When we raised £2000 in our crowdfunder in April we pledged that we would use the money to run a national seed saving event. It has taken us a long summer of differenent journeys into indigenous land activism in Vancouver Island, alternative food systems in Milan, the Farmhack launch in Glouscestershire, the Nourish Food Leadership Course in Comrie and many other fruitful meetings and happenings to reach the understanding we needed to run the right event.
Now we are asking, “How do we safeguard the genetic and cultural resilience of Scotland’s home-grown food, starting with seeds and orchards?”
Scotland has a growing local food movement, the Scottish government has stated that Scotland should be a good food nation, and the earth under our feet has a lot of potential to feed us – if only we can find the right plants to grow there. Variety is the spice of life, yet how many varieties of Scottish grown fruit and veg can you readily find? Right now we rely heavily on imported food, and two things that are very scarce, yet which could be abundant, are locally grown vegetable seeds and orchard fruits.
In this event we are bringing together practical skills, political action planning and celebration. The event runs from 10am till 10pm and spans discussion on whether we can build a national seed network, strengthen the Orchard Collective, learn practical skills in seed saving and grafting, and have a party together to mark an important ancient festival of the month of the old pagan/christian Festival of Brigit, with a little help from the old English Wassailing tradition. And of course finishing off the night with a hearty curry and ceilidh combo!
That's a lot of things in one event! Why so, you may ask? We believe this is a time that requires multiple connections. When you learn new things you make new neural pathways: if we are to work out how to live while understanding that everything we do on this planet has consequences, we need a lot of creativity, and therefore a lot of stimulation. It is perhaps analagous to the recent research on the effects of magic mushrooms on the brain (although I personally haven't gone so far as magic mushrooms - I think there is plenty inspiration enough out there as it is!). I believe at this point in human history we need to be questioning everything and looking everywhere for inspiration.
Here is an example of the type of intellectual challenge that thinking about changing the food system presents us with:
There is no point in making purely technological case for food sovereignty: "global warming is causing climate change which will cause our known varieties to die out, and innovation in varieties will bring the greatest resilience." Global warming frightens us, and the thought of the technical challenge of growing food in continous gales and rain is off putting to say the least - maybe we're best just to leave it all to the established farmers and scientists (but however not the global corporations). I remember clearly Roberto Perez saying at a talk in Dundee on how Cuba transformed from oil dependent agriculture to resilient small scale growing: "if people become too scared they will just give up and go to the pub - instead you have to make it sexy"
There is also no point in making a purely aesthetic case for food sovereignty: "look at our wonderful culture, the rich diversity of different plants and food customs, passed down through the ages - we need to protect these because they hold the key". We start to lose our way and have suspicions of romanticism or utopianism - what about harsh reality of austerity and food banks - surely what we need is more innovation and scrap all the old ways?
These are only two possible divisions in approach: you could could also look at natural/unnatural, localised/globalised, urban/rural.
The key of food sovereignty is to continuously tread a knife edge: to have your feet simultaneously in both camps and neither.
So this event is about both celebrating the rich heritage of Scotland's traditional varieites, and the pioneering of new marvels like the Katy apple or Sarpo potato. It is about seeing whether experts will come out of their ivory towers and beginners are willing to commit to learning challenging new skills. It is about looking to see how we can forge greater strength in a community of practice, a network of seed and tree activists. It is also about dabbling in the strange and ancient customs of marking important seasonal transitions that seem to have persisted despite all odds, and the newer ones that have been welcomed from other countries or emerged spontaneously. How do Glasgow curry and Shetland kale connect, yet retain their distinct identities? The short answer is, land and community.
This event is essentially about community. As a community of eaters and growers of food, how do we safeguard diversity and local distinctiveness, and nurture creativity? As people who are depend on the land, we need to understand what it can grow for us.
Midwinter will soon be here, and this part of the year can be long and difficult. In dark times the best thing to do is have a party, so please join us on the 6th February to celebrate the lengthening days and make radical plans for the 2016 growing season!
Event details are here. Tickets are £5 for the daytime, £10-£15 for the curry and ceilidh.