Views from International #Permaculture Day 2012

International Permaculture Day occurs each year on the First Sunday in May.

Here are some great little videos from Patrick Whitefield, Andy Goldring and Polly Higgins, as posted on the wonderful IntPermacultureDay YouTube channel, enjoy…


Digging Doncaster – #doncasterisgreat

Just to remind anyone who’s going to be in Doncaster this week that we’ll be presenting An Introduction to Permaculture this Thursday night (26th), 7:30pm at The Salutation on South Parade. A big thanks to The Fringe arts group for the invite…

we’ll also be taking the opportunity to formally launch D.U.G. our Doncaster based practical Guerrilla Gardening and Urban Homesteading project…


Future scenario’s of an energy descent world part 3

Following on from part 2 as it does, here is part 3 of our ongoing series…….

4. Internal Threats

So if biker gangs, martial law, and foreign occupiers aren’t our greatest security threats, what is our greatest risk? In short, crime. This is not a trivial threat. Consider the number of neighbours or relatives you know who have made preparations or even listened to concerns about Peak Oil and the host of other crises on the horizon. Chances are they can be counted on one hand, at best. This presents a huge security risk literally in our own backyards as our hungry friends and neighbours grow desperate in their needs for food, warmth, and water. Crime will present itself more and more frequently as time goes by and is by orders of magnitude the security risk about which we should be most concerned.

The catch, however, is that we need friends and neighbours in order to assure our long-term survival. Despite many survivalist claims to the contrary, it is a much greater risk for an individual or family to attempt to survive the wilderness alone than the threat of attack by those closest to you. The strategy for security preparations against local crime is by no means a purely military one. Remember the adage “war is continuation of politics by other means”. The wisest strategy for security is one that focuses on developing a strong political situation which dictates the smallest possible military backup.

So now that we have identified threats and risks how do we deal with them?

What follows is the core of that strategy.

Now that we have identified the primary security threats to our community, where do we begin defending against them? The answer, as most any military professional will tell you, is to define clear goals in an overarching security strategy.

When talking of security, you must first understand that security does not necessarily equate to military solutions. Community (or National) security includes many different aspects, the most significant of which are economics, diplomacy, information, and military power. Security is based on social stability. Stability is the aggregate measure of all aspects of security. You cannot hope to establish stability to a post-PO community by a military solution alone. This is the source of the failure of authoritarian regimes throughout history and it is the source of current failures in the Middle East. Stability cannot be dictated. A wise and sustainable Community Security Strategy (CSS) must encompass all aspects of a stable community. This means dividing appropriate attention and resources to not only martial solutions, but economic, informational, and yes, diplomatic aspects.

It is absolutely critical to understand the context of military decisions before making them. To do otherwise would unquestionably doom your community to failure from unseen directions. I propose the following key elements for a comprehensive CSS: Establish economic security, raise and maintain an appropriate security presence, conduct regional community outreach, and establish robust information systems.

Tune in later for part 4 of this series, coming soon ………

Future scenario’s of an energy descent world part 2

Here is the second instalment in our ongoing series of articles dealing with possible security issue’s in a post energy world…

2. Foreign Invaders

Although the United Kingdom is currently bogged down in foreign wars, many within and without the U.K. military predict that the U.K. will soon face the threat of another peer competitor along the lines of the U.S.S.R. Such a peer competitor would likely not be a single country, but a global alliance centred on a major power like Russia, China, or both. Some in the Peak Oil community fear that such a strong energy secure player could easily overrun a now weakened western society and play havoc with its people. Admittedly, a new alliance is a real and credible threat in the very near future. However, to leap from the current situation, with the western economic and social model spreading to all corners of the world, to a time when Chinese troops march down oxford Street, is a monumental shift in realities. Even though the west is significantly weakened politically, economically, and diplomatically, it still holds significant physical and figurative ground world-wide. The approaching depression alone will not completely unravel this power; it will take sustained pressure in a world of declining energy availability to erode globalisation. A third world war would likely only result in the western powers losing its overseas footholds and retreating back within its borders – and that would be after several years of conflict. Adversaries of the West will likely continue to use asymmetric means to weaken the powers that be, by further undermining our economic, energy, cyber, and political interests long before the advent of open warfare. Our adversaries understand that it is foolish (and will remain so for at least several years) to attempt to compete with the west in the one domain we have trained and prepared for exceptionally well — large-scale open combat. This is not to imply that we shouldn’t be concerned about the very real possibility of major war, just that it is not a near-term (i.e. within the next one or two decades) security problem at the local community level. Even if, decades hence, we face the prospect of foreign powers on western soil, all the difficulties outlined in scenario 1 apply to a foreign occupier — only much more magnified given their foreign status.


