Host Emma Goodwin, of the Crossing, reflects on their first four years of regenerative agriculture, shares her vision for the future and invites others to join them.
As I stand on the cliff edge of climate change, I can see, in the distance, and after a long journey on a rocky road, a convivial society, living in a flourishing biosphere. Small mixed farms dot the landscape and are given government support. Domesticated animals live as co-workers, husbanding a resilient landscape. In this farming system we are all nourished and non-toxic. Biodiversity means adaptability in extreme weather, if one crop fails, we can still eat something. Swales and reservoirs catch water and hold it onsite letting it soak slowly, raising the water table, protect from flooding down stream. We are drought tolerant, flood resistant. Careful grazing and no-dig growing systems with nitrogen fixing trees sequester carbon like there’s no tomorrow as they are rebalancing the damaged atmosphere.
To that end, we bought 8.5 acres of unimproved pasture next to a cycle track ten minutes from Forest Row, East Sussex. In 2014 we crowdfunded and barn raised a 13m x 8m wooden shed to act as agricultural administration building, WWOOFer accommodation, classroom and affordable housing for agricultural workers and our family of four.
We husband the land with regenerative agricultural principles: I move the sheep to fresh, herb-rich pasture every few days, they require little or no medication. Our flock of laying hens (rescued from a local biodynamic farm) lives in a mobile coop, which we move around the pasture to rotate fertility. We keep pigs, they keep the brambles and bracken from encroaching onto the pasture and they recycle all the spoiled veg from the organic green grocer in the village and are fed sprouted beans and barley.
We open our doors to the local community to get involved on ‘Tune-in Tuesdays’, so anyone can experience the no-dig market garden. We run a Community Supported Agriculture scheme: People pay for a share of the harvest. The fruit and veg are completely clean, free from pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Our one-acre market garden is no-dig, with nitrogen fixing trees planted every six rows. We woodchip all the paths, which then suppresses weeds, gives a mud free place to tread to tend the beds, and keeps the moisture in. When the worms have pushed their casts up through the chip and the paths have blackened, we add them as a mulch to the beds (every couple of seasons) and replace the chip on the path with fresh stuff.
I do Paleo Coaching: condensing seven years of experience, using food as medicine, to help other families transform their energy levels and reclaim their health. It’s basically a cookery course. We do stock pot cooking and make green smoothies. This is an awesome marketing tool for the veg we grow for the Community Supported Agriculture scheme.
We need more examples of these growing systems in England, for more people to learn of them and reskill to make the transition from a farming system that is literally cutting up and poisoning the web of life, to a farming system that builds deep dark indestructible soil, cleans the water and freshens the air.
It is possible to make this change, from dead soil, damaged by industrial farming practice, to fully recovered ecosystem services, even on a large scale, in as little as fifteen years. When we look at our long-term prospects, it is essential that we start this transition now. Check out the short film One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts if you want to see how one fourth generation cowboy farmer in the US made the change; it is a heartwarming story that cheers me up every time I watch it.
There are hundreds of thousands of acres being managed with regenerative agricultural practices in Australia, America and South Africa. We are following suit in the UK. The Crossing was asked to speak at the Oxford Real Farming Conference in 2013 with Biologic Design who helped us create our ponds and swale system. Hundreds of conventional farmers were all there looking for another way then. The Pasture Fed Livestock Association was inaugurated that year.
Things are changing.
We are a new tribe of risk takers who are ready to stand up to the expected norms and counter the dominant narrative. I want to tell my children stories of possibilities, give them a sense of another way. We refuse to tacitly accept our existing models of food production. We are change makers, and we’re looking to partner up. Are you?
Come for a long-term WWOOFing experience. Would you like to practice regenerative agriculture? We’re looking for people who’d like to get involved: help us run our small business in exchange for board and lodging and possibly start your own farm business, such as pastured poultry, mushroom logging, herb products, goats’ milk kefir?! Contact Emma to talk of possibilities, search for Host ID 61290 on the WWOOF UK website.
Together, we can be the change.
photos: Emma Goodwin