Ee, the weather's a bit funny at the moment!
Last Thursday we had cars floating on Morecambe seafront, the promenade feet deep in lumps of rock and small boulders hurled up from the flood defences and the everlasting lines of flotsam and jetsam left not in their usual high tide place but across the coastal road.
We were in the wood panelled hallows of the town hall that evening, four of us being trained to present more effectively, speak more slowly, use pauses, drop the ums and ers. The wind was merely a whisper beyond the heavy drapes. One of my fellow councillors, ever in touch with a multitude of her residents and friends through her phone and Facebook, was drawing up picture after picture of what had happened in Morecambe during the day, showing me in fascination, the damage done by wind and sea in a few short hours, She looked kind of enquiringly at me,
"Ee," she said, "the weather’s a bit funny at the moment."
Indeed it is and no she is not a Green Party councillor. You could feel intensely depressed that someone with responsibility for the conduct of local government, someone competent, caring, hardworking and ambitious to do her best for the district, should not understand the way it is threatened by climate change. Yet another part of me felt strangely exhilarated – she’s noticing and she is open now to explanations of extreme weather events. I wonder where to go next with that little moment – there’s some thinking to be done with the key strategic people of Lancaster and Morecambe about how we turn growing concern into positive action, rather than deep depression.
Last Thursday brought some more welcome news too; the planning permission for the growing project I am setting up with Joy, my fellow Transitioner, will go to committee on 6 January. No-one so far has objected and there don’t seem to be any insurmountable problems. Joy is working indefatigably with her team of volunteers to create the hard standing for the shipping container which will store our tools (currently left under the hedge) and it is arriving mid-January thanks to some funding from our partners at LESS. The field itself is growing a good crop of grasses and clovers, as advised by our friend and mentor Alan Schofield from Growing with Nature. We dug another little pit to look at the soil; since the deep harrowing we have seen a bit more worm activity but there is still a lot to do to improve fertility. For this, our farmer tenant James Park has promised loads of manure so Joy is pursuing stakes and pallets to create a clamp for it. Apart from an invasion of sheep from the adjoining field, things have been going well.
Yet, dare I say it, the events of last week are beginning to make me wonder whether this growing project, with its expectation of teaching people how to grow the annual vegetables that we expect to see on our plates after so many centuries of annual, seasonal agriculture is fast becoming uncertain, if not irrelevant. Unpredictable weather, cold when it should be warm, droughts, rain and wind destroying the pollination periods, too much water leaving crops rotten in the ground – we’ve seen it all in the last few years. There are ways to reduce the effect of the weather. Naturally, we plan to have a few polytunnels but it will clearly be a struggle to keep them intact on an exposed windy field. People are not going to survive if they are dependant on the vagaries of the kind of annual harvest we have round here. It seems like we need a whole different kind of food production that will be far more resilient to the weather.
Inevitably it seems the situation has brought me back to permaculture, an idea that both fascinates and annoys me in turns. Fascinates because on the ground, in amongst things growing according to permaculture principles there is nothing but wonder about the way plants interact and thrive. It annoys me because you need a lot of knowledge to do it properly and I confess I have made no dent in my ignorance partly because all the courses I have come across require large applications of time and quite often money. I feel a New Year Resolution coming on … Recently I have been reading and listening to Mark Shepard on Restoration Agriculture. As befits a visual learner I was first fascinated by a picture of his farm that you can see here. From the air you see lines of trees in slow curving rows – I wanted to know what and why. In the face of extreme weather the hardiness and adaptability of perennial plants, especially trees, seems hugely important. You find them in cracks in walls, in gutters and on filthy train sidings, seemingly undeterred by the conditions. The importance of trees as perennial sources of food seems to have been utterly forgotten here – a neighbour to our allotment orchard came over last week and said, “Can’t you just cut the tops off them all?” She doesn’t like trees – apples come from the supermarket.
If our growing project is to make a real contribution to the resilience of our immediate neighbours on the Ridge Estate and to others in our district, it is going to have to adapt to extreme weather here and now and offer something relevant to a future predictably unpredictable. We have allies with the knowledge and experience – maybe we need to give them a little more influence and elbow room in the design of our project. It’s an edgy, uncomfortable place for me to be – moving out of the neat, orderly lines of Mr McGregor’s potato plot and vegetable bed into the secret forest garden, yet exciting too.
During the course on effective speaking last Thursday night we were warned severely about the perils of using clichés in our presentations. Just to ensure we knew what to avoid we were provided with a list of twenty clichés never to be used. Number one on the list? Climate change!!
Pictures: Claver Hill diggers (CJ) Mark Shepard's farm (from Organic Connections)