3. Mutant Zombie Bikers

Many in Peak Oil circles and other groups speak frequently of “Mutant Zombie Bikers” (MZBs), or the golden horde, which are composed of highly mobile independent groups of heavily-armed bandits scouring the countryside for riches or destruction. In this “Mad Max” scenario, individuals or even isolated communities do stand a reasonable chance of mounting adequate defences against MZBs. But are scores of roving MZB groups attacking peaceful communities a likely scenario following societal collapse? To state the obvious, with the advent of Peak Oil, or even during any societal collapse, fuel will become a very valuable commodity. As recently witnessed during the gas shortage in the U.S. Southeast, gasoline supplies dwindle to near zero within a matter days. In such a scenario it is unlikely that any sizeable group have the ability or the foresight to meet their logistical requirements over any significant length of time. While some isolated cases of MZBs may exist (e.g. gangs commandeering tanker trucks or well-fuelled military units going rogue), MZBs are unlikely to pose a significant threat to the average community. While it may be prudent to consider the possibility of an MZB encounter, it could prove a disastrous (or even fatal) waste of resources to focus on MZBs as the primary security threat while ignoring the key risk to post-Peak Oil communities.

Towards a brave new land (and the Making Thereof) by Professor Offlogic

The following article first appeared in Issue 7 of Steampunk Magazine and is published under a non-commercial Creative Commons License. We feel that it’s the kind of Utopian thinking which inventive, independently minded permaculturalists and preppers should be celebrating. It is – quite literally – ground breaking! 😉  

illustration by the very wonderful Sarah Dungan

“A courageous Future lies ahead of us. We wave goodbye, on no
uncertain Terms, to the invisible Workings of the cyberian World.
Our Future lies in an honest Technology, a Technology that is within
our Reach, a Technology that will not abandon us, a Technology that
requires not the dark Oils of subterranean Caverns.”
A Steampunk’s Guide to the Apocalypse

Past attempts at colonizing the high seas have usually remained at the conceptual level, with plans running aground due to “inside-the-corporate-box” thinking, high up-front costs of marine super-structures or outright chicanery.
Capital has been very leery of investments in a field of uncertain precedent such as creating Free Enclaves in international waters. While there is at least one “residency” cruise liner (The World of ResidenSea was launched in 2002), no claims of sovereignty are made for it, and the sticker-price limits it to multi-millionaire residents. Might a more ad hoc, low-cost and Low Tech approach to creating a new nation on the High Seas fare any better?

Terminology & Pejorative

The term “microstate” isn’t branded with the same giggle-factor as the term “micronation”, which has come to be used in a pejorative sense to refer to abortive and/or crackpot schemes to usurp the “rights” of “legitimate statehood” from presently recognized “nations” of the status quo (AKA ‘The Old Boys’ Network’). The term “neostate” might be applied to a newly declared independent nation and the human population proclaiming allegiance to it, but since the “state” part of neostate still carries the usual baggage of intrusive regulation of personal behaviors, public morality, excessive taxation etc, the term “Free Enclave” will be used in this writing, as it is the author’s hope that anyone going to the trouble of creating a New Land will not be taking with them the outmoded ways of the Old Lands (including racial, ethnic, economic, spiritual/religious or gender disparities). Any entity achieving this is a truly Free Enclave.

Microstates: Where Size Doesn’t Matter

Let’s look at present-day examples of internationally recognized microstates, with an eye for commontraits. Most are remnants of the consolidation of European states, or former island colonies.

State of the Vatican City

A landlocked, walled sovereign city-state within Rome, the Vatican holds the current record for smallest cost of carpeting. Contrary to the popular, it didn’t officially exist as a sovereign state until the Lateran Treaty of 1929 (a good year if your
name begins with “His Holiness”). As the smallest sovereign squat on the map, at just over 0.17 square miles, it has a unique economy based on a “spiritual protection racket”.

The crime rate within the territory measured against the resident population of some 824 persons would seem enormous: Civil offences committed each year corresponding to 87.2% of the population, with penal offences running at a staggering 133.6%. The most common crime is petty theft—purse-snatching, pick-pocketing and shoplifting. “The Vatican—soft on crime? You be the judge!”

Reason for statehood: Fear of being sent to Hell.

The Republic of Nauru

Basically a small rock in Micronesia, it is currently the smallest island nation, just 8.1 square miles, and the least populated member of the United Nations. Declared a colony by Germany in the late 19th century, it was then passed around between
Australia/New Zealand/England, briefly the Japanese Empire then back to the Aussies again, until gaining independence in 1968.

Nauru was good for only one thing: Mining phosphate rock. While that lasted the Nauruans boasted the highest per capita income in the world. Once the phosphates ran out they dabbled at being a tax haven, experimented with money laundering and for a bit ran an outsourced detention center for Australia (the Pacific Solution). That cash-cow recently gave out as well.

Reason for Statehood: Depleted of all resources, nobody wanted it anymore.

