Thursday, 30 October 2014

'Everyone a designer' - permaculture in the Fun Palace

 by Sally Fildes-Moss

The invitation

On Saturday 4 October, The Everyman will be transformed into a magical Fun Palace … We want your imagination, ideas & input.’

On encountering this invitation online, I was intrigued.

Some background: the Everyman is a Liverpool theatre known for producing work that is often politically daring, and for fostering talents such as Julie Walters and Pete Postlethwaite.

It recently celebrated its 50th birthday in a new building, opened earlier this year on the original site (a building which, by the way, features beehives on the roof and has been rated as environmentally ‘Excellent’ under the BREEAM scheme, as well as having just won the RIBA Stirling Prize 2014).

The New Everyman Building, Liverpool

Shiny new premises notwithstanding, it was surely the Everyman spirit of old that prompted the theatre to throw open its doors to become a Fun Palace. And what exactly is one of those…?

Fun Palaces

According to, back in 1961 theatre director Joan Littlewood and architect Cedric Price thought up the idea of a Fun Palace as a ‘laboratory of fun’, ‘a university of the streets’, intended to provide ‘a temporary and movable home to the arts and sciences that would welcome children and adults alike’.

The idea finally came to fruition on October 4th 2014, when over 130 such places sprang up nationwide – in ‘theatres, gardens, tents, woodlands, shops, car parks, schools, libraries, swimming pools, public squares and town halls’.

In Fun Palaces, ‘Everyone [is] an artist, everyone a scientist’. The organisers claim, ‘This is not just an event, it is a movement, putting cultural participation and public engagement at the heart.’

Reading all this, I began to understand that this was a cross-disciplinary undertaking that everyone could get involved in, which was designed to build collaboration while emphasising personal satisfaction. And, naturally, I came to the conclusion that this sounded a lot like permaculture. ‘Everyone a designer’, right? Or potentially so…

Bringing permaculture on board

The Everyman had already lined up attractions including spoken word, a synaesthesia presentation, gong baths, and people icing their heads while reciting Shakespeare. I proposed adding a ‘Permaculture Surgery’ – an informal and irreverent corner where people could ponder some key elements from permaculture philosophy.

Assistant Artistic Director Nick Bagnall was orchestrating the event and fielded my initial email, which I sent with only a week or so to go. ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘Please do that.’ I paraphrase, but it was largely that easy.

In the week that followed, I called in favours, scavenged for materials and painted a banner (swearing all the while during that last one – ‘Everyone an artist’, my backside…).

Most of all, I wondered how best to communicate about permaculture on the day with a wide variety of adults and children … What is permaculture truly about? Whose words should I borrow for my signage? What resources and activities would draw people in, and reflect the aim of bringing the arts and sciences together? And how could it be FUN?

Getting it together

Various local and not-so-local permaculture contacts helped me out with feedback and suggestions. Also, I owe a particular debt to Hannah Gardiner and Nala Walla for their inspiring work to date in bringing the arts and permaculture closer together – in my preparations, I made use of the Facebook discussion group Hannah has initiated on ‘The manifesto of art in permaculture’ and Nala’s article ‘The Embodied Activist: Where Permaculture Meets the Arts'.

Also, great thanks go to my friend and local activist Stephanie Rooney, who made some brilliant suggestions and contributed many of the resources we used for the event.

Stephanie Rooney

The points I eventually chose to highlight were –
  • We can transform ourselves from consumers to producers – whether we produce food, new fuels, social connections, or anything else permanent culture needs from us.
  • Doing this meets our true needs better than consumer capitalism does. Also, it’s a world away from simply struggling on with our existing, misdesigned lives while ever more environmental anxieties pile up.
  • To become producers who can innovate and persist as necessary, we need to 1) play lots, so as to exercise our creative muscles and relieve tension, and 2) develop arts which are inclusive and which examine the real challenges of the age.
  • Plus, there is huge potential to increase our sanity and effectiveness by learning to observe before we do anything else!
To present these ideas, I made plenty of signs. Some of these featured quotes from permaculture pioneers, while others invited people to suggest ways they felt they were already living the principles, or would like to, or to record their thoughts on bringing the arts and ecology closer together.

