why volunteering?

I believe that money plays a major part in what’s wrong with the world and I would love to see a more gift-based economy.

It seems to me that when people are contracted for a certain number of paid hours, they become resentful when giving more than that. I don’t count my hours, as a volunteer I give what I need to to get the job done and enjoy every minute of it.

jen at embers

What is your greatest fear?

Not much scares me. Maybe being redundant, having nothing to do!

How do you relax?

I’d like to say listening to Bach but the truth is more often it’s with a glass or two of Embercombe cider and some friends, old and new, around a roaring fire and maybe trying to remember song lyrics and singing very badly.

What really winds you up?

Apathy & Laziness: these human traits have allowed society to become dependent on all the trappings of a capitalist consumption-based economy. Without overcoming this, there’s no point in ‘tackling climate change’ or any of the other symptoms.

What song always makes you get up and dance?

Really hard to chose one; ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ by The Clash

What is it about Embercombe that inspires you?

The mission; it’s that which drew me here and its the thing I keep in the front of my mind with every decision I take.

And that view when I come through the top gate – down the valley and out to Haytor – I see that in the any weather and I think, thank god I’m alive.

You live a pretty simple life, what’s one thing you can’t live without?

Community

What got you out of bed this morning?

Knowing the Open Day is only 3 days away and there’s loads to do.

Working with the soul of Embercombe

socialmedia_squareWorking at Embercombe is an adventure.  One day you might watch a group of tough, savvy, scared inner-city teenagers arrive on a coach, and as the week rolls on you watch them drop into themselves, take steps in new directions, connect with the land and those smiles change from a jokey defensiveness to an awakening sense of wonder.  Another day you’ll see people on the Journey programme eating quietly in the dining yurt: the deepest questions of their lives calling them to make the most significant changes they can.  The Combe thrums with potential.  And some days you just sit in the morning circle and listen to one anothers’ truth.  You’re touched, you’re triggered, you laugh at someone’s joke, you share someone’s hurt.  It’s just laid out there; people speaking simply and from the heart, then getting up and throwing themselves into another day.  If you’ve spent any time there, you know: Embercombe’s special.

I’m part of a little group of whose role is to shepherd Embercombe’s soul.  I might be sitting by a little fire in the water meadow with somebody who’s at the threshold, ready to dive deeper into life, and they just want a witness, a guide, the right words at the right time.  We might call that “coaching” or “mentoring” but no word really does justice to what happens at those times. On other days I’ll be sitting in Centrefire with the other Council Chiefs, and we bring to life the ancient roots that underpin Embercombe and her philosophy, and we talk about the deeper questions that are surfacing within the charity and in the wider world, and we reaffirm our commitment to the Children’s Fire.  I co-run an aspect of the Apprenticeship programme where we take those courageous women and men deeper into the connections with themselves and each other, forging the most significant year possible.  Those are the kinds of things I do for this extraordinary charity.

Embercombe is taking bold steps into a challenging future.  We’re a long way from a booming national economy; it’s not an easy sector to work in; and across the world there’s a growing inner crisis as people wake up to the unhealthy choices we’ve made and inherited, even as the outer crises of environmental devastation and social disintegration accelerate.  Embercombe is an expression of hope at this difficult and exciting time, and it’s a clarion call.  If you’ve ever been there – to a Friends’ Weekend; on a programme; at an event – never be fooled that things are happening effortlessly.  There will be teams, experts and passionate people planning, creating, holding, digging, cleaning and manifesting everything that happens around you.  For myself, it’s an honour to be part of that, doing my quiet, sacred work, watching the charity I love grow, change and thrive.

Alexander has just moved to the Brighton Area and is available for coaching and mentoring.  Please see http://www.transformational-journey.co.uk for more information.

The spirit of the Eco-Build

As the bite in the air intensifies and high winds whip up the forest around us, our thoughts at Embercombe are turning to one of the most basic of human needs – shelter. Making sure our community is warm, dry and safe is high on our priorities before the first frosts fall. Ensuring that all our buildings work in harmony with our land is even higher.