The Most Serene Republic of San Marino

Bar none, the oldest sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world, having been founded on 3rd September 301 by Marinus of Rab, fleeing the religious persecution of the Roman Empire. San Marino was the world’s smallest republic from
301 to 1968, until Nauru gained independence. It is devoid of natural level ground, landlocked and completely enclosed by Italy.
If one gets elected to head of state there, one must accept or be jailed (wow, drafting politicians, what a great idea!). Even Napoleon refused to conquer them, saying “Why? It’s a model republic!” and continued his devastation on states with less model

Reason for statehood: San Marino was a refuge for those supporting Italian unification in the 19th Century, so in appreciation, Italy left them alone. What with being way the hell up in the mountains and having nothing worth going to the trouble of taking (except for a wonderful view) everyone was happy.

The Principality of Monaco

Completely enclosed by France, Monaco—occupying about .76 square miles—is largely regarded as a tax-haven, with around 84% of its population made up of foreign (and wealthy) citizens. Monaco retains its status as the world’s most densely populated sovereign (and smallest French-speaking) country. Starting with a land grant from Emperor Henry VI in 1191, Monaco was re-founded in 1228 as a colony of Genoa. It has been ruled by The House of Grimaldi since 1297, when Francesco “The Malicious” Grimaldi (disguised, coincidentally as a Franciscan monk, or “Monaco”, in Italian) and his men took over the castle on the Rock of Monaco. It’s been an up-hill battle ever since. The French Revolution swallowed them up, and then they got assigned to the Kingdom of Sardinia, which made a lot of patriotic Monegasques very surly.

Reason for statehood: As part of the Franco Monegasque Treaty of 1861, the ruling prince ceded some 95% of the country to France in return for four million francs and sovereignty. In 2002 a new treaty with France removed the stipulation that Monaco would remain independent only so long as the House of Grimaldi continued to produce heirs.

Micronations & Pitfalls to Avoid

Now we’ll briefly survey both ends of the micronation spectrum, their strengths and weaknesses.

The Principality of Sealand

Located on a former World War II sea fort (HM Fort Roughs) about six miles off the coast of England, Sealand is ruled by Prince Roy and Princess Joan (and de facto Prince Regent Michael, since Prince Roy retired to the Suffolk). Total ‘land’ area is a whopping 0.000193 square miles (about 500 square meters). Although Sealand is held in dubious regard as a micronation and is without acknowledged diplomatic relations, its existence has resulted in the closing in certain loopholes in the United Nations Convention on The Law Of The Sea (UNCLOS 1982, Article 60 sub 8, relating to artificial structures within an Exclusive Economic Zone, with Article 80 applying mutandis to artificial islands, installations and structures on the continental shelf).

Reason for statehood: Not worth the trouble, and has arguable standing of sovereignty under established legal precedents at the time of its founding.

The United States (Under Emperor Norton I)

Perhaps the most unruly, rebellious, and treasonous micronation, it occupied the approximate space between Emperor Norton I’s ears between 1859 and 1880.

Eccentric, yes, perhaps even insane, but Robert Lewis Stevenson’s step-daughter, Isabel, wrote that Norton “was a gentle and kindly man, and fortunately found himself in the friendliest and most sentimental city in the world, the idea being ‘let him be emperor if he wants to.’ San Francisco played the game with him.”

Reason for statehood: Pre-existing condition that ignored the “Emperor of these United States and Protector of Mexico” (those treasonous curs!).

Common Threads & Loose Screws

From the point of view of the Old Boys, it is easier to leave a small state with insubstantial natural resources alone than bother with taking it over. Geographic remoteness or being otherwise inaccessible helps in retaining independence, as does payola and/or the ability to dole out anathemas. Providing useful services like being a tax-haven or money-launderer can be a double-edged sword if you don’t do it for the ‘right people’. As regards to micronations and their rulers, bestowing yourself a royal or imperial title may severely dent your credibility in the area of establishing formal relations, either with other countries or your own.

The Electric Reef: A New Approach

Professor Wolf Hilbertz developed a process for accretion of mineral structures by electrolysis of seawater in the 1970s. As BioRock, the electro-deposited minerals are comparable, if not surpassing, the compressive strength of reinforced concrete … and self-repairing, as long as the power supply is maintained. Hilbertz and his colleague Dr. Tom Goreau established programs to use the BioRock to repair and sustain damaged coral reefs in 15 countries around the world.

Mimicking the way clams, oysters and coral produce their shells from the minerals in sea water (though far less sophisticated), low voltage direct current is applied to a metallic frame (rebar, chickenwire, metal mesh) submerged in sea water. Calcium carbonate accretion (as the mineral aragonite) occurs at up to 5cm per year on the submerged frame, sequestering CO2 in the process. Power requirements are modest, about 3 watts per square meter.

Hilbertz went on to survey suitable sites located on undersea mountains that met certain desirable criteria: Locations in international waters, relatively shallow, easily harnessed ocean currents, good prospects of aquaculture and sea floor resources.
His aim: Creating autonomous, self-assembling island micro-nations.

Two likely sites were identified as prime locations for the project, to be known as Autopia Ampere, on the Mediterranean sea mount of Ampere (about halfway between the Madeira Islands and the tip of Portugal) or Autopia Saya, on the Saya de Malha Bank (east of Madagascar and southeast of the Seychelles) in the Indian Ocean.