Signs waiting to be hung up

Don't sweat the small stuff

Also offered on the stall were: a range of leaflets; summaries of the principles in various renderings; copies of Nala’s article; some key permaculture texts and books on upcycling; a pack of permaculture playing cards; some tactile objects from nature and crafts; and, in case all the above failed us, some monkey and parrot glove puppets (nothing to do with anything, but they do bridge a lull at social gatherings).

The stall

Read or investigate our objects tray, choice is yours

Further information

I also prominently displayed our banner, which declared to everyone ‘YOU HAVE BEEN SPECIALLY SELECTED TO DESIGN YOUR OWN LIFE’. This was intended to subvert the type of promotional blurb that assures you of your special status while ripping you off and letting you down in a thoroughly standardised way. Permaculture, on the other hand, says that, if you customise right, you will always obtain a yield.

Sally Fildes-Moss during set-up

Portrait wall with banner

I hoped that all these tasters would pique people’s interest in permaculture design.

On the day

As well as helping with the preparation, Stephanie Rooney joined me on the day, and a photographer friend Jona (Jona @ Tona Photography) kindly took pictures of what went on.

Photographer Jona in the frame, but resisting

When people approached the Surgery I tried to focus on hearing from them, first of all – if indeed they wanted to speak rather than browse. I wanted to avoid jumping in with information and directions. This allowed some very genuine exchanges, and I found I was more likely to be able to point people to resources or activities that would fully engage them if I did things that way round (the power of observation at work again). 

Most small children needed nothing but a clear view of the table, with its tray of tactile natural and craft objects, and shiny books, to launch themselves straight in. They tended naturally to lead our conversations; even the shyer children opened up if asked with enthusiasm about food, travel, fun – anything that was important to them (and permaculture tends not to bother with things that aren’t important to people!). With children even more than adults, it was crucial for them to have some activities to get stuck into throughout their time with us.
One of many families we had the pleasure of meeting

Once people were engaged, their further options included: collecting information to digest at their leisure later on; playing cards; browsing the mini-library; and recording their thoughts in the following ways…

We asked visitors to contribute ideas about what they do (or would like to do) in daily life that is tantamount to revolution. Most of us are aware of the saying that permaculture is revolution disguised as gardening, and our visitors agreed with me that revolution comes in many forms – suggestions included foraging, singing, taking a moment to breathe, passing on unwanted possessions, and riding a scooter. One young revolutionary boldly promised ‘to be kind’. (Another child, no relation, had obviously been quick to absorb the importance of small, slow solutions, and, instead, promised only ‘to be kind to my brother’.) 

We invite your ideas for revolution

A debate about how we might bring the arts and ecology closer together took place in the exercise book we provided. Here’s a flavour of the responses: ‘include improvisation in the school arts curriculum’; ‘implement the designs into ways of learning in educational establishments, encourage people to take control of their own learning’; ‘have a spontaneous life … make a story, live that story, tell that story’; ‘be aware of beauty in the natural world and how we need to preserve it’; and ‘reach out to people on the margins to enrich my life’.

Vincent Killen, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse Theatres Trustee, was among the visitors to the Permaculture Surgery, and he also spent a while at the Permaculture Card Table. He commented that he found our contribution ‘extremely interesting, thought-provoking and loads of fun. The interaction between the participants was well managed and extremely lively, and although the theatre setting was slightly unusual, it actually seemed entirely appropriate.’

Everyman Trustee Vincent Killen at the card table

Deal your hand

By the end of the day, Steph and I had talked and listened to scores of people of a variety of backgrounds and just about all ages. We learned a lot about them, about ourselves, and about ways to talk about permaculture, as well as identifying room for improvement in any future Surgeries.

