Leadership, Lollypops, Laughter and Love

Nina Farr

At Embercombe we talk about leadership a lot. We talk about it with our children and schools, on our core programs for adults, on Catalyst with youth on the cusp of adulthood. We know that in each and every one of these individuals, a leader is already alive.

Watching these individuals grow in confidence and blossom into their power is one of the great joys of working here. Celebrating the wonder of this ability we all share is a vital part of what we do.

Despite our rich experience of witnessing emerging leaders, there persists a modern myth of leadership that says it is grand, aspirational – unattainable. Something only the special among us achieve or deserve. That we must first learn, then earn, the right to experience it.

Across the world this myth is being challenged, as more and more people determine to celebrate the wonder of our life changing, magical moments – whether we are trailblazing in some way, or simply here in our truth, authentically representing ourselves as we really are.

Drew Dudley talks in this lighthearted TED talk about the moment he realized that he personally had made a huge, lasting and incredibly positive impact in the world. It began with something as insignificant as a lollypop, and a laugh.

In reality, these moments happen to all of us, and we create them too. Each one of us has the ability to make a dramatic impact in our world. We both receive and share the gifts of leadership innate in us. Acknowledging that we are doing so is the next big step.

If you are ready to stand in your commitment and truly embrace your own powerful contribution to the world, come and explore The Journey programme, or join our debate here on the blog. Let us know the moments that have shaped your life, and the people and places you’ve made a lasting impression on.

The Decline of Play

Peter Gray speaks powerfully and eloquently on the decline of play in childhood. Highlighting the devastating social and emotional impact of the steady and gradual loss of time and space for play over the recent half century, this TedX talk is a call to action – to reclaim the world of play.

Here in the valley of Embercombe, we understand and passionately defend the right of all children to play. Play freely, truly engaging in self-directed, self-controlled activities. To learn through their own adventures how to explore their environment, their bodies, their relationships and themselves; to build, to uncover, to test themselves, to grow. Play is at the heart of everything we do.

We know that adults too, need and deserve a space to play. Playing is how we relax, how we learn, how we release tension and how we experience joy. It is not a luxury, but a necessity in modern life.

“Strong healthy children are nurtured by the loving and challenging embrace of sun, rain, wind, frost, and soil; by trees, streams, hills, horizons and birdsong; by dawn and dusk, wood smoke and the returning seasons.” (Mac Macartney)

Strong healthy adults are nurtured and restored by this connection to nature and to play as well.

In the academic world, the power of play is well documented, well researched and well understood. Here in the UK, the most recent Cambridge Primary Review (Sept 2013) made a powerful call to raise our school age for early formal education from four, to six.

And yet, as the evidence for the benefit of less school mounts, ‘all the hue and cry we hear everywhere is for more school.’

“Play is where [children] learn to solve their own problems and learn therefore the world is not so scary after all. Play is where they experience joy, and learn the world is not so depressing after all.  Play is where they learn to get along with peers and see from others point of view and practice empathy and get over narcissism….

“Play is by definition creative and innovative.” (Peter Gray, Play Researcher)

At Embercombe there are spaces for children, in our natural learning community who meet every Tuesday, through our schools programmes; and for families, at Summer Camp and Emberfest. For our youth, on the Catalyst programme and for adults yearning to embrace this fundamental truth on the Journey.

A gathering swell of outrage at the loss of our children’s freedoms, and our own spaces as adults to play, is being voiced across the world. Research, speakers and blogs on this topic are becoming viral messages on Facebook, trending on parenting sites and appearing on twitter feeds. Curious parents from all walks of life are beginning to question the choices available to their children.

Join the debate with us, and reclaim your right to natural, unstructured play.

Education day at Bristol Big Green Week

cob monsterLast weekend the Embercombe Land-Based Learning team packed a trailer full of materials and came down to the quayside of Bristol for the start of the Big Green Week. Against the backdrop of the Kaskelot, a three masted tall ship, we offered the opportunity for everyone around to get involved with hands-on making and creating. Adults and children alike used their bare feet to mix clay, sand and straw into cob, which was then used to build and create the sculpture of a sea monster.

Imaginations were stirred up, and the sea monster became Brizzle, the monster who famously protected the city from Viking intruders. A model of the Clifton Suspension bridge was built between its back and tale, and wood shavings were used to create spiked teeth within the wide jaw.