In the 1997 Popular Mechanics article, Hilbertz said the fact that ocean-grown cities could stand on their own economically and become independent and self-governing entities poses what he believed to be one of the biggest barriers to their creation: There is no legal precedent regarding national ownership of a newly formed island that is beyond a nation’s territorial waters.

His plan: “We’ll establish our presence there and stake a claim, and see what happens. If anyone challenges us, we have lawyers ready to argue our case. We’ve had so many legal opinions that we decided just to go ahead and see what happens.”

Sadly, the Autopia project was interrupted by the sudden death of Dr. Hilbertz in August 2007.

Et Tu, Nemo?

Suppose an anarchist collective, tired of the oppression of those land-lubber states, decide to pool resources and head out for the Low Frontier of the High Seas to found a Free Enclave?

Site selection for a Free Enclave is a matter of “looking for loopholes” (as W.C. Field explained of his leafing through the Bible); in this case the term for “loophole” may be “terra nullius”, a place belonging to nobody else.

At one time, a nation’s territorial waters were defined by the range of their cannons (the Ultima Ratio Regnum principle). Nowadays, cannon-shot goes a lot farther, and every ‘budding democracy’ (or junta) with a few yards of beach-front property can declare an “Exclusive Economic Zone” out to 200 nautical miles of their sea-coast baseline. In addition to this, the Old Boys’ rights to resources on or under their slice of continental shelf are codified in the Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Assuming you’ve done your homework ahead of time, you’ve located a likely sea-mount or bank that is not in an Exclusive Economic Zone or on the continental shelf of a nation signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (this is the loophole you are looking for, since there is no Article dealing with artificial structures/islands except in those two cases).

The Plan

  1. Sink metal forms connected to low-voltage power sources as discretely as possible (to
    avoid ‘Imperial entanglements’);
  2. Accrete artificial coral foundations for at leasta year;
  3. Establish your outpost on the BioRock structures, then expand the Enclave to your heart’s content;
  4. Establish sustainable economic activities to support the Enclave.

Load up supplies (metal framework components, windmills, diving equipment and maybe a VIVACE array or two) and make the first expedition to, say, a suitable site bordering one of the North Pacific Gyres.

The initial metal framework could be installed within a week, with the placement of sacrificial anodes, floating windmills or submerged VIVACE arrays (to keep the framework power flowing) could take a bit longer. After this, it’s a waiting game, but time is on your side.

The artificial coral will continue to slowly accrete a nucleus for your new Free Enclave. The denser your metal framework, the faster the structural strength will improve (though at the cost of a higher power level to keep it growing). More BioRock frameworks over time would improve the stability and permanence of the Free Enclave, as well as provide a better habitat for future aquaculture.

‘Soylent Black’ and Its Deadly Legacy

Even though Providence chose to secrete the bulk of Liquid Petroleum at great depths inside the Earth or under the vastness of the Seas (surely a major hint to “use sparingly”), few resources of such diverse potential have been squandered so blithely, most of it having gone literally “up in smoke” via Infernal Combustion. Much of that which was not used to darken the Skies Above still haunts us in the form of Petro-Plastic, esteemed so lightly that it was considered disposable, to be cast off without a second thought, imagining that what was out of sight was out of mind.

In Shelley’s words:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

We may now reassess the true meaning of “out of mind”: The formerly ‘lone and level sands’ of once pristine beaches, even on the most remote archipelagos on Earth, are covered many feet thick in plastic flotsam, jetsam and dead sea creatures, with the enduring plastic legacy remaining sea-born clotting expanses of the ocean so thickly that it surpasses the mass of marine life, in some regions by seven-fold or more.

Down and Out in the Growing Enclave

A budding oceanic Enclave can harvest many things from the seas, including the hundreds of tons of free-floating plastic debris. Plastics don’t biodegrade, per se, but they do photodegrade: The UV rays of the sun break plastic masses down into smaller bits and pieces commonly referred to as “nurdles” or “mermaids’ tears”. These granules, typically under 5mm in diameter and resembling fish eggs, are responsible for the deaths of millions of birds and other sea creatures … all in the name of disposable plastic “culture”.

A harvest of mixed plastic nurdles can be sieved from the water by the proprietors of a Free Enclave and separated from fish and zooplankton (plastic isn’t generally phototropic, doesn’t instinctively swim up-stream, etc) in skimming troughs. Nurdles can be sorted by type of plastic using a series of vats containing fluids of decreasing specific gravity. The first vat will allow the heavier plastics (and other debris) to sink, the next heaviest plastics will settle out in the second vat, and so on.

Solar collectors could be used to heat the harvested plastic batches (for recycling into a variety of items useful for the Enclave) or desalinating water without wasting the precious electricity needed for mineral deposition.

Pontoons made of recycled plastic could be arranged into a grid around the ever-accreting base structure, with salvaged fishing nets strung over them to give your Enclave a little more elbow-room. If these pontoons were to be equipped with simple two-stroke pumps (perhaps bellows molded into them during manufacture), the energy of the waves could be easily captured to provide additional electrical power.

