It probably didn’t escape your notice that this year the UK played host for the International Permaculture Convergence (IPCUK). The core event was held at the Quaker building in Euston Road, London in the second week of September, but both before and after, there were many and varied ‘edge events’ – free courses, workshops, lectures, visits, tours, Permablitzes and volunteering – hosted at permaculture sites throughout the country. WWOOF UK hosts were well represented among these sites, and Scarlett Penn, WWOOF UK’s Co-ordinator and Chief Executive, was lucky enough to take part in some offered by SEPNET – the Shropshire and Edges Permaculture Network.
First up, the highly entertaining Pam Yuille (host Pam’s Pools) showed us round her 50 acre site, which she has developed for wildlife as well as food production. Pam is self-sufficient in fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs and honey; uses her own wood and water and generates more electricity than she can use. Great examples of permaculture practice were interspersed with high praise of WWOOFers. Apparently one Scandinavian volunteer so impressed Pam that she bought and planted a rose in her honour: the Queen of Sweden. I was quite touched by that story. On another occasion, it took a while for her to accept there was a lawyer out in the potato patch, enthusiastically getting filthy digging up her spuds (which proves WWOOFers come from all walks of life).
The food theme of these edge events was bring-and-share, but for this particular day cook Sarah had been busy and we were presented with one of the best buffet lunches I’ve ever indulged in. While we were digesting we chatted with the international visitors (USA, France, China) and Pam relayed a great story telling us about the time she was horrified to discover a foreign male WWOOFer had written in her feedback she was ‘passionate in nature’ and how she was keen to get the wording altered. ‘He obviously meant to say I’m passionate about nature’ she reasoned. But after a tour and meal with this lively lady, you realise he probably knew what he was talking about.
By way of land contrast, the next visit I went on was a semi-detached house with a small garden (80ft x 40ft) developed along permaculture principles. Wade is a master grafter and has an incredible 30 types of apple alone! His north-west facing, reasonably-high-altitude garden has grown 35 different types of fruit and 25 different vegetables over the years. It was enlightening to hear his motivations for creating such an exemplary site – providing a good foundation for his children is an important part, and also to demonstrate what is possible with a very small amount of land and therefore within the reach of most people. Wade also showed us round a nearby field he is populating with yet more apples, and which might mean he now has space to host some WWOOFers. There’s one tree with seven grafted varieties!
Two of the visits centred around livestock, one being Welsh/English borders host Smiling Tree Farm. Christine Page is an impressive and inspiring figure who runs the 70 acre site by herself. Besides an impressive forest garden, the farm is home to a Jersey cow micro-dairy, a herd of Hereford cows for beef, a friendly flock of Shetland sheep for ‘sweet, tender lamb’, free-range, rare-breed pigs and tree-roosting chickens. Phew. How does she do it?!
The real thing of note about Christine’s method is her commitment to keeping her grazing animals pasture-fed all year round, without reliance on grains. She spoke to us about mob grazing, foggage (grass grown for winter grazing) and the advantages of using Cotswold Seed Herbal Ley which, as well as grasses, contains chicory, plantain, yarrow, clovers and birds foot trefoil. When asked by one visitor about the validity of adult humans drinking milk designed for the infant of an entirely different species, she paused and thoughtfully replied ‘if you’re going to drink milk, make sure it’s raw, organic milk from happy, pasture-fed cows, with the name of the cow on the side of the milk-bottle’. Good answer Christine.
I would like to thank SEPNET for the effort it went to in fundraising for, and putting together these excellent events (I think there were seven in total). They were a great opportunity to meet like-minded people in the area and also from around the world, and I took particular pleasure in putting a Chinese participant in touch with WWOOF China. Three people said they wanted to speak to me further about becoming hosts. We exchanged ideas, experience, produce, seeds, plants and food, and built great bridges for the future. It inspires me to investigate how WWOOF can form stronger links with permaculture groups because we are, after all, both global organisations trying to encourage earth care, people care and fair share.