As you’d expect, everyone we met had something insightful to say about life design and their own cherished aspirations. I felt that it had been a worthwhile thing to do to prompt this exchange of views, which readily turned into a celebration of potential.

For the future

I would love to run similar ‘Permaculture Surgeries’ in future, and see others do the same. After putting this pilot together superfast, in order to make the Fun Palaces date, I look forward to backtracking to a more substantial observation period, and refining from there!

I think there is huge potential in giving games, design activities and performance a bigger role, based on my own preference and on observation of what engaged people most on the day. Plus, it would be fantastic to explore a variety of sites for delivery, such as smallholdings, shopping streets, bike shops, orchards, skateparks, stately homes…

Of course, developing these possibilities fully will take time and resources, and I personally need to obtain a financial yield from an outside source to be able to do this. Perhaps the option of using the Crowdfunder site, which has partnered with the Permaculture Association, will be a way to do this, and other suggestions are also welcome, as are opportunities for collaboration so that the Surgeries grow to be as inclusive as possible. Also, Permaculture Surgeries, in whatever form, could be delivered at future Fun Palaces, since the plan is for the event to be annual.

Overall, my objective would be to spread the idea that we are ALL specially selected to design our own lives, and our lives can be considerably more creative, resilient and sustainable than a traditional design approach would have us believe.

Watch the film:

- Sally Fildes-Moss 

Photos - Jona @ Tona Photography

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Designs on the Roof of the World

by Chris Evans

The work of the Himalayan Permaculture Centre

One of the great things about permaculture is how versatile it is in its application: not only across the vast range of climates and topographies on the planet, but also across cultures and societies. Nowhere is that more apparent to me than in the contrast between "East and West" or "North and South". At their extremes, wealthy and resource-access rich cultures that are fossil-fuel subsidised and dependent, and subsistence cultures where what people live by is what they grow and gather from the forests.

The former is like in the UK, while the latter is like in the remote areas of upland Nepal, where the Himalayan Permaculture Centre (HPC) chooses to work. The aims of the application of permaculture are very similar: to foster resilience and regeneration to a more abundant, sustainable future. The basis of the tools used are also similar in terms of the ethics, philosophy and principles of permaculture, and the step-by-step nature of the design process are also appropriate. It is the context that could hardly be more of a contrast.

In rural Nepal, people have huge skills in reading the landscape and understanding soil, water, and biodiversity, and incredibly complex and nurturing social interaction. Yet they have little or no access to health, education, credit, infrastructure and technology. Thus, communities are in an opposite paradigm to us in the UK, where we have all the benefits of modern society but have largely lost our connection to nature and the empowerment that brings.

Ironically in Nepal farmers would gladly turn their backs on their riches for a more comfortable and secure lifestyle and they are, in huge numbers, leaving the villages to seek low-paid and exploitative work overseas. In the UK we think of leaving the "rat-race" and returning to a simpler way of living. Both concepts of course have their misconceptions and there's no such thing as a free lunch. For both, the great turning is needed but it seems to be in different directions!

Photo by Chris Evans
HPC works to address the spectrum of needs: Firstly, food security in terms of soil, water and biodiversity management involves working with the skills people have while trying, for example, to make the work of increasing fertility easier. This may be through bringing forest resources on-farm with agroforestry, or rice production using less water and more output per acre with SRI (system of rice intensification), or better ways to compost, and diversification of crops – especially fruit and vegetables. The aim is less input for greater output, and new skills are taught to reach this aim, from grafting fruit trees and green manures to livestock health and beekeeping.

Secondly, it is health program works, on the basis that healthy people can farm and manage their resources better and easier, and the best way to health is through preventative measures rather than fighting fires. So along with raising awareness of women's rights and running training and clinics for diagnosis and treatment of women's health issues, often using locally available herbs, they are involved in making drinking water systems and building smokeless stoves, which also have the effect of reducing fuel wood use, thus linking with the food security work.

