The Erth farmers, Tim and Claire Williams, are a huge inspiration to us at SSAW. A permaculturist and regenerative farmer joining forces in life and ambition, they have one common purpose - “to build soil” or as they like to call it, “to help heal the planet.” Both exceptionally passionate and generous with their knowledge, time and ideas, and above all their intention to build a truly authentic, exciting community of like-minded souls, all ready to join the movement towards a happier planet through healthier soil. Tim gives us real food for thought around the notion of collective community; most strikingly, what we can learn from plant communities - their continuous, unflinching support of one-another, as well as the conditions required for them to thrive.
We have a lot to learn from what is beneath our feet and we have precious little time for that learning. After many years as farmers and growers, I am embarrassed to say that it has only been these recent years that we have really begun to understand and respect the true value of soil and the phenomenal community and partnerships which it supports.
I am one half of Erth Farmers, a business partnership of sorts, between my enduring wife Claire, a permaculturalist and myself, a regenerative farmer. After nearly 15 years of marriage and working on our own individual projects, we have come together with one common purpose - to build soil - or as we like to call it, to help heal the planet. As a couple we have always held a very strong bond together, supporting each other in whatever crazy individual venture we chose to do at the time, but until now, we never actually thought to do something together as a partnership within the sphere of work.
This year has been a mad one, leaving behind a phenomenal opportunity managing one of the most beautiful farms I have ever managed in my life, a regenerative one nonetheless, in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Emerging from the arrivals lounge into the cold stark reality that is the UK in deepest darkest winter on the first day of the first month of 2020, a year that no one could have predicted. It was a leap of faith, and a risky one at that, but something intuitive told us that we wouldn’t be able to help change the world living in a bubble of relative ease and contentment back home in New Zealand. A wise person once said to me - whenever you begin to get comfortable, move out of your comfort zone. It was a leap of faith that paid off, since arriving back in the UK in January after our 12 month hiatus, we have been inundated with projects, met and established a beautiful community of like minded souls, and our vision to help heal the land is beginning to take flight.
It was sad to see, but completely understandable, the backlash that came from the recent release of the environmental movie ‘Kiss The Ground’, a film that explores our options for moving away from the industrial agricultural model that has caused so much harm in the past. The backlash was largely centred on the whitewashing nature of the film, failing to recognise that most of the options explored within the film were and still largely are, practiced by global rural communities who are indigenous to their lands.
Making up only 5 percent of the world population, Indigenous communities encompass around 20 percent of the world’s land surface and steward 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity. These communities have maintained their connection to the land, a connection that we as a westernised culture seem to have lost.
Regenerative Agriculture is a global movement currently making headlines which puts soil health at front and centre. The label was first coined by the Rodale Institute in the US, to describe a ‘holistic approach to farming that encourages continuous innovation and improvement of environmental, social, and economic measures’. That was back in the 80’s. It has had many incarnations, particularly recently, with many more larger organisations valuing the principles and practices that it embraces to the point of it now being a marketable term.
For us Regenerative Agriculture is about healing the land, re-engaging natural processes and cycles, and producing food and fibre without the artificial crutch that the industrialised food system so heavily relies on. By understanding the true action of soil, and the ecological processes that take place below our feet, we encourage the below ground communities to thrive through our above ground actions. On a functional level this means a number of management principles are practiced, however it goes far deeper than this, which is exactly where I would imagine many indigenous communities found fault with the movie.
There is a fantastic paper Levels of Regenerative Agriculture where the authors, Ethan Roland Soloviev and Gregory Landua, highlight four levels in the paper - 1. Functional, 2. Integrative, 3. Systemic and 4. Evolutionary. I’m picking it is what they have classified here as the Evolutionary Level at which many indigenous cultures operate. ‘This level comes from a pattern understanding of the place and context of the agricultural system. Deep understanding of the geology, hydrology, ecology, plants, wildlife, and human history is required. This depth of pattern-understanding may take 50 to 100 years to grow on its own. It is usually only found with multi-generational inhabitants of the land in any given place.’ Hence the importance of communication and community.
Soil, nature, and the world in which we live is built on community and communication.
It may sound whacky, but in the most simplest terms, soil functions through a series of very intricate and symbiotic relationships, plants supporting biology, biology supporting plants, an exchange of energy for minerals.
The idea of competition is a social construct. In nature, plant communities are continually supporting each other, to nurture their young, ward off pests, and increase nutrient availability. Plants also thrive on diversity, the more complex the plant community, the more successful that community will be.
We only have to look to the Jena Experiment for evidence of this. The complexity of nature creates resilience, the greater the complexity, the greater the resilience. This balance of complexity, support and resilience makes for the perfect community of strength.
As we head into another year of chaos, let’s take time to reflect on whence we came and learn the lessons that our Mother is continually trying to teach us. She is not to be ignored. She is our Mother.