Friday 29 October 2010

Table on the Marsh

I have just been inspired by a table and chairs! Not an expression you hear every day but it’s true.
Just off Coppermill lane on Hackney marshes a new feature has been added to the landscape. Called the Table on the Marsh, it takes the idea of alfresco dining to a whole new dimension. It is a dining table complete with benches and chairs that can sit 20 people, but it is not just any table and chairs. It is a thing of beauty. Hand crafted by carpenter Giles Thaxton and designed by architect Tabitha Pope, with design element informed through workshops with local people. The idea for the project came from Alexandra Parry and was achieved through funding from the Lea Valley Park and UnLtd. See their website:
I just think this is such a delightful concept, a piece of functional community art that doubles as a communal gathering space. It is the sort of thing every community open space would gain from and I would love to see something similar in my local park.
I am not advocating replicating the object but taking inspiration from this project. Each community would come up with a design that suited their desires and the space where the table was to be sited. The finished object would be a focus for the pride of that community and a physical representation of the collaborative spirit that exists. Furthermore it would provide a venue for community and private celebrations as well as a local landmark.
So if like me you are inspired by this idea and would like to see something similar in your local community space, why not try and make it happen? It could be just the project your community has been waiting for to involve people in.
See more pictures of this table here:
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Friday 22 October 2010

We are all in this together; whether we like it or not!

With the release of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review the media is full of talks of cuts and speculation on how different social groups or individuals will be affected. Appropriately there is concern expressed across the media on how the poorer sections of society and particularly those on welfare benefits will fare as a result of these public spending reductions. However what I want to consider is not what these cuts will mean to your economic circumstances but how they will affect your wellbeing.
Unless you are living ‘of grid’ and totally removed from the wider society or as thick skinned as a Hippo, your wellbeing is likely to be compromised. Even if your circumstances remain unchanged you will be witness to others misfortune. Being social animals we find it impossible to ignore the sufferings of others, even if we choose to do nothing about it. So the prospect of significant job losses, removal of benefit entitlements and the loss of vital public services is surely going to leave all of us the poorer, emotionally if not economically.
This being the case, it begs the question why do we place so much importance on material wealth let alone remain fixated on evaluating ourselves on an individual basis. These cuts, we are continually told, are necessary to get our ailing economy back on track; to eradicate the deficit. But what measures are we putting in place to ensure we never again find ourselves in the position of having to impose so much misery on our fellow citizens? We need the economy to grow so we can then all enjoy prosperity and stability. But how is that going to be the case? Is that what we had before the current financial crisis? I have lost count of the number of recessions and economic upturns I have lived through, so why is this event any different? Surely we are just regrouping until the next crisis befalls us. The need here is not to rebalance the economy but to fundamentally rethink both how we organise it and what it is for.
It is a very basic concept; we live on a planet with finite resources and we are very well aware of that fact, but we persist with a system that is based on the premise that we can carry on growing our economy indefinitely with that very growth dependant on the everlasting supply of natural resources. It doesn’t make sense and it’s time we admitted it.
It is my belief that at the heart of this dilemma is how we value ourselves. We have confused material wealth with wellbeing and focus too much of our (non-renewable) energies on trying to attain it. But more importantly, it is not just the pursuit of wealth that matters. It is our relative wealth in comparison to those around us that is the most vital yardstick. Material wealth and material poverty are inexplicably linked and logically you cannot eradicate poverty unless you also eradicate wealth. It’s a battle we simply can’t win.
So what is needed is for us (as a society not just as an individual) to redefine what we mean by wealth and what it is we value in ourselves and others. That takes us back to the beginning of this piece where I suggested how we shall all be affected by the proposed spending cuts. As social animals what we should be valuing is how well we relate to our society. We gain much more from acting collectively than as individuals and it more than compensates for any compromise to our individual freedom. Most of the benefits we enjoy as humans come from our ability to cooperate and collaborate so why do we persist in measuring ourselves by such an arbitrary gauge as material wealth. The people we aspire to emulate should be those who enjoy the greatest satisfaction from their lives, not those who have managed to accumulate material wealth by whatever means.
We should value ourselves (and others) for how we contribute to our communities and our connectedness with our families, friends and neighbours. For as social animals, it is through this route we gain genuine wellbeing. In addition it is through this collaboration that we are most likely to create the opportunities that will take us toward the sustainable future we need to bring about to ensure our collective survival.
When I mention I am part of a Transition Initiative I am often asked what is ‘Transition’. Well for me it is that process that we must go through to reassess our value judgements and redefine what we mean by true wealth. While this will inevitably lead to some personal soul searching, this is not something we can do as individuals. We must share our thoughts and ideas and listen carefully to the thoughts of others. What may then emerge is a collective solution to the threats we face, which is based on a collective wisdom.

Listen to BBC Radio 4 Food Programme every week!

I was shocked to learn that several sustainable food enthusiasts do not listen to the Food Programme, the usual explanation being that they never listen to radio. I find it hard to imagine how different my life would be if I hadn't followed this informative and stimulating programme for many years. I prefer radio to TV because you can do other things at the same time. It's every Sunday at 12.30, repeated Mondays at 4pm. If you're more into listening to iPod on the bus, you can download the food program via iTunes.

Anyway, the programme's presenter, Sheila Dillon, kindly accepted my invitation to pop in to our Apple Day. She stayed for almost two hours, met and talked to several people, and I think was impressed and interested. She is now in Italy for a few days attending an international Slow Food event, as is Sarah Moore, and also Sam Henderson of our CSA "More Than a Box Scheme". Let's hope they all find each other there.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Apple Day 2010

Crouch End's second annual Apple Day on 16 October 2010 attracted over 400 people.  They came to drink apple juice, fresh from the press, and to taste over a dozen different varieties of English apples and pears.  Children were encouraged to press their own juice, take part in the Longest Peel Competition and make vegetable monsters, which could later be turned into nutritious soup. 

Other attractions included a cookery demonstration by the sustainable caterer, Sarah Moore.  Her first demonstration used green tomatoes from the Hornsey Vale Kitchen Garden, a vegetable garden grown entirely in recycled car tyres.  Her second was a delicious recipe, made from quince from Blackmoor Farm, who also provided the tasting apples, and fifty examples of older varieties.

John Selborne, the owner of the estate, provided the highlight of the event.  His talk on the origins of the apple showed how all the apples we eat today come from just one species of wild apple in the Tien Shan Mountains in Kazakhstan.  Previously it was thought that modern apples were the result of hybridising between different wild apple species, but recent research has discovered that  our domestic apples such as Golden Delicious are indistinguishable from the wild apple, Malus sieversii.  The wild apple is polymorphous, which means it can adapt easily to circumstances, a very useful trait, since the mountain terrain is unstable and the climate can be  harsh.  A good example of this resilience is the sweet, red apple, which emerged because bears like eating that kind of fruit and their digestive systems provide a fine fertiliser...

In this Year of Biodiversity, John Selborne made an important point about protecting the millions of trees that form these ancient apple woods.   Cutting down the trees to fuel factories and developing land for crops all threaten this rich resource.  John Selborne emphasised the point:  ‘If you are looking for a breeding programme, where we can exploit the diversity of the apple, we must above all protect these original apple woods.’

The overwhelming turnout and enthusiastic response to the talk are indications of Crouch End’s residents’ appetite for food, that is diverse, distinctive and above all things, local.