“Growing” construction panels on metal mesh would be a natural progression for the Enclave. These could comprise solid floors and walls connecting the coral columns, as well as provide an exportable product.

With a little ingenuity and recycled plastic, frameworks for submarine quarters could be grown, sealed and inhabited, with access via BioRock elevator shafts: Picture a “seascraper” as a sky-scraper in reverse. Like a medieval fortress, the subsurface quarters could provide submerged refuge in times of trouble.

So, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Technology, as usual, is the easy part. Dealing with the Old Boy network of traditional states is likely going to be the major hurdle faced by the new Free Enclave. Since Hilbertz’s Autopia plans were interrupted without firm precedent being set, the usual tools remain available for dealing with conflict that may arise:

Lawyers: If you do create a new island, better be prepared to spend years in court defending your title to it, unless you have plenty of …

Guns: Sealand has had to rely on force of arms to protect their claims of sovereignty a time or two. In general, anything you can do to make yourself indispensable or more trouble than you are worth to annex (rhythms with “Switzerland”) is worth the cost, which brings up …

Money: The universal lubricant. The more “bread” you have … the better tasting your sandwiches will be (to put it politely). Engage in sustainable aquaculture, BioRock panel exports, etc. to build financial reserves.

The Free Enclave, artificial or not, will be private property, with any attack viewed internationally as an act of piracy. The international community/Old Boy network will likely write the pirates a very sternly worded memo (stained with their crocodile tears) if your Free Enclave is attacked.

The Nemo Doctrine

Existing clauses of the UNCLOS-1982 state that artificial islands and structures have no claims to territorial waters, so a prudent level of defensive capabilities within a reasonable radius of the Free Enclave is probably advisable to make moot that point of contention. The mechanics of maintaining territorial integrity are beyond the scope of this text, though the “Nemo Doctrine” that freedom hinges on nullification of the power of any state to subjugate, should be a guiding principle. Remotely triggered buoyant “aquatic RPGs” placed in a series of defensive radii on the sea floor might be worth investigating. Augmentation of these relatively passive perimeter defenses with super-cavitating torpedoes, MANPADS, “Phalanx” type air defenses and selective jamming of SATNAV signals would likely ensure de facto sovereignty of a Free Enclave.

Playing Nice

Building on shallow water sea-mounts/banks the Free Enclave will sidestep any “hazard to navigation” clauses in the UNCLOS (the hazard being well known and charted), and if anything, the Enclave on top diminishes the hazard by increasing visibility and provides another trading port for commerce. The beneficial bioremediation of coral destruction and CO2 sequestration will lend you emotional resonance with the populace outside the Enclave and generate political ‘brownie-points’ (or even swing a lucrative CO2 sequestration outsourcing contract from members of the Old Boys network in the process). “Doing well by doing Good” is at least karma neutral and would be a ‘no harm—no foul’ alternative to the tax-dodge/data haven/money laundering  schemes usually resorted to by other microstates.

The real source of consumerism…

It’s easier to learn to do without some of the things that money can buy than to earn the money to buy them.” ~ Dolly Freed

It isn’t that we buy stuff. Or that that there’s stuff to buy.

No the answer is both simple and complex, though the question is being asked more and more since the protests such as those outside Wall Street and St Paul’s continue to rise and fall in the media spotlight.

We recognise the legitimacy of this process, however to the average person in the street can still seem like a pointless thing; both the protest and what people are protesting about. It’s all very well to say capitalism and consumerism is wrong, but where did that tent come from? Where did your food or sleeping bag come from? They can’t see a way of replacing the current financial system and still have the lifestyle they are accustomed to.

And that’s the root of the problem. Lifestyles.

People no longer want to think for themselves. People no longer want to learn new skills. The Renaissance man is dead. It has become easier to buy a product to solve a problem than it is to learn to solve the problem outright. For example rather than have a set of rods to clean a drain just buy drain unblocker, rather than walk or bike to work buy a car and then pay someone to fix it.

And so we end up with house’s full of stuff we don’t need and then we complain we no longer have room and so buy a bigger house to fill with more stuff. And end up deeper in debt. Debt is indeed, as Jack Spirko says, a cancer.

So learn to do more with less. Learn to cook, concentrating more on techniques rather than recipes. Move to a smaller house closer to work and walk or bike there. Or, and this isn’t easy these days, move your job closer to home. Commit to learning a new skill each month. As a bush-crafter and martial artist I can assure you this technique works. Each year the boss over in Japan sets a theme for the year, in bush-craft terms I set my self a goal to learn a new plant each month, learn a new weaving pattern or use one plant only, till all its uses have been explored.

This month now the nights are drawing in I’m learning to knit (might not fit with everyone’s image of a martial artist, but I for one would rather be warm and active than macho and hypothermic).

