Monday, May 3, 2010

Embercombe: Creating a sustainable world

So. At Zoe's suggestion (cuz she's cool like that and had been before), we spent the past few days at Embercombe in Devon. Embercombe is a sustainable farming community located in the middle of some of the most beautiful rolling hills and forest I've seen, about half an hour outside Exeter. The community's mission is 'to touch hearts, stimulate minds and inspire committed action for a truly sustainable world,' and I think they're doing a pretty amazing job of it.

Embercombe itself is about 6 acres of land - it was started in 1999 as a place to live sustainably and to teach others about that process. It now hosts a small number of permanent residents/staff, who maintain the land and run Embercombe's many outreach programmes (ranging from high school 'outdoor school' type things to corporate weekends). Various volunteers and friends pop in from time to time, and every month or so Embercombe hosts a 'Friends Weekend,' which is what we attended.
I grew up on a farm, and I was laughing to myself all weekend, since I spent hours weeding and working outside and doing all the things my mom used to have to threaten and cajole us into doing on Saturday mornings. Embercombe grows as much of its own food as it can, and part of its mission (or a result of its mission) means that Friends weekends give those who may not have regular opportunities to work outside or be a part of growing things a chance to do so. They (and I) believe that it is crucial to see and create the process by which we are fed and sustained - that by removing it, we lose our connection to the land - and then it's much easier to ignore it and consume thoughtlessly.

Embercome is also about working as a community. I had various conversations with other visitors, and part of the reason they came was to be able to work together with others who shared a vision of a sustainable future. Not only that, but the way Embercombe operates necessitates a return to working together, in a way that has largely been lost (90% of people don't even seem to know their neighbours' names these days, much less help them out regularly). This morning, I read a Design Sponge post on work parties, a sort of return to the old barn raising type idea - I also came across a New York Times article on the same concept, although here called Crop Mobs. There are things that cannot be done alone, or that, perhaps more often, are a waste of energy if done separately by each and every person or household. Economies of scale mean that cooking for 70 people (which I did! Wedding, here we come...!) is not that much harder than cooking for 6. How much better, how much more sustainable, if we all get together and do them with our neighbour, or friend, or whomever? Then when something else needs to be done at our place, they come and help?

I don't think I am really doing justice to the work of Embercombe - there's so much to say, and it's too much for a blog post. I at first wondered why there wasn't more emphasis on taking away what we got from Embercombe and doing big things with it. Then I realized that part of the beauty of it is that it allows each person to come and to connect and leave with what they need. For Zoe, for instance, this may mean the energy to go off and make world-changing environmental policy (because she can). For others, that may mean going home and growing their own tomatoes, or organizing a neighbourhood party, or making sure that they continue to come back in order to provide their children with an opportunity to grow and work and play.

I'm still thinking about what it means for me - but it was refreshing, and intriguing, and it made me think. Plus I made friends with a 3 year old who sings songs, a 10 year old with a tool belt and the skills to build bridges, an incredible leader who lives in a library van, a small scale farmer/homeopath from Cornwall, a mental health worker who wants to stimulate political action among young adults....and I got to spend a weekend in a beautiful place with good food and my best friend. In a yurt. With fires and marshmallows and cats. And tadpoles. And treehouses. And tea. Um, yes please?

Pictures courtesy of Zoe

1 comment:

alg said...

Do share this with your Mom, who will like it: she was environmental before it was "cool." I have no problem with such projects, especially when they are voluntary and cooperative. If you read one of my favorite authors, G.K. Chesterton, who favored what he called "Distributism," and I know you have read THE NAPOLEON OF NOTTING HILL, these prefigured the SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL movement, with its respect for local and voluntary action. alg