Achieving this balance between human needs and the needs of the natural world around us is a challenge we embrace wholeheartedly. In Dec our build week will give a team of enthusiastic volunteers the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and raise a building up out of the ground. In the experience, we know they will build something unseen too. Community, a sense of belonging, shared ownership and joy in the experience of creation.

laying foundations“Like all the best things at Embercombe, build week pulls together so many skills and talents of our community to create the space we love. Whether we live here or visit as a friend or for a program, the experience of creating something together is as surprising as it is simple. Eating together, washing up together, sharing the morning meeting – these things combine with the opportunity to learn real skills.” Jenny Joseph, Volunteering Coordinator, Embercombe.

Eco-building is a term that covers all kinds of structures from yurts to hobbit houses, timber framed structures to repurposed shipping containers.

In general, eco-builds use locally sourced and sustainable materials that have a low impact on the environment. Often materials that would otherwise be waste, such as car tyres, glass bottles or aluminium cans are worked with.

Natural renewable resources such as timber, bamboo, earth, clay and straw take the place of industrial materials. Second hand resources found at recycling centres, on gumtree or craigslist cut costs and are sustainable, ecologically sound choices.

Eco-builders also think about how the structure they build will work in harmony with the land base on which it is built. Living roofs, passive solar, rainwater collection systems, rocket mass heaters and excellent insulation may all be part of the design.

Here at Embercombe we have been installing solar panels wherever possible over the summer and regularly review the water use and energy consumption across the site.

 

It is not just the materials that make a build sustainable or ‘eco’. The ways in which the building is raised have just as much impact on the environment. Limiting the use of power tools, motorised vehicles and electric powered machinery all have an environmental impact. It’s true that to use truly sustainable building techniques does take longer and require more labour hours, but there is a growing movement of skilled and unskilled laborers willing to do the work this way.

ThePOOSH.org is an exchange. In return for volunteer help, self-build project hosts are encouraged to offer food, accommodation and opportunities to share sustainable self-build techniques.

“The fun thing about thePOOSH is that the website was started by a group of friends looking to learn and experience more about natural building. After a year of POOSHin’ ourselves while creating the site, many of us have set up our own projects, homes and communities based on the skills we learned during that period. For me, thePOOSH is about getting out there, getting dirty and realising that new found interests can have one of the most significant impacts on your life to date!”

Jim Self, Co-founder, Innovator, thePOOSH

If you have ever wanted to be part of an eco-build or harbor a desire to build your own home, you are not alone. Build week bookings at Embercombe are open now, and you’ll meet a whole community of like minded co-creators, from the expert to the total beginner. Could this be the start of your own eco-build vision? What could YOU create with just a little help from your friends?

13754594693_851b2c0e15_z“There is a primal desire for shelter. I work to bring the initial vision of a self-build to life, exploring all the ways this can be done in harmony with the location.

“Having a home that you are a part of and is a part of you is within the grasp of everyone (with the caveat of land ownership). Everyone wants shelter and natural materials are very easy to adapt without needing particular skills, it is a question of putting the time in.

“Not outsourcing something as personal as your home to an external or corporate world is an empowering experience. In addition, when people have the confidence to build their own home using natural, local resources they become part of the local economy.

“The whole planning system is opening up in ways that have never been done before to genuine self-builders who plan to live in their homes. I welcome the change – the more people who understand it the better.”

Nick Squire, architectural designer, www.nicksquiredesign.co.uk Passive house eco builds in greenfield sites.

Dream-Big-Start-Small-Act-Now

 

The Fifth Crime

The publication of WWF’s Living Planet Report this week makes for shocking – or even horrifying – reading. The plummet in wildlife species and populations on such enormous scale is overwhelming.

Over 50percent of vertebrate species and over 70percent of freshwater fish species lost in just 40 years, how can we even grasp the enormity of the loss?

“It’s hard to take it in, and give it some perspective. It’s more than depressing.” Jo Clarke, Head of Land and Learning, Embercombe.

“If the news that in the past 40 years the world has lost over 50% its vertebrate wildlife (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) fails to tell us that there is something wrong with the way we live, it’s hard to imagine what could. Who believes that a social and economic system which has this effect is a healthy one? Who, contemplating this loss, could call it progress?” George Monbiot

We do not, and humankind as a species, cannot continue to call this progress.

ecocide

The four Laws Against Peace, core international crimes set out in Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, are genocidecrimes against humanitywar crimes, and the crime of aggression.