So that’s the answer to consumerism. Learn to do more with less, learn to improvise. And whilst it might cost more to learn to sew than going to Primark, in the long run it does work out cheaper once you have a stock of material.

Learn the value of time. Learn the value of the Renaissance man.

Let’s see if we can bring him back from the dead.

The Only Good #Hummer…

…is a Hummer House!

With Peak Oil, Climate Change and widespread economic collapse an inevitability just what are we gonna do with dumb-ass gas guzzling giants like the Hummer? Well two architects, Craig Hodgetts and HsinMing Fung of HplusF, may have the perfect solution… welcome to the Hummer Home!

As reported over on Doorknob, these guys have designed a house made from the carcasses of eight Hummers… sweeeet 😀

Check out the full story here and here.

The Michigan Madness: woman faces jail for planting veggies!..

In the face of economic downturn, ecological crisis and an uncertain future, people are beginning to take more responsibility for their own lives. So all around the world gardens like this are becoming more and more common…

Photo Credit: Julie Bass

But this particular garden could get it’s owner, Julie Bass, 93 days in jail!

After having her front yard torn up due to sewage works she decided to turn crisis into opportunity and create a beautiful vegetable garden. The finished result, we sure you’ll agree, is rather lovely, with a mix of squashes, tomatoes, corn and other goodies. But thanks to an obscure Michigan bylaw she found herself charged with a misdemeanor and now faces trial by jury on July 26th.

The law itself simply states that only “suitable” plant material is allowed on the lawn area of residences – which is obviously wide-open to interpretation. For anyone who realises the problems the world faces at the moment a veg garden is not only ‘suitable’, it’s damn near vital. But for a myopic legal-eagle who was born nearer to the 19th Century than the 21st it looks like ‘suitable’ can only mean that ever-present mundane mono-culture of Western Civilization – the lawn.

Treehugger reports that…

[t]his is not some gated community with HOA regulations. This is an ordinary, working class neighborhood in Oakland County, Michigan. Like nearly every other city in my home state right now, Oak Park is facing financial issues. Here at home, people are amazed that a cash-strapped city has the resources to investigate, charge, and prosecute a resident for something as innocuous as planting a vegetable garden.

They also have some advice for concerned citizens…

How to Help

If you want to help support a gardener’s right to grow food for her family (even if it is — gasp — in the front yard!) there are several things you can do:

1. Email or call officials for the city of Oak Park. Mrs. Bass has listed contact information for the mayor, city manager, and other city officials in the sidebar of her blog.
2. “Like” the Oak Park Hates Veggies Facebook Page.
3. Spread the word via Facebook and Twitter. By gaining attention to this particular issue, with this particular homeowner, the hope is that other cities will reconsider before they harass another homeowner for something like this.

What do you think? Should a front yard vegetable garden be a crime?

Check out for more info…

This Land is Our Land!

The UK has one of the most unequal patterns of land distribution on the planet. Access to land is the greatest obstacle we have to creating a comprehensive grass-roots food movement in the UK. But things could be about to change. Inspired by La Via Campesina there is a growing youth movement which seeks to redress the balance… The following article by Ed Hamer originally appeared as ‘Reclaim the Fields’ in The Land Issue 8 Winter 2009

If the statistics are to be believed farming must be up there as one of the least attractive jobs facing school-leavers in the UK. With a typical wage middling at £4.50 an hour1 and the average farmer pushing 622, the future looks far from rosy for an industry recently charged by the government with securing the nations food supplies over the next 20 years. Or so you would think.

Take a walk through a typical student Barrio in Bristol, Leeds or London however and you may well come to a different conclusion. Among the multitude of backyard veg-plots, edible window-boxes and youthful looking allotmenteers you see, you are more than likely to witness guerrilla-gardening in action or overhear the word “permaculture” casually dropped into a passing conversation.

There is no doubt about it, growing-your-own now competes with recycling, energy saving, and cutting short-haul flights in the efforts of the country’s youth to act decisively on the environment. And while many of these urban gardeners are happy simply to be greening-up their own streets, there are many, many more who are desperate to get back to the land.

So what’s the problem? On the one hand it appears we are faced with an ageing farming population, endowed with acres of land but lacking young recruits, while on the other, an emerging movement of motivated young growers are desperate to farm but frustrated by a lack of land. The solution it seems could be simple, the reality however is far from it.

The current state of land ownership in the UK, which has placed our entire country’s farmland in the hands of less than one per cent of the population3, has its roots stretching from the original enclosures of the 14th century to the progressive industrialisation and more recent gentrification of the British countryside. Economies of scale dictate that, today even the children of farming families face little prospect gaining agricultural employment in an industry in which a 90-acre farm can only realistically support a single wage4.

Of course, it hasn’t always been this way. In 1950 120,000 people were directly employed in farming in the UK5 with many young lads leaving school at 14 to pursue a worthy career on the farm. Within 30 years however the systematic intensification of farming, which accompanied the UK’s entry to the Common Agricultural Policy, had claimed over half of these jobs and taken the majority of our small farmers to the wall.

