24 Jul 2006
Seeds of Hope … spied from a train carriage window…
The journey to and from ASPO5 on the train went well, despite a few just-made connections, a few missed ones, and a trip through London on a day when it touched 37 degrees, hotter than it was in Pisa! Travelling on the night train from Paris to Florence was a pleasure, I slept well and met some lovely people (hi Elizabeth and to Piero…), which probably wouldn’t have happened on the plane. ASPO was great, I’ll write more about that soon (I am supposed to be on a summer break, but I just wanted to let you know I had made it home in one piece), but was also quite depressing in places, and as I headed home, I drew a lot of hope for the future from the amount of gardens I saw from the train window in all the countries I passed through.
I am a great believer that the true wealth of of a nation can be measured not by the annual turnover of its multinational corporations or its GNP, but rather in the amount of its well stacked woodpiles and the number and diversity of its vegetable gardens. Heading out from Florence I was struck by the amount of well laid out and plentiful food gardens, densely packed vegetables alongside fruit trees, grape vines and olive trees. I was reminded of David Holmgren talking about Croatia and Slovenia, and how every house in every village had its food garden and wood pile.
Then heading up into France, again a wealth of food gardens packed in and around peoples houses in the rural areas, becoming less and less as we headed into the urban areas. As we went through the suburbs of Paris there were a number of 6 storey apartment blocks laid out perpendicular to the train, and looking down the gaps between them I was thinking “what a great place to have a food garden”, and then there, between two of them, there was an abundant community garden, with a number of people working in it. It is truly in such projects that we see the seeds of the emergent new culture.
Once the Channel tunnel had been negotiated and the train entered the UK, the suburbs of London revealed many gardens and allotments along the side of the railway line. It is a time honoured tradition in England to use the land along the railway lines, and indeed many of the best examples of allotments can be seen in these places. Traditionally allotments were 2,700 square feet (about 250 square metres), and during the war years made the difference between malnutrition and health. Seeing these patches of land with their bean canes and potatoes in rows, and the amount of people working them, gave me a sense that the base of skills needed to roll out a wider programme of localised food growing and the people who can pass on their bioregion specific knowledge are in place.
Derided for decades as ‘old fashioned’, pressured by developers, concreted over for supermarket car parks, it is in these plots that our hope for the future lies. Despite the arguments over when peak oil will occur and what its effects will be that bounced back and forth over two days in a hot Tuscan tent, I returned again and again to James Kunstler’s statement that the future will be “intensely local”. If that is to be the case, then we will need to rapidly expand our urban agricultural and horticultural base, and my journey home from ASPO kindled my hope that we have at least a foundation on which to build.