Friday, 18 February 2011

Plants for a Future

I first came across the work of Ken and Addy Fern who founded the charity Plants for a Future,  a year ago, and realised straight away they were contributing something very valuable and positive to the planet. They are inspire us as we work on our own patch of land creating a forest garden.  

Plants For A Future was originally set up to support the work of Ken and Addy, on their experimental site in Cornwall, where they carried out research and provided information on edible and otherwise useful plants suitable for growing outdoors in a temperate climate. Over time they planted 1500 species of edible plants on 'The Field' in Cornwall, which was their base since 1989. Over ten years ago, Ken began compiling a database, which currently consists of approximately 7000 species of plants. This is an extract from their web site:

It is our belief that plants can provide people with the majority of their needs, in a way that cares for the planet's health. A wide range of plants can be grown to produce all our food needs and many other commodities, whilst also providing a diversity of habitats for our native flora and fauna.
There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world yet fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food. Large areas of land devoted to single crops increase dependence upon intervention of chemicals and intensive control methods with the added threat of chemical resistant insects and new diseases. The changing world climate greatly affecting cultivation indicates a greater diversity is needed.

When comparing a large cultivated field to natural woodland the woodland receives no intervention but produces lush growth and diversity of plants and animals. Yet the cultivated land supports very few species. The quality and depth of soil in a woodland is maintained and improved yearly whilst erosion and loss of soil structure plague the cultivated field.

Our emphasis is on growing perennial plants with some self-seeding annuals, a large part of the reason for this is the difference in the amount of time and energy it takes to cultivate and harvest crops. Annuals means the cultivation of the ground every year, sowing the seeds, controlling the weeds, adding fertilizers and attempting to control pests and diseases. It all seems so much extra work compared to planting a perennial and waiting to harvest its yield. Especially when you consider that even with all the effort put into growing carrots their yield for the same area of ground will be less than that of a fruit tree and will only last the one season.
Not only do people seem trapped in a method of growing with lower yields for far more input but also one that is damaging the environment and all the plants and animals that live in it.

Continued cultivation of the soil, whilst creating a desert to most of our wild plants and animals, destroys the organic matter and opens it up to the risk of erosion from wind and rain. The soil structure is damaged and becomes compacted leaving it unable to drain properly or allow plant roots to penetrate and obtain nutrients, and valuable topsoil is washed away in heavy rain.

A cultivated crop such as wheat has all its roots in a narrow band of soil with intense competition between plants for the same nutrients. Any nutrients below this belt are inaccessible to the plants. The crop is susceptible to the same pests and diseases and has similar climatic requirements, if one plant suffers they all suffer. The amount of energy used in producing high yields is far more than the food itself yields in energy. We do not believe this is sustainable.

When looking at woodland, almost no weeding is required, no feeding and no watering yet year after year a host of animals can be found along with the inevitable plant growth. A wide range of plants grows side by side each occupying its own space. Some with deep roots bringing up nutrients from beyond the reach of other plants. When leaves fall they provide nutrients and substance to the soil. Plants with shallow root systems obtain their nutrients from nearer the surface of the soil. The canopy of trees creates a shelter and temperature fluctuations are less extreme in a woodland environment. The soil is protected from erosion.

Woodland sustains itself and is highly productive due to its diversity which leads to a gradual build up of fertility. All the different available habitats allow a wide range of creatures to live in woodland, and the plants, insects and animals all work to create an altogether much more balanced and harmonious way of life. Another benefit of Woodland Gardening is that the high humus content of the soil acts like a sponge to absorb water therefore replenishing the ground water table.

Growing a diversity of plants emulating woodland, we can grow fruit and nut trees, under- planted with smaller trees and shrubs, herbaceous, ground cover and climbing plants. This way it is possible to produce fruits, nuts, seeds, leaves and roots throughout the year. Unlike the majority of cultivated food plants these have not been selectively bred to increase size of yield, reduce bitterness or increase sweetness, yet many of them are delicious and highly nutritious.

We aim to recover lost knowledge and learn more about the hundreds of medicinal plants that we can grow, in a race to find safe natural alternatives to drugs used today. Plants can also provide us with fibres for clothes, rope and paper, oils for lubricants, fuels, water proofing and wood preservatives, dyes, construction materials and more.

A large number of native broadleaf trees are planted to provide natural shelter and wildlife habitats. Trees are the lungs of the planet; they purify the air locking up carbon and have the potential for reducing the greenhouse effect. Trees protect the soil from erosion, encourage rainfall, and regulate the flow of ground water preventing flooding. Fallen leaves are an effective soil conditioner.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Michael Reynolds: Architect extraordinaire!

There are people who aren’t driven by the profit motive and who care enough about the
environment to want to make a positive difference to the way it is nourished. Sometimes they are striving against the mainstream to bring their vision of a better and saner world to wider attention. These people by their foresight and vision are offering us opportunities to move away from the usual conditions that govern our lives. Such a person, in my eyes is Architect extraordinaire Michael Reynolds.

If we are to successfully make the transition to low carbon future, and become in dependent of oil supplies. We have to change every aspect of our present wasteful lifestyles, then I would say that our homes are the one of the prime places for us to begin.