Without doubt, access to land remains the single greatest obstacle facing a new generation of growers. A combination of property speculation and city bonuses have seen land prices inflated by an average of £2,000 per acre within the past 10 years alone and as much as £10,000 in some areas of the country6. Volatility in the agriculture sector has also left many farmers reluctant to lease even the smallest area of productive ground.

Access to capital is also sadly lacking. Thirty years ago it was still possible to take out a mortgage on a 30-acre smallholding and service your re-payments through a combination of hard work and sensible business management. Today that same smallholding is likely to have been featured in the pages of some glossy lifestyle magazine and no amount of hard work is going to allow you to afford it.

Farming skills and knowledge too have been severely undermined by the race for modernisation. The government’s own department for the environment food & rural affairs (Defra) acknowledges that the industry must act to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels7, but how many farmers do we still have left who can teach us how to use a scythe, lay a hedge or farm with a horse?

In January this year the government released what was heralded as “the most comprehensive review of UK food security for more than 60 years”, Food 2030; A Strategy for the Future. Although the 84-page document identifies many of the issues raised above, it’s prescriptions are certainly more relevant to an upcoming general election than a genuine attempt at addressing the root causes of the farming crisis.

Despite this frustration, it is this blatant lack of political leadership which has prompted the youth to act. The same motivation which has seen young climate change activists mobilising across Europe in increasing numbers over recent years has galvanized the need to get back to the land: The simple fact that if you’re under 30 the peer-reviewed science is going to hit the fan within your lifetime.

Whichever way you look at it the futures of climate change and agriculture are undeniably linked. Whether its the impacts on land use which will accompany a four-degree rise in global temperatures over the next century, the collapse of globalized agriculture in the face of peak oil, or simply the staggering challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050, a new perspective on how and what we farm is desperately needed.

It is in reaction to this challenge then that a new youth coalition Reclaim the Fields, (RTF) is now emerging from the continent. Taking its name from the road protest collective which swept the UK in the early 1990s, the movement intends to employ the same creative mix of political lobbying, networking and direct action in its objective to get the 21st century peasantry back onto the land.

Morgan Ody is a young farmer from Brittany and one of the group’s founding members, she explains how the idea for RTF first came out of the 2008 European Social Forum in Malmo, Sweden: “The Social Forum brought together people from permaculture and farming backgrounds who were full of hope but lacking a political perspective, as well as activists and squatters who were very politicised and very radical but also tended to be quite pessimistic.”

“Through sharing our experiences we were able to firstly offer the activists some hope, and secondly to offer the young farmers the political thinking to globalise their struggle. It soon became clear that access to land was a common problem, not just in Belgium, France or Switzerland, but a problem facing young people across Europe.”

In October the same year several RTF members travelled to Mozambique for the fifth international conference of La Via Campesina, representing 148 peasant farming organisations worldwide. “La Via Campesina was really the central inspiration Reclaim the Fields” explains Morgan. “They have pioneered a model of networking between international and local peasant groups to share experiences on securing land tenure, resisting globalisation and spreading appropriate technology. Ultimately this is what we would like to achieve with RTF.”

“There is however a big difference between the way Via Campesina operates; as a network of organisations, and how we would like to work. It is important to recognise that is not in the youth culture to be part of an organisation but instead to find a more horizontal structure. We want to be a network of individuals each doing his or her own thing but working towards a common goal; access to land. To achieve this our first priority was to bring all of these like minded youth together.”

In October 2009 RTF held their first international gathering at Cravirola, a 400 hectare mixed farm in the French Ariege. The co-ordinating group were expecting 150-200 people to respond to the call for the camp, in the event more than 400 turned up. “We were completely overwhelmed by how many people actually arrived” Morgan says, “it was a shock but also a welcome surprise that this issue has so much support”.

First and foremost the camp was an opportunity for networking and sharing experiences; from securing farm tenancy in Belgium to black-market abattoirs in the Alps, trashing GM crops in Germany and dodging EU imposed livestock vaccinations in Slovenia. The five-day gathering included practical workshops on gaining access to land, exploiting legal loopholes, low-impact development and GM free-zones.

The camp seminars resulted in a series of draft proposals for the RTF membership to act upon over the coming months. These included; establishing informal working groups at the local level, providing a central website for activists and peasants to network, mobilise and communicate online and compiling a list of collective projects and farmers who are looking for young people to work.

In addition there was a strong consensus that RTF should have a visible presence at the UNFCCC climate conference in Copenhagen; “to highlight the role agriculture plays in both contributing to, and remedying climate change”. Many, including Adam Fulop who travelled from Hungary to take part in RTF’s actions, saw Copenhagen as the place: “To make a stand and start the process of reclaiming the land.”

“Access to land is the biggest obstacle facing young people in Europe who want to become peasants, and climate change has a direct impact on this” explains Adam: “Carbon trading is leading to further privatisation of land, water, seeds and farming resources. This can only make the situation worse for young farmers trying to start farming in Europe.”