Alongside this, there was green woodwork to have a go at, and the cutting of chestnut shingles to go on our well roof back at Embercombe. The weekend was a great chance for people to not only see some of what we do in land-based learning at Embercombe, but to have their own experience of it. To witness so many engaged children mixing clay, modelling with their hands and awakening their creativity was wonderful.

In the kitchen… in June

14075418563_9afbc2e639_zThe garden is slowly picking up it’s pace in it’s deliveries so we are frantically trying to use up all the good stuff preserve wise that we have been saving for the hungry gap that never really came.

This recipe used some of the fresh basil pesto made lovingly by Dan’s mum, some of the nasturtium seed ‘capers’ we’ve been experimenting with, a small mountain of sour-dough we had going slowly stale and some preserved tomatoes from last autumn. Cooking the beans also aiding in the testing of our new pressure cooker which used well is amazingly fast!

White Bean Panzanella Salad with Tomato Dressing and ‘Fakers’

For the Salad:

Some cooked haricot beans (add bi-carb to the water to help them soften).

Cubes of stale sour-dough bread, briefly soaked in water then drained.

Good amount of Basil Pesto (See Below).

Shallots/young onions, chopped finely.

How ever many fakers or capers you want.

Organic olive oil, salt and pepper.

Toss it all together, not too much though or else the beans with go mushy.

For the Tomato Dressing:

We used some amazing preserved cherry tomatoes from last autumn.

Olive oil

Salt and Pepper

Garlic, not too much, I made that mistake.

Blend it and serve with the salad.

Dan’s mum’s Basil Pesto Recipe:

Loads of Basil, throw in the odd nasturtium leaf if you fancy.

Blend with garlic, sunflower seeds, salt, pepper and a mix of organic olive oil and sunflower oil.


In the garden… in June

small beansEverything in the polytunnels is busy growing. Cucumbers and corgettes are already here; tomatoes are just around the corner. Luckily one volunteer has taken to side-shooting the tomatoes –  a twice weekly job at the moment – thank you Dimitri!

One self-seeded squash is starting its rampant journey of clambering over everything in sight, including a large jasmine plant, a lemon tree, a fig tree…

These have been perfect conditions for weeding, and last week a wonderfully spirited friend’s working weekend helped us get on top of all our field crops. It was a bucolic scene of old, as 40 people worked together in the fields – hoeing and top feeding with council compost.

Our volunteers worked on all of the squash, courgettes, cucumbers and tomatoes; planting 1000 sweetcorn plants interplanted with cucumbers and sunflowers; scything through the orchard in between the strips of grains and ridging up the potatoes.

The hungry gap is now over – there are new summer crops every week at the moment and we are looking forward to starting our veg box share scheme at the start of July. We still have space for a few more members to join the scheme.

A conversation with Columb Thompson

ColumbI am a 21 year old man who has come here to be all that I can be. I am learning to love myself in all my perfections and imperfections, and what a journey it has turned out to be. The discovery that life is whatever I make of it.

What inspired you to become the Garden Apprentice for a year at Embercombe?

I loved the idea of being out on the land for a whole year, seeing the seasons pass through in one place. I also wanted to learn about growing and what it really means to be part of community life.

What has been the highlight of your year so far?

I think that the best bit for me has been the journey I have taken with the other four apprentices and the bond that we have all formed over this year.

What has been your greatest challenge?

The year turned out to be very different than I expected. The emphasis very much towards self-leadership and personnel growth, my biggest challenge has been opening up and going to places in myself that I have never been to before and that scare me.

What will you take from your apprenticeship into life after Embercombe?

That’s a hard question! So many things….A greater understanding of the garden, a tan, friends, a greater sense of self worth and an overwhelming feeling of the beauty and magic of life day to day if only I can open my eyes to it.

What are the most unique things your apprenticeship has given you?

Self-awareness and understanding.

What has been the most surprising experience you have had?

I think it must have been the night I found myself Surrounded by about 16 other ember-people dancing my heart out in the confines of the compost toilet!

You recently sailed the Volharding as part of the apprentice mission, can you tell us something about that experience and how it has a role in being an apprentice here?

The mission is an essential part of the apprenticeship programme. It is a week that is left to the apprentices to collaboratively come up with an idea. We were kindly gifted the Volharding for a week by David Mann, and we used it well. For me it was a week full of learning, sailing a ship of her size was an amazing experience. As well as the physical work we undertook a personnel journey on the boat lead and supported by our coaches and mentors.