Jana Jyoti group of Thulo Khaltakura after completing a mobile women's health training.
Source: Find lots more images from HPC here.
HPC's third area of work is in education. Here it is working with schools on providing extra and intra-curricular classes for children, and designing school land to be more productive. HPC also teaches literacy (another skill we take for granted in the West) through use of the Farmers' Handbook, stacking functions by teaching reading and writing at the same time as making liquid manure.

The fourth area of HPC's work is around generating livelihoods so farmers can learn about income generation enterprises - not just the skills to enact them, but that there needs to be a basis of sustainable and regenerative resource use, specifically energy and water, and sustainable management of for example, nettles and cotton for fibre, or increase of bee forage for the beekeeping programme.

Finally, HPC looks to build its own capacity and that of its stakeholder communities to plan, deliver, monitor and evaluate its interventions - creating and responding to feedback loops designed into the system. For this it holds PDCs, Training of Trainers (ToTs), and NGO/village group management skills trainings, facilitates farmer-to-farmer exchange, leans about making short technical training videos that can be shared by mobile phone, and hosts festivals bringing farming communities together to celebrate the abundance of what can be attained.

Learn more about the work of the Himalayan Permaculture Centre.
Donate to Himalayan Permaculture Centre with the Permaculture Association.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Alara Wholefoods and the Kings Cross Harvest Festival Feast 2014

by Agnes Troszt, Alara Wholefoods

Alara Wholefoods, located in Camley Street, King’s Cross, is more than just a cereal manufacturing company. They are passionate about breakfast, natural food, nourishing gluten free food and last but not least, they care about their local community as well as their environment. Founder, Alex Smith says: “I have always been passionate about sustainability and believe that the food supply is the most important element in our society to become sustainable.” Following his ethos, Alex and people at Alara achieved some remarkable firsts and kept being an exceptional company on the cereal scenery ever since.

Early days and achievements
Alara was established in 1975, after Alex Smith spent a year living in squats without money. When he decided to use money again he found £2 on the street, which he used to establish the foundations of what we know today as Alara Wholefoods. Since then, the company has achieved more than he has ever dreamt of. Alara became the World’s first cereal company to be third party organic certified by the Soil Association, also it was the first company, which was registered with the Coeliac Society and was pioneer using renewable energy sources & green practices, which led to become a zero-waste food manufacturer in 2008.

Ambitious mission

With such exceptional firsts in many fields, their mission statement, to be the most sustainable food manufacturer on Earth, came with no surprise. In order to achieve this noble mission, the company measures their activities within three areas, namely financial (cash on delivery service to their customers), environmental and social.

A hidden, urban garden

Keeping the environment in mind

Manufacturing their products without any additional waste is just one within their green activities palette. Their factory also runs on solar panel and they are waiting for the arrival of a new anaerobic digester, which will supply the factory with gas and compost. To balance and nurture their relationship with Nature and to set an example that you can grow food anywhere, they have created a beautiful, permaculture garden by removing over 50 tonnes of rubbish and planted fruit trees, berries and flowers. This hidden garden made use of otherwise unused piece of land, helps to reduce the effects of global warming and educate young people about where their food is coming from.

Socialize and localize

Socialize and localize

Beside being active participant of the community, their social mission also involves hosting parties twice a year, where they can meet with their business partners, nurture local relationships, show their way of working towards a sustainable future and of course, commit some mischievements throughout the evening. Throughout the last couple of years, these parties became a must and well-awaited events among Alara fans and local residents.

And what other place would be best for their bespoke annual parties, in order to achieve their social mission, if not their thriving, green garden?

Bespoke Alara Parties

Every February, when their first party takes place, they wassail in the garden hidden behind their factory, to secure harvest will be rich and the plants wake up from their winter sleep and wait for spring. To see how successful their wassailing had been at the end of cold winter months, their annual Harvest Festival Feast takes place in September.