Each of these crimes recognizes the death and destruction of peoples as a ‘superlaw’ that surpasses national laws. Ecocide is the missing fifth law. A law that would protect and uphold the right to life of all inhabitants of an eco system. Not just human life, but the right to life that all living things possess. A law that extends our focus from human tragedy, to the global tragedy we are in the thick of right now – the tragedy that the global human community is barely cogniscent of.

To make Ecocide illegal would be to create a law that recognises there is no human life outside of the interconnectedness of all life. Polly Higgins is spearheading the campaisn to make such a law necessary, now when it is more urgently needed than ever.

“The earth itself has a right to life” Polly Higgins

Ecocide is not a green issue, a political issue or even an economic issue. Protecting the biodiversity of our planet is a life or death issue. With each species lost mankind is sleepwalking towards our own destruction.

This inertia, apathy or ignorance of mankind must be challenged.

We must wake up!

If you see no meaning in your own resistance, but your spirit rails against this news, take heart. Know that you matter. Your voice counts. You can be part of the healing of our planet – and you can start by healing yourself.

bold loveThe Twin Trail is how we at Embercombe describe taking an inner journey that enables you to take an outer journey, living an impactful and connected life. Out of overwhelming fear and sadness, where the scale of the problem feels insurmountable, turn first inwards. Find the place where you feel love for yourself, so that you can turn that love outwards and sweep away the feelings of fear and insignificance that prevent each individual from making a change.

 

Language of the soul, rooted in the soil

What does your community, your birthplace or your country, mean to you? 

How do you express your own belonging? Do you feel you belong at all? 

What is the language of your soul, and how would you like it to be heard? 

Where is the homeland of your heart?

 Scotland

This morning Scotland voted ‘No’ to independence, with nearly 85 per cent of eligible voters casting their lot.

In an era where apathy and disillusionment among voters is widespread, the question of independence has sparked passionate debate and purposeful action like no other.

Among the political commentary have been lyrical expressions of belonging, ownership, and what it means to live authentically. Individuals and politicians alike have written and spoken in words close to poetry, describing their personal beliefs about independence. For many, it runs so deep that they feel the very soil of Scotland has grown its people. It is in this soul language that we have seen the unifying effect of community expressed.

The loss of connection from self, and in a wider sense, from community, is one of the root causes of societal sicknesses. Feeling that we not only belong to our community, but that we have authority and autonomy to live within it, is a birthright increasingly denied to many. Witnessing the outpouring of emotion, both for and against Scottish Independence, has shown how deeply felt are the bonds that tie us together.

Community ties are powerful, magical and meaningful. They bring beauty when they are nurtured, but can also inspire violence and hurt when they are not honoured. In communities where individuals do not feel bound to each other in any meaningful way, crimes against each other and their environment soar. Conversely, in even the poorest and most challenged communities if there are strong bonds, people flourish.

Here at Embercombe we draw on the rich history of indigenous populations. We value ceremony, tradition and spirituality. Our community is built upon a core belief that we are all equal, all of intrinsic value, all capable of contributing to the place where we live, work and grow.

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We sit in circle every morning to welcome the day. Acknowledging that all members of this community have a voice and a presence that is both welcome and needed. This daily meeting is held no matter the weather, touched by the warmth of the morning sun, or the soft breath of the fire. Our connection to each other and to our land is called to our attention every day, reaffirming that we belong to this place, and we belong to this tribe.

Scotland is a place of extraordinary beauty and wildness. Sun-bleached beaches, wind-worn stone circles and rain-lashed mountains have indeed grown communities who feel deeply rooted in their land. This connection with land, life and love is as old as human society itself, and we celebrate it. We would love to know where home is for you, please share your story of soul (and soil) with us in the comments box below.

RED LENTIL & COCONUT SOUP

INGREDIENTS (4-6 servings)

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 red chili pepper, finely chopped

3 large carrots, chopped

400 gr. of red lentils

1 1/2 ltrs. of vegetable stock (can be made with organic vegetable stock powder)

1 can of coconut milk

salt, pepper

1 heaped tablespoon curry powder

1 heaped tablespoon garam massala powder

1/2 tablespoon of cumin seeds

1/2 tablespoon of fenugreek

1 can of chopped tomatoes

3 tablespoons of a light oil such as sunflower oil

 

PREPARATION

Put a soup pan on a gentle heat and add 3 tablespoons of oil. Add the onions, garlic, carrots and the chili pepper and fry gently. The onion should not go brown, but slightly golden.