Where is your favourite place to be in Embercombe and why?

That changes depending on the season and my mood, there is a particular oak that I love to climb, I can see back over the valley, see all the bustle of life and yet be there silent and quiet, away from it all. It is my place of stillness.

When is your favourite season here, and why?

Every season this year has been ‘my favourite season’ until the next one comes along and I remember the joys of that one. I think it has been because I get to see all the changes day to day as I am so involved with the plants and the land.

What have you loved eating/growing here?

I couldn’t pick a favourite thing I don’t think. But I had my first courgette for breakfast this morning and that was amazing, there is something so special about the first of anything of the season. That distant memory of what its like to eat a courgette and then it becomes real again!

Tastes and colours of june

IMG_6695Last year, we made many new hedgerows on the land, reinstating many that were wiped out 60 years ago. They are resplendent with poppies and vetches and many other things right now. Some have been planted up last winter with many different species of hedgerow tree, and the rest will be planted this next winter to come.
The polytunnel is in its glorious summer form. There is noticable growth every day at this time of year – especially when it comes to puffball mushrooms that are still living it up in the inner sanctum!
Looking forward to starting our new veg box scheme in July.

Fermentation fervour – a renaissance?

IMG_6491Last week we welcomed the internationally acclaimed fermentation revivalist Sandor Ellix Katz, who is over from his home in the USA.
He has been touring around our isles with a jangling bag of pickled produce, leaving trails of inspired fermentistas in the wake.
36 of us gathered in this little Devon valley for a dedicated day of fermentation – historical context, cultural implications, practical guidelines and spiritual significance.
IMG_6503So here’s a raised glass of wine or cider or beer.
Here’s a loaf of bread and board of cheese – let’s break bread in their name.
Here’s a crock of sauerkraut, a jar of kefir, a demijohn of wine, a bucket of vinegar, a barrel of gherkins.
Here’s to the micro-organisms that we could not live without.
Here’s to a soulful, healthy and delicious food culture.
Here’s to the local, the unhomogenised, the diverse.
Here’s to the fermenters of a renaissance.
Here’s to a culture that remembers – once again – it’s fundamental connection to the land.
Here’s to good food, for everyone.

Charles Eisenstein speaks at our Friends Working Weekend

This month saw one of our sunniest and busiest Friends Weekends yet.  Eco-author and speaker Charles Eisenstein visited on Saturday night, with over 130 additional visitors joining us for dinner and debate. Eisenstein’s book “The more beautiful world our hearts know is possible” is a call to arms to effect change in whatever way you believe is possible, where ever you are.

Speaking directly to the hearts of the Embercombe audience, Eisenstein delivered an inspiring and moving talk on the grass outside Centre Fire, as the sun was setting in the hills behind. He talked about a ‘new story’ we all have the power to write, where the status quo becomes the old story of a world we have left behind.

“I wanted to come to speak here, to validate what you are doing at Embercombe. To let you know that it is important, it matters.” Eisenstein

“I was moved to tears by the talk. I was really touched by what he was saying and how that is reflected here at Embercombe. Every action matters and this came across in a very light and lovely way that really resonated with his words.” Jo Robbins, Friend

As well as being inspired by Eisenstein, visiting Friends had the opportunity to attend Council this month, and witness the Chiefs of Embercombe debate many of the issues that will be shaping our experience here over the following year, principally the role of grazing animals on the land. Two new Chiefs were welcomed into the circle, Fiona in the female seat for the Land, and Angus in the male seat for young people.  Appreciation was shown for our exiting Chief, Chukameka Maxwell, who held the male seat.

The beautiful sunshine was especially appreciated by the children, many of whom made the most of being outside, swimming in the lake, canoeing and sleeping in the woods with their parents.



On the land we’re… May 2014

This week we have harvested our first broad beans and strawberries of the season, marking the end of the hungry gap. We have also been doing a lot of planting, expanding our brassica section with purple sprouting broccoli, red cabbage and cauliflowers. A hazel tunnel has been created, leading to a geodome, to house our squash plants for the season.

Tomatoes and Basil have replaced the salad in the polytunnels. This year we have grown many of our tomatoes from our own seeds, they are one of the easier seeds to save. This requires thorough washing and laying on paper towels to dry, after which a glass jar is sufficient storage.

The busy planting and burst of sunshine this month has encouraged all our plants to grow, and grow fast, we are all looking forward to the beginning of what will hopefully be an abundant season.