Harvest Festival Feast 2014

This year it was the perfect occasion to close Organic September and celebrate organic, local food and produce with Urban Food Fortnight, Urban Orchard Project, Soil Association and Wholefoods Action.

Preparing apples from the orchard
The event has started with warm, spicy welcome drinks in the decorated gardens, where benches, tables and twinkling lights gave a magical atmosphere right at the start. Later on Strayhorn, a classic blues band, took over the stage and entertained the crowd, whilst chefs were busy grilling delicious meat burgers, Dee’s bespoke vegetarian patties and vegan sausages, which were accompanied by huge, organic wholemeal buns from the Flour Power City Bakery and many superfood-infused salads and greens. To make sure everyone had their pudding at the end of the event, they served sweet & juicy baked apples, straight from the garden, topped with their deliciously crunchy gluten free granola.

To keep the children occupied Wholefoods Action, a fresh initiative against genetically modified food, organized potato printing with many shapes and colours.
Soil Association was also present with the aim of educating people about the advantages of organic farming, produce and lifestyle not just on their health, but on the environment as well as on future generations.

Every year, the Urban Orchard Project helps Alara to organize the party by bringing volunteers, their signature spicy cider while welcoming donations for their cause, to create and plant as many fruit trees as possible across the country’s empty green spaces and it wasn’t different either this year. The incoming donations were shared with Camley Street Farm, a food growing start up, which provides green spaces for local residents, who wish to enjoy natural & home grown fruits & vegetables.

Future Plans

Although their last party has just ended, Alara is already planning their next wassailing in February 2015, where everyone who would like to join them is welcome in this tradition and to let their hair down on a casual Friday evening.

Also, you can visit their garden throughout the year, the Alara Garden is registered in many open day events, such as Open Garden Square Days.

If you would like to find out more about Alara, Alex and how all this successful organic cereal business has started, The Guardian was filming throughout their Wassail Party this year and released a short, 3-minute video.

For more information, visit their website or find them on Alternatively you can tweet them and get the latest updates on what are they up to at @AlaraCereals.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

People Care and Child Care

by Pedro Valdjiu
Today I woke up at 4 AM with a dream about Child Care becoming part of the ethics of permaculture, a new sphere added to the Earth care, People care and Fair shares. The first thing I said to myself was why don’t I just add this topic into the people care branch and work it from there?
After some thoughts I realise that children and people are two different worlds, and I believe that society has been treating children as adults for too long, taking them away from them their maximum potential which is in my perspective their ability to use imagination. We as adults are adulterated by our traditions, cultures, behaviours and beliefs, in a way that keeps us from receiving the NEW that is arriving to this planet 24 hours a day, new ideas, new patterns, new imaginations, that will make the Big Turn happen on this planet.
When I think in Big Turn, what comes to my imagination is a new lifestyle that is not based on earth and human resources but based in our gifts and the gift of Life. I believe that gifted people like Tesla, Viktor Shauberger or others have found out about free energy and even more liberating ideas that could make the Turn a reality. It’s a shame that these information is not public, that the gifts of the genius people are not being used.
I often listen to our government speaking about saving the planet for the sake of our children future. Or something like – "children are the future…" This is just a way to take responsibility out of the present, and to make us feel kind of OK with the big mess we have been doing here. Social mess, economical mess and for sure ecological mess. The work is now not in the future, and children seem to live in the present, although surrounded by adults who are teaching them how to repeat their mistakes instead of giving space for them to channel new concepts and ideas.
Considering that just a little part of earth children have access to proper shelter, to water, food, health and the elementary needs to live, I believe, that we are in front of one of the most difficult issues of society.
On one hand we have children being exploited by the other hand of consumers child and their parents. Ones being slaved by the others, and the others becoming slaves of a technological society. Schools were we already have software as teachers were others are working 16 hours a day to make new smart phones to a dominant industry. I have to say that unfortunately i am part of the consumers hand.
So, what can I do?? How can I stop this nightmare? Where can I put my energy so that I bring a new light to this issue?

