Grow Zones – reconnecting with the land

Guest Post by Chris Sunderland of EarthAbbey

It is not yet widely recognised that there are spiritual issues at stake over climate change. Many people seem to consider it all as a technical or political problem. They look anxiously into the future for a piece of geo-engineering that will save us, or campaign furiously to get politicians to act. Yet the environmental issues that we face are so serious and so multi-faceted that they demand nothing less than an inner transformation.

There are lots of paths in to the spirituality of climate change. We could talk about finding a proper humility about our abilities to manipulate and engineer the earth. We could consider the transformation of our wills so that we are truly able to live differently. But I would like to focus in this article on another problem, which is simply that we have lost touch with the creation.

More than 50% of humans in general and 80% of the people in the UK now live in towns or cities and, across the world, the great exodus from country to town continues. City living has great benefits in terms of easy communication, opportunity for development and change and some say that it is even ‘greener’ in terms of carbon footprint. But one thing it tends to lack. And that is a deep, heartfelt connection with nature.

I have recently been involved in the formation of a new Christian community known as EarthAbbey, whose members simply commit themselves to encourage one another to journey towards a life more in tune with the earth. It is a neo-monastic community, open to all people everywhere, with a strong focus on practical living. Here in Bristol, where it began, we have been trying to find meaningful ways to reconnect with the land and we came up with a very simple idea we have called Grow Zones. What we did was this.

A small group of us teamed up to turn each other’s gardens over to growing edible produce. Some of us were gardeners already. Many were not. We were particularly interested to learn something about Permaculture in the process. Permaculture is about designing growing systems so that they work in harmony with the local ecosystems rather than against them.  Permaculture has a strong fit with EarthAbbey’s aims. So, the way we did it was that each person spent some time thinking about what they would like to grow and then we met on a series of Saturday mornings, once at each garden, and did the business. The host would produce a list of jobs, we would choose what we wanted to do, and we then spent the morning working. The host then provided us all with a lunch based on fresh local produce.

Now at one level you could see this as a simple carbon reduction strategy. We each produce more of our own food, reducing fossil fuel use from industrial scale agriculture with its irrigation, fertiliser, pesticide and food miles. Yet strangely this was rather far from our minds. We found that we just loved doing this. There was something about working the land itself. A contact with reality, a stillness, the seasons, the hope of fruit. We found ourselves friends, somehow joined in a deep way through our work together. And I think we sensed something of God in it all, a sort of being blessed that is hard to describe, but very powerful to experience.

Last year saw an astonishing resurgence of interest in growing food across this country. Seed manufacturers were overwhelmed at the demand. I know that others have experienced that same sort of joy that we encountered and likewise discovered how powerful working land is as a means of creating community. David Hughes of Eco-Congregations sent us in a great story about a project on the land around  his home ( see the article here)

Receiving this and hearing other similar accounts has made me wonder whether it is right to call this a movement of the Spirit of God? The result of our surprising joy at Grow Zones is that EarthAbbey is now developing a whole range of projects on the land in Bristol and we are very keen to encourage others around the country to try Grow Zones. Our aim is to get 50 or more teams of people around the country turning their gardens over to edible produce and having great fun in the process.

If you would like to host a Grow Zones, please get in touch with us through www.earthabbey.com/growzones . It is all very easy and unburdensome.

If you would like to understand more of the biblical basis for EarthAbbey and what it is doing, try ‘The Dream that inspired the Bible’ by Chris Sunderland available from www.earthabbey.com/publishing for more on the experience of Grow Zones see ‘We have been grow zoned’ and ‘A short film_about_grow_zones.

Chris Sunderland Feb 2010

Contact Chris through www.earthabbey.com or phone 0117 9574652

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