“We share the view held by Via Campesina that small-scale peasant farmers offer a low-carbon future for agriculture. Through an agro-ecological approach to farming peasant agriculture can actually use organic matter to lock carbon into the soil. Instead of this we see deals on the table at Copenhagen actually encouraging large-scale oil-dependent agriculture that increases carbon emissions, its crazy.”

More than 40 members of RTF from across Europe travelled to Copenhagen between December 11 and 18 to take part in meetings and direct actions at the COP15 summit. The affable Swedes laid-on a soup kitchen and pedalled illegal seeds to the masses, while RTF supported Via Campesina’s demo outside the Danish Meat Board in protest at factory farming and feedgrain imports.

Tuesday December 15 was declared as an official ‘Agriculture Day of Action’ with RTF taking part in a demonstration through the centre of Copenhagen targeting agri-business interests, supermarkets and agrofuels. On December 16 RTF took part in the ‘Reclaim the Power’ action which saw more than 4,000 demonstrators hold a “peoples assembly” outside the conference centre.

Despite the complete failure of the talks at Copenhagen to achieve anything other than a collective burst of hot air, those who travelled there under the RTF banner remained positive: “In a way we see this failure to reach an agreement as a victory for the peasantry” explains Morgan, “There is little doubt that the measures under discussion this week would have only accelerated the erosion of our land, our resources and our way of life. We now have a little more time to get ourselves mobilised.”

The UK movement it appears could learn a lot from RTF’s approach. Although many UK-based activists took part in actions during the Agriculture Day at Copenhagen, there was little interaction between regional groups and few of these were even aware of RTF. “This is one of our biggest problems” agrees Adam, “Our challenge is not only to raise our profile, but to contact more and more youth who are based in cities and involve them in the struggle to get back to the land.”

Morgan also sees mobilisation at the national level as the next priority for RTF: “It may be that in 2010 we do not have an international camp but rather four of five national or regional camps. At Cravirola we agreed it is now time to come together at the local level, to make our movement strong, and plan for land occupations in 2010. This is how we aim to bring people together with a strong common cause while at the same time respecting the youth culture of autonomy.”

Here in the UK Reclaim the Fields will undoubtedly find sympathisers among urban permaculture groups, climate campers and WWOOFers alike. Taking the movement mainstream however may be a different story. Organic Futures, the Soil Association’s attempt at inspiring a youth wing has failed to do just that due to its obsession with a single issue: Organics.

Instead of a black and white ideology which threatens to be divisive, RTF must embrace a broad range of issues which will unite young people regardless of their persuasion, political, farming or otherwise. There is no reason why a young farmer from Shropshire who goes fox hunting cannot stand side by side with a peasant squatter from the Basque in demanding a future on the land.

In embracing the youth culture of autonomy RTF has certainly found a niche which appeals across both cultural and social boundaries, something which has been particularly key to the success of Climate Camp actions across Europe over recent years. The challenge it seems is how to achieve the movement’s goal of a united European-wide coalition while remaining true to a fully autonomous structure.

In kick-starting Reclaim the Fields in the UK it will be essential to draw on existing networks from as wide a social spectrum as possible. Permaculturalists, young organic farmers and climate change activists will have to interact with students from Conservative agricultural colleges and Young Farmers’ Clubs (YFC). It is only through doing this that we can abandon traditional stereotypes and realise that the call for access to land is greater than any of us could have hoped for.

Just as the climate change debate has inspired a new generation to push the environment onto the political agenda, those of us who feel particularly passionate about food and farming have the potential to do the same for agriculture. Whether your motivation stems from a need for employment, a respect for a way of life, or the right to decide how your food is produced, a single banner uniting these issues is undoubtedly an effective tool in forcing local, regional and national governments to take these concerns seriously.

In the meantime, it is becoming increasingly clear that a resurgence in growing-skills and an appetite for direct action among the youth has combined with the most fragile state of our agriculture sector for more than fifty years. In the absence of political leadership it seems that actively Reclaiming the Fields may offer the most immediate and practical solution to getting ourselves onto the land.


1. Helena Norberg-Hodge, Peter Goering & John Page, From the Ground Up, Rethinking Industrial Agriculture. International Society for Ecology & Culture. Zed Books 2001.
2. Eurostat: Agriculture and fisheries: Farm Structure Survey in the United Kingdom 2007.
3. Kevin Cahill, Who Owns Britain, Cannongate 2001.
4.Defra “Joint Announcement by the Agricultural Departments of the United Kingdom; latest national statistics on farm incomes released by the Agricultural Departments of the UK”, released 29 January 2009.
5. Helena Norberg-Hodge, Peter Goering & John Page, From the Ground Up, Rethinking Industrial Agriculture. International Society for Ecology & Culture. Zed Books 2001.
6. Press Release by The UK Land Directory: “Agricultural Land Prices are expected to nearly double in value between 2010 and 2012”, October 19 2009.
7. Defra, Food 2030: A Strategy for the Future, published January 5 2010.