|February||Introduction to Permaculture course, Trumpington (24 participants)|
|March||Inaugural meeting of the group|
|March||Visit to Steiner School, Fulbourn|
|April-July||Permaculture Design Course co-organised with Triangle Community Garden, Hitchin (6 participants from Cambridge)|
|April||Visit to Green Backyard project, Peterborough|
|May||Open meeting at Friends’ Meeting House|
|June||Visit to Ceri and Dave’s place, Trumpington|
|July||Visit to Pippa’s, Fulbourn|
|July||Permaculture Group Meeting July 2010|
|July||Film showing in the café – ‘Ecovillage Pioneers’|
|July||Introduction to Permaculture course, Fen End Farm|
|August||Visit to Biodynamic Lauriston Farm, Essex August 2010|
|August||Visit to London Permaculture Festival|
|September||Meeting + film showing ‘A Forest Garden Year’|
|October||Visit to Pipewell Wood|
|November||Visit to Guilden Gate organic smallholding, Bassingbourn|
|November||Practical permaculture – building raised beds at Liz’s allotment|
|December||Stall at Transition Cambridge stand, Mill Road Winter Fair|
|December||Stall at Transition Cambridge film showing ‘A Farm for the Future’|
The 14th August wasn’t your typical August day, grey clouds loomed overhead threatening the excursion, but the 10 intrepid permaculture group members would not be stopped, we were going to Lauriston Farm.
Lauriston Farm is situated on the Blackwater estuary in Essex and has a history of non-intensive land management, due to its flooding nature. Now surrounded by sea-wall defences, the land can be used as pasture and to grow vegetables. 220 acres of the site have SSSI status as they are important overwintering grounds for waders, such as curlew, lapwing, snipe and wildfowl such as Brent geese. 25 acres of the site are salt marsh, much of which is ‘unimproved’ land and therefore holds great botanical interest.
But it wasn’t really the natural history that had drawn the Permaculture group to the farm, it was the use of Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic principles that had attracted us all to the place. Biodynamic farming is a system where the farm is perceived as a self-nourishing closed system, an organism of its own, where all its needs can be generated from within the system and all its wastes can be re-synthesised back into the system. The conversion to biodynamic status, which is certified by Demeter, started three and a half years ago, when Spencer (the farmer) had to introduce organic treatments to the farm on a biannual basis. This treatment includes the spraying of cow manure and cow horn silica onto the land, and after two years the farm was granted organic status. By applying the treatment for another year and a half, as well as reducing the inputs and outputs of the farm it was granted Demeter certification earlier this year.
There are 20 Shetland cattle, five to seven of which are bred and 140 North Ronaldsay sheep which are a breed 98.6% true to their DNA from 1000 years ago. Spencer is a member of the breeders' group to ensure that he can maintain the genetic integrity of the breed and he's now the biggest commercial breeder of the sheep in the UK. None of the livestock are given vaccinations or artificial medications, only homeopathic remedies, unless an illness has not been caught early enough and the animal needs an intensive dose of medicine to prevent suffering, but this has only occurred twice this year. The Shetland cattle produce very high quality milk and meat, but the process is much slower than that of a modern commercial cow. All the meat is sold locally, within the Blackwater catchment and the organically certified fleeces from the sheep are sold to local spinning groups. Spencer and his mum are even starting to do their own spinning and weaving too. The farm also grew vegetables on bio-intensive raised beds 5ft x 10ft wide, four of which are supposed to feed a family for a whole year. But the system is very labour intensive, so they stopped growing veg this summer to get a better idea of how to grow on a more commercial basis. There are also new plans for a food forest, planted with nitrogen fixing alder in the canopy and growing annual vegetables and fruit underneath.
The business is not yet financially self-sufficient however, so it is currently relying on the government’s agri-environmental schemes to pay for its subsistence. The farm is part of the Higher Stewardship Scheme, where it takes large responsibility for the environmental welfare of the site, actively managing the land for the benefit of wildlife. But the business is young and the number of livestock are growing, as are the public who are becoming increasingly interested in the spiritual, health and environmental benefits of biodynamic food. Hopefully we will be able to return to Spencer and Lauriston Farm in a few years time and will be faced with a booming business with happy and wholesome tomatoes, potatoes, milk and eggs, flying into the hands of happy and wholesome customers.
The Permaculture group held its July meeting at Pippa's in Fulbourn where the garden has been extensively redesigned following permaculture principles. The bulk of the work was undertaken in April by the group involved in the Grow Zones project.
Permaculture design elements included were; keyhole beds, stacking, heavy multi-layer mulching techniques, rainwater harvesting, biological pest controls, composting, micro water features, seed saving, vermiculture, and woodfuel storage. We also undertook a basic observation exercise.
One of the permaculture principles is to observe your site for a year, so that the full range of weather conditions and the four seasons can be experienced and their effects understood before any major interventions are implemented. However we allowed ourselves just 15 minutes, each of us observing and noting what we had seen, without talking to the other members. A group discussion followed on what we had seen and it was interesting how many differences there were in people's notes in a modest sized garden.
Finally we must mention that we all had a jolly good lunch as well! So if you feel tempted to learn more about permaculture (and let's face who wouldn't want to know more about multi-layered mulching or vermiculture) and partake of jolly good lunches, do contact us and keep an eye on the Transition Cambridge weekly bulletin for future events.