Eights years ago, I went to the public school and I signed a document saying that I was going to be responsible for the education of my children. That day I felt that all the power of the universe was running in my veins. From that moment my daughters, who I recognise have being my biggest masters on earth, were out of a system that is not Life supportive, a system that is adulterating children already in the kindergarten.
My beloved girlfriend, myself and a group of parents decided to start a Steiner school named Escola da Terra (Earth School) considering - after a big research that the Waldorf pedagogy initiated by Rudolf Steiner around 100 years ago - was the pedagogy with the deepest understanding of what a child is and a what a human being is at its highest potential.
I believe that one the of the key components of this is art. Children can learn everything through music, dance, theatre, painting, games, etc. All that has this artistic component that I see as a something that establishes a connections between earth and heaven, whatever picture of heaven on can have.
I saw the evolution of these children growing through the years without becoming fully corrupted by behaviour patterns from these adulterated non-life-supportive society. They have become children that support each other and have an incredible sense of justice and love.
We also started to bring some of these pre-teenagers, to our land Terra Alta, where we run international permaculture courses, mostly with people from Europe and more and more from all over the world. It was amazing to see how integrated these young people were among others and how wise they are, socially wise and also very connected to earth and nature, so very connected to what the permaculture education is all about. Nature connection I believe is one of our gifts as human beings. It is just these patriarchal educational system that creates these illusionary feeling of separation making us a sucking-resources based culture.
Waldorf education, permaculture and all that is supporting life seems to be so small-scale that I have the feeling that it is working as homeopathy remedy in order to keep the memory of what is our essence and what could be a possible way for our evolution. Rudolf Steiner mentioned on his lectures that there was a silence war on Humans, not with guns but through education.
So I can say that Waldorf education is about healing human beings through a spiritual, artistic education. It is growing internationally, and I hope that it will be adopted by the national educational systems as the main pedagogy. This could be part of the Big Turn.
I often hear things like children should all have access to proper education, but what kind of education are we talking about?  Are these parts of the world that our system call the third world with a need of a patriarchal educational system? Maybe they need as a good start to be released from the hands of imperialist corporations that are destroying theirs habitats and corrupting their beliefs and cultures.  Maybe we should stop thinking what is the best education for cultures that we just don’t know deep enough and let the cultures find their own evolution.
I feel frustrated by the fact that I can’t even address these topic in the level of depth I see needed here. I also know that I am talking from a very lucky person perspective, considering that I have access to water, money, food, and so on. But I also know that whatever I am doing am I am doing because I am a believer on us Humans, I know that we are not what the greedy imperialism is trying to make us, we are not stupid we are just doped by a twisted technological lifestyle .
Escola da Terra is not a business, actually for several years my energy at this project is based on pure service, where the vision of healing the world thought education seemed to guided myself higher then the need of having to make money or a career.
I also feel that People care and Child care are two different things.
Thank you all.
This post originally appeared on

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Winter Willow and the Workers' Educational Association

by Joe Gregory

Founded in 1903, the Workers' Educational Association (WEA) is a charity and the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education. We believe learning is for everyone and learning is for life. It can be life-enhancing and life-changing – improving health, self-confidence and creating positive changes that ripple out from individuals to communities.

Willow weaving
We also have a special mission to reach those who want to improve their lives and communities. Education is a beautiful and powerful tool for tackling economic and social disadvantage because it raises aspirations and helps people create their own change. We campaign for adult education and whether you want to become a student, member, volunteer, tutor or partner, you are always welcome to the WEA.