Add the curry powder, garam massala, cumin and fenugreek and fry gently. This step is important to bring out all the fragrance and oils from the spices. Add the red lentils to the pan and makes sure they get coated with the spices. When the mixture starts to get slightly dry (but not brown!) add the vegetable stock and tomatoes. Simmer gently until the lentils and carrot are soft and tender. Add the coconut milk and let simmer for another 10 mins. Put a handheld blender in the pan and mix together until you get a nice smooth blend with some of the vegetables still visible. Season with salt & pepper and serve hot with a nice slice of crusty bread!

 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

The incredible abundance of harvest time is something everyone who lives or works on the land is familiar with. It’s a time of hard physical work, gathering in the rewards of our efforts across the year. With each barrow of produce that comes in we are reminded of the reasons that effort was invested.

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Walking through the kitchen at Embercombe you are assaulted by the sights and smells of Autumn. Salads are being replaced by thick, spiced soups, blackberries lie in heaps waiting to be melted into jams and puddings, apples drop from the trees in the orchard as you walk by. The seemingly effortless gathering of spoils belies the real investments that many hands have made to make it possible.

Autumn to me has always seemed to be a time full of promise. The air tingles with anticipation of frosts to come and the last sleepy honeybees meander back to their hives, casting a spell over days that seem to last forever – although I know they are really drawing in. There is a magical slowness to the evenings, still warm enough to need no coat, but chill enough to encourage thoughts of lighting the first fires of the year.

 

The bite of wood smoke on the back of my throat, perfuming all my clothes with a rich, earthy smell is the final stamp on the end of summer. I feel myself psychologically bedding in for the cold stretch ahead. While Summer has been a period of creativity, bursting with ideas and energy and life, Autumn is a time of consolidation. Gathering in not only the best of the harvest, but the best ideas, choosing which projects to hold close and champion through the cold, Winter months.

In an age where many of the moods and movements of our seasons are blotted out by the digital nature of our work and home environments, Autumn has always been the one seasonal shift I’ve been unable to ignore. Always the briefest of the seasons (or so it seems to me) inside it is wrapped up a seed of excitement.

The sensation of being on the cusp, held back from the edge, lingering before an inevitable letting go – it is the absolute expression of the perpetual motion of nature. You can literally see the ripening and the entropy all around you, reminding me that I too am in a state of perpetual change.

 

Playful conversations

“Everything in nature flows in cycles and spirals. Everything has its own time, place and direction, including a learning journey.” Chris Holland

This week many parents will have waved off their children to school for the first time. Waking up to the crisp taste of Autumn in the air, brightening our cheeks and refreshing our minds, we are reminded that the turning of the seasons always brings change.

harlia drinking juice

Maintaining a connection with our children that flows with nature can feel more challenging when their daily routine moves to school. There are fewer hours in the day we can play together, and colder weather may encourage us to retreat indoors. Before the central heating goes on and the temptation to plug in to electronic entertainment takes hold – pack away your shorts and t-shirts, get your wellies and warm clothes out in anticipation.

Children on the tractor

Because these late summer weeks on the cusp of Autumnal mellowness are filled with magical ways to build nature play into family life. If you need inspirations, I love my World is a nature connection handbook packed full of ideas and examples of things to try. Keep little hands busy making sticky clay Blobsters with toddlers and try out step-by-step firestarter challenges (suitable from age 5+) where getting muddy is all part of the fun.

There is a special parenting pay-off for staying outside as the seasons turn. It can be tough to keep in touch with what your child is doing all day at school, especially when the stock responses are ‘nothing’ or ‘I can’t remember’.  From the youngest new starters aged 4 to monosyllabic teens starting exam years, staying in touch with their daily experience keeps our connection strong and secure.

Play is the universal language of childhood, it is the way children make sense of and express themselves in their world. Inviting them to meet us in nature and continue to play with us as the days draw in brings it’s own reward; expressive, intuitive, sometimes explosive – they find the language they need to tell us more about who they are. Opening up playful conversations that bridge the space between school and home; conversations that allow us as parents and carers to enter the world of our children’s imaginations and discover what happens in there.