Thursday, July 9, 2009

Nature's Life Support Systems

Yesterday I transplanted two varieties of Leek (Varna and Oarsman), with a third (Atlanta) yet to go in, once the second lot of broad beans is cut down. There were some straggly leek seedlings which I ate with my salad lunch, every bit of which I gathered in my hands and took to the plate, as fresh as fresh could be.

Taking produce from the garden is something we, as gardeners, may not exactly take for granted, but we do expect, despite occasional failures, to reap a reward for our efforts don't we? In effect what we are doing is tapping into what Prince Charles last night described as "Nature's Life Support Systems."

The way I garden and produce vegetables has been affected over the years by a few key influences. The first was a lecturer (and sadly I cannot remember his name) teaching part of the geography course at the then Plymouth Polytechnic, who demonstrated on some simple graphs of consumption the exponential growth in the use of natural resources (and that was 40 years ago). Later I read "Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered" by E. F. Schumacher, which put people at the heart of the response to the challenge created by my lecturer. In the 1980s Mrs Soggy and I went on a course where we met Patrick and Shirley Rivers at their farm in the Wye Valley. Two of his books, prompted by their own experience, and also by their research into the effects of factory-scale fish farming off the coast of Africa, made me think harder about what we eat and how it is produced. There have been other and varied influences of course, and in each generation there will be voices speaking out, sometimes in the face of received wisdom, making us think about the way we live.

Last night I listened to another voice, I don't watch much television and certainly don't usually sit through the Richard Dimbleby Lecture, but my attention was well and truly held by a speech given by the Prince of Wales, in which were woven together many strands of the thinking reflected in the sources above, and relating them, as Schumacher, to a world view in which people matter. At the same time humanity was placed firmly in the speech as part of the greater natural order, not as exploiters of nature, rather as vulnerable members of Earth's fragile ecosystems.

As gardeners we are amonsgt the stewards of Nature's Life Support Systems, offering up not just tasty lunch time snacks, but also practical examples of sustainable methods, environmental awareness and harmonious living with nature.

I seem to have left the spade behind and fallen under the philosopher's spell today - normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!

I'll just leave you with a quote from the Prince's lecture (of which more here in The Independent and here on The Prince of Wales website):

"But for all its achievements, our consumerist society comes at an enormous cost to the Earth and we must face up to the fact that the Earth cannot afford to support it. Just as our banking sector is struggling with its debts – and paradoxically also facing calls for a return to so-called 'old-fashioned', traditional banking – so Nature's life-support systems are failing to cope with the debts we have built up there too.

"If we don't face up to this, then Nature, the biggest bank of all, could go bust. And no amount of quantitative easing will revive it."

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