Over the last 6 months the North West Branch has been developing a range of Environmental courses designed to give students a taste of studying and working in the outdoors with the concept of sustainability at their heart. They range from weekend introductory courses such as Introduction to Woodland Management C3836725 and Introduction to Forest Schools C3836732, to accredited courses like the Permaculture Design Course C3836723.

All these courses can be studied as stand alone courses or combined and built up over time to give the learner a deeper understanding and a variety of practical experiences working sustainably in the outdoors.

For our full Autumn brochure please follow the link

All WEA courses are subsidized and if you receive certain Means Tested Benefits or are on a low income our courses are FREE. For more information please contact our regional office by telephoning  0151 243 5340 or via e-mail

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Feast for Free

by Charlotte Haworth

As the nights begin to exhibit a touch of biting chill and the skies to start dimming greyly, it becomes clear that autumn is approaching fast. The turning of the seasons is traditionally a time of celebrations: of the abundance of nature as we revel in the gifts of the harvest of our crops, and of the fruit and nut trees and hedgerow berries, not to mention myriad edible fungi (1), which are so prolific at this time.

With the growth of the global food system into the vast proliferation of networks which it is today, these traditional celebrations have become less important. Why would the cheery red glint of the apples ripening on the trees have any significance, when an apple being flown thousands of miles across the globe to be picked by you in the fluorescent orchard of your local supermarket has become a routine occurrence? And with more people living in cities, usually with less access to land, than ever before (2), a celebration of harvest time can also seem a little irrelevant.

Modern Abundance

Having lived in both cities, where it can be easy to ignore the seasons, and in rural locations where nature’s rhythm pulses more noticeably, I understand this incongruence. However, I have also noticed that not only are the abundances of harvest-time and of seasonal wild food very much still available to those who live in cities, but that there is an interesting aspect of our industrialised food systems which has produced another kind of abundance as well: one which is becoming increasingly well-publicised in British media (see for example 3 and 4) but which for many remains a relatively unknown phenomena. This is the huge amount of surplus food which is routinely thrown away along the entire supply chain, from farmers to supermarkets and right through to us as consumers.

Surplus food, just a small selection of the ingredients used to prepare the weekend's feast
No one is quite sure how much as figures on these things do not get published. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers published a report last year estimating that globally, 30 – 50% of all commercial agricultural food (1.2 – 2 billion tonnes of food) (5) is wasted before it even reaches the shops, while in the UK, Love Food Hate Waste estimates that 7 million tonnes of food is thrown away every year by households alone (6).

Statistics such as these can induce quite strong emotions, and it is important that we direct these emotions towards creative solutions if we are to help to change the situation to one which is more energy efficient and beneficial. And why not see this amount of food waste in a positive light? It certainly seems as though those throwing away the food could behave differently, but in order for them to do this, the way in which we relate to food must also change (for more on this see for examples 1, 7). While this is happening, we can utilise surplus food not to fill up bins, but as a glorious opportunity.

A new kind of harvest

There are many groups who are intercepting this perfectly good food from being thrown away, and who are keen to highlight the issues around why businesses deem it necessary to bin edible foods. It is with this in mind that the Brighton-based Food Waste Collective organised the Surplus Harvest Feast, a huge extravaganza of surplus food, cooked up and served for free to the public with great ceremony and celebration during last weekend’s community arts festival, the Lantern Fayre.

Fayre Food

The Great Serving Up
The idea of the event was to raise awareness of the large amount of surplus food which exists in Brighton and Hove alone. As the Feast’s co-ordinator, Debbie Hardy, pointed out, with just a handful of volunteers collecting surplus fruit, vegetables, and dry grains and beans we managed to redirect just under half a tonne of ingredients into around 1200 servings of hot, tasty meals (8).

