Yesterday I joined 20 others from Glastonbury and surrounding areas to visit LAND centre Monkton Wyld Court in Dorset. Organised by our Transition Glastonbury Food Group, the visit was funded by the Permaculture Association’s Learning and Network Demonstration Project.
After weeks of organisational faff, emails left, right and centre, it was finally the day of our group visit. And of course, as is expected on Brigit’s Isles, it was raining. We all put the call out for dry weather in Dorset, and luckily we had no more showers.
We arrived and convened in the dining room of this massive former rectory. There were 21 of us – some with acres of land, others with container plants, some permaculture enthusiasts, others bewildered by what the P word meant at all. Laurie, a resident in the community, introduced us to Monkton Wyld Court and gave us a quick rundown of their history and their work in promoting alternative and sustainable ways of living.
As a centre they host events, courses, local community groups, run a steiner kindergarten and provide a space for people to stay from all over the world. They have 11 acres including a massive walled garden where they grow as much of their food as they can, as well as two pollytunnels, a young forest garden, coppiced woodland, reed bed system and managed grassland.
We had a brief look around their walled gardens, which have been used for centuries in large houses and estates as a way of protecting plants from the elements and making the most of the sun by growing fruit up south facing walls. They have an organic growing system and had a massive series of raised beds. The growing guide on the wall showed that they are planting by the moon too.
Surrounding the beds were herbs and flowers, as to help with pest control, yield multiple functions, such as medicinal properties, and simply to look beautiful. My favourite were these gorgeous violas. What was loveliest about this part of the day was when local market gardener, Colum from Torganics at Paddington Farm’s two year old daughter Elsie, was carried in to the garden and then pointed and said ‘Pollytunnel’. Now there is a kid who is going to be brought up knowing how to grow her own!
We then had a talk from resident Simon Fairlie, who is well known for editing The Land Magazine, his role in The Land Is Ours campaigns, and most recently, for his book on meat. I respected Simon for introducing his talk by saying his arguments hadn’t included any ethics, they were simply an analysis of the ecological/resource use arguments. As a vegan for ethical reasons I was intrigued how ethics could be left out of anything, as they are so fundamental to systems like permaculture, but that’s another story, he clearly has a disclaimer prepared by no doubt lots of vegans laying into him!!
Most were really interested in what he was saying, basically how meat eaters in the west would have to reduce their levels of consumption by nearly two thirds to get to any sustainable level, and then only really from animals that are eating waste products. He had some valid criticisms of modern veganism, such as the reliance of imported soya products, but I’m sure meat eaters eat as much processed food! Anyhow, it was a lot of food for thought and certainly got everyone discussing and debating the facts.
We then had a delicious organic lunch and were treated to some yummy fruit lather made by Ingrid from the apples and quinces from Brook End. After lunch, when we finally managed to get everyone to leave the shop we had a more detailed tour of the site. We were shown the court’s woodland and wood store, walked around the fields and had a sneaky peak at some of the low impact dwellings on site. We also had a look at the centres reed bed system, which for me was great having done the CAT course recently and loving all things sewage! The we saw the young foundations of a forest garden, with planted fruit trees and a few understory fruit bushes.
After the tour, one of the new gardeners, Mike, kindly gave us a brief overview of permaculture and a question and answer session. In a place with a fairly transitional community, of people moving in and then moving on a few years later, it was interesting to see how this affects the land itself – which areas get attention, which areas change, which management methods are used. With permaculture design being used for the long term, how this translates in practice was what I took from the visit.
I hope everyone came away inspired. Simon’s talk especially reminded me why retaining horticultural and agricultural knowledge from years past is so important – it is literally being lost and needs to be kept alive! It also made me see the amount of work that will be needed to re-skill ourselves so that we are able to feed ourselves without supermarkets, without chemicals or fossil fuels. It may have been a nice day out, but the importance of permaculture can never be underestimated!
Thanks again to everyone who came to make it a great day, and thanks again to Monkton Wyld Court for hosting us.
Please see here for more photos from the day.