If you were to think of a house built entirely out of waste products, the chances are that you would visualise a rickety, contraption help together with bits of rusting metal. However, the homes that Michael Reynolds constructs couldn’t be further from that nightmare scenario. His homes look like and are, state of the art places anyone would be delighted to live in. These houses are fully integrated sustainable structures that look fantastic and are aesthetically pleasing on the eye 

What is amazing is that Reynolds builds houses out of what other people call junk; tyres, cans and plastic bottles and clay are all features. And each house only uses renewable energy.  Water is collected from the roof and used four times. Electricity is produced with by a photovoltaic / wind power system. This energy is stored in batteries and supplied to electrical outlets. And the houses reuse all household sewage in indoor and outdoor treatment cells resulting in food production and landscaping with no pollution of aquifers. Toilets flush with greywater that does not smell.
So, not only are these houses made of things that would otherwise be thrown away. 
Because these homes are able to produce all of their own water and power from natural sources, the occupants are fully independent of all utility charges, whilst knowing they aren’t dependent upon limited outside resources such as water as well as carbon producing electricity. Even sewage doesn’t have to be flushed away but is recycled into the land to be used as a fertiliser.

Michael Reynolds is a self-described "guy who's trying to do some sustainable housing for the future." He is a passionate advocate for sustainable living. He believes our consumerist society is destroying our natural resources and eco-systems and that the only "logical" thing to do is to use the discards of our currently unsustainable lifestyle to create sustainable housing. When asked about the common misconceptions of his work, he replied, "When we started, some people just thought we were building out of recycled materials. Then others began to see we were building sustainable buildings out of recycled materials." It is this "logical" paradigm for building that Reynolds has been advocating for more than thirty years. "We need to live in an entirely different way and that is what we are hoping to find and present to people.

He created the alternative word Biotecture to describe "the profession of designing buildings and environments with consideration for their sustainability. A combination of biology and architecture." Michael Reynolds builds Earthships and teaches anyone who wants to learn how to build them, too. He describes an Earthship as "a fully sustainable building made with biproducts of our society. It is a building that will take care of you in every way: food (year round green house), heating, water, air and sewage disposal. "Earthships are the living model of the future that goes far beyond house and architecture."


Tyres are the foundations

“Everything we are doing is a response to the mess we find ourselves in. We know that we were running out of fuel and water. I was inspired to create a way of life that responds to those problems. There are mountains of tyres around the world, and no one knows what to do with them. Hawaii actually ships its used tires to California." Michael's Earthship designs use discarded tyres to create incredibly strong foundations. After filling the tires with earth and stacking them like bricks, the resulting walls are so thick, they aid in temperature retention. Coupling this feature with year-round greenhouses allows each earthship to maintain a temperature of 72 degrees, regardless of where it's located. "Once I added the concept of thermal mass by beating dirt into a tyre I created a low-tech, readily available and easy-to-learn method of building. I couldn't have conceived of a better material than tires to build with."

Although he trained as an architect, his way of doing things was, for many years anathema to the powers that be, the petty regulators with their blinkered vision, could not understand why he would wish to build houses made of what they saw as rubbish, for many years he was stripped of his architect certificate by the American Architectural Society

His earthships can be built anywhere in the world and don’t cost a lot to make either. The homes use totally sustainable methods to generate energy. His home State of New Mexico too, stopped his company from building the Earth ship, even at one point sending police with guns to enforce their orders. Happily Reynolds has now both had his licence reinstated (after the Orchestra Society learnt about the amazing word he and some of his crew did, to help rebuild homes in the Indian Arrdman Islands after the Tsunami disaster of 2005. Her has also convinced the New Mexico legislature to pass new laws allowing his amazing homes to be built for everyone who has the foresight to want to live in one. 

More information  about these amazing homes can be seen at the Earthships website

Monday, 7 February 2011

A Supermarket by the people and for the people.

At long last there is an alternative to the supermarket monopoly. Channel 4 is currently showing a series called The People’s Supermarket. It's about the efforts of eco chef Arthur Potts-Dawson who has created a Supermarket which is owned, run and for the people. It’s all so inspiring and offers a genuine alternative place to shop, but where the prices are as low as those people have come to

Potts-Dawson has long been appalled at the practices of supermarkets, how they throw away thousands of tonnes of perfectly edible food each week, and how they are driving many farmers and producers out of business, by refusing to pay decent prices for the produce they buy from them.  Now he has crated a supermarket with supermarket prices, but where producers and farmers are given proper rates for their produce. The business is a co op and is owned by it's member, who all work in the store for a couple of hours a month.

The People’s Supermarket Mission statement:

Our vision is to create a commercially sustainable, social enterprise that achieves its growth and profitability targets whilst operating within values based on community development and cohesion. Our intent is to offer an alternative food buying network, by connecting an urban community with the local farming community.
Vision and Values:
The Supermarket is a sustainable food cooperative that responds to the needs of the local community and provides healthy, local food at reasonable prices. To this end, we believe in a series of key values, which guide our philosophy and management approach. We seek:
-  To create a supermarket that meets the needs of its members and the local community by offering high quality, healthy food at reasonable prices.
-  To buy from trusted suppliers with whom we develop mutually sustaining relationships.
-  To buy British produce where possible, and produce local to London.
-  Provide choice and information to our members to help them make healthy decisions.
-  To create a community supermarket that highlights the possibilities of consumer power and challenges the status quo.
-  To minimise wastage, by creating prepared dishes from food coming up to its sell-by date, and by composting all other waste material.
-  To provide inspirational training and life skill opportunities to the local community
-  To create a working environment that values every one’s contribution, is welcoming, safe and non-judgmental
-  To be a training and development resource for our community.
-  To buy sustainable energy and other inputs, and to promote alternative, forward thinking ideas and solutions.

The People’s Kitchen

In recent weeks the supermarket has also opened its own in-store kitchen — The People’s Kitchen. This serves up food cooked by chef Potts-Dawson, using ingredients from the supermarket itself.

Watch the series here
Click onto the Peoples Supermarket website here.