The day was bright and sunny and the word had clearly got around. As volunteers scurried around inside the tent making last-minute cooking preparations, locating aprons and ladling meals into serving-pots, interested festival-goers began crowding in so thickly that the stewards had to intervene to hold them back. The Great Serving Up was scheduled for 2pm, and at 1.45pm the queue was already stretching out far beyond the food tent’s confines; snaking away across the Level park, and taking up half of the space of the festival. Clearly, the attraction of a free meal was one which was too good to miss.

Sharing Stories

One of my favourite aspects of the Feast is the idea of so many people all eating the same food at the same time. The importance of sharing and appreciating food is something which may get somewhat forgotten in our culture; one reason perhaps why people do not mind throwing it away, because they do not place as much significance on it as they could. In her book Agri-Culture: Reconnecting People, Land and Nature, Jules Pretty suggests that it is this appreciation and gratitude which is needed in order to revive our sense of community and re-think our global food networks towards ones of abundance for everyone (7).

A very simple way to do this is to share a meal with someone; it does not matter who. When we share food we are all connecting to the same primal energy; a fact which we may not consciously notice but which almost invariably affects us both physically and mentally. When we extrapolate this to sharing a meal with hundreds of others, the effects can be quite profound. I certainly felt more of a deep appreciation for the food from the Feast which I ate yesterday knowing how many other happy bellies were being sustained by the exact same fare as mine. The sensation is quite magical.

The effect which the Feast had on each individual who partook of the food served at the Lantern Fayre can probably never be fully known, but it is clear that the reverberations of this action are spreading in many directions. I spoke to a few people briefly about their take on the Feast, with many positive reactions. A large proportion were very keen to get involved with the Food Waste Collective and help with future actions, while some had their own ideas for new creative ways to highlight food surplus and at the same time fulfil the deep human need we have to connect with each other and to the natural world which sustains us. And, perhaps even more importantly, everyone who I spoke to was enjoying the food itself!

People interacting with the information on offer and "some had their own ideas for new creative ways to highlight food surplus."

More Feasting!

It is not only the Food Waste Collective who create such dynamic and interactive events as these. All over the world, groups and individuals are helping to readress the balance of food poverty vs. food waste, not by lamenting the statistics or by condemning producers or consumers, but using much more positive and creative methods. One example is the UK-based organisation This is Rubbish, who create arts installations and plays around the theme of food waste. At the moment they are touring around with their new Scratch Feast play; next showing this weekend in London. For more information, see (9).

If you are keen to read more stories about events such as the Surplus Harvest Feast, you can check out the Abundance Garden blog (10), which features a range of ideas, actions, creations and networks to help us to make positive and holistic changes.

The Surplus Harvest Feast and the Scratch Feast are just two examples of how we can bring to light just how much abundance there is here in the UK, and how, with just a little imagination, we can share this abundance out beautifully and resourcefully. There are many, many other ways in which we can address this. The only limit is our imagination. Ideas, anyone?


  1. Haworth, Charlotte, 2014. ‘The Importance of Eating Food’. Permaculture News, 26/09/14. - retrieved 06/10/14
  2. People and the Planet, 2014. ‘The world comes to town.’ – retrieved 05/10/4
  3. Reece, A, 2014. “Supermarkets to publish food waste data”. Resource, 29/01/14. – retrieved 23/09/14
  4. Sayid, R, 2014. “Seven supermarket chains including Tesco and Asda vow to reveal how much they bin each year”. Daily Mail, 30/01/14. – retrieved 23/09/14
  5. Institute of Mechanical Engineers, 2013. “Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not.” IMECHE: London. Available as a PDF here:
  6. Love Food Hate Waste, 2014. ‘UK Food Waste Statistics’. - retrieved 05/10/4
  7. Pretty, Jules, 2002. Agri-Culture: Reconnecting People, Land and Nature. Earthscan: Oxford
  8. Interview with Debbie Hardy, 06/10/14.
  9. This is Rubbish, 2014. ‘Scratch Feasts this October’. - retrieved 06/10/14
  10. Abundance Garden, 2014. - retrieved 07/10/14