In mid November I was kindly asked to attend a sustainability conference at Atlantic College. This is a very special place and one dear to my heart. The college, one of over a dozen internationally, was founded in the Sixties on Kurt Hahns vision of giving service and enhancing understanding. For fifty years since, students from all over the world have united to share, learn and grow-up together. This all happens in the wild and romantic setting of St Donats Castle, perched above the turbulent waters of the Bristol channel. I had attended the college myself leaving in 1999 â€“ which was a shock when realising the students are now nearly half my age. Perhaps I did not grow-up as I did not feel such a gap.
Service is an important part of College life. At the beginning of the two years students choose a service for which they will dedicate 6 hours a week. Service can mean many things- from safe guarding the channel with the RNLI to visiting the elderly or helping deliver lambs in spring.
Back in the last century, when I was a student, my service to the environment was a bit limited. My connection to the incredible surroundings were skin deep. It was a wonderful stage set but there was no umbilical reliance to the immediate place. While we had brilliant kitchen staff, doing a great job on a minimal budget, one of the main areas of student complaint was the food. We were pale, stressed and perhaps could have done with supplementing our curly fries and chlorine dipped iceburgÂ with some fresh greens.
Since my departure, having learnt more about food and resources, I have realised how much possibility there is for the college to remedy this old upset to the stomach.There is land, there is compost, there is a farm so possibly manure. Most of all there is labour. Willing labour in a community that could make the labour fun and possibly even one of love. Going back I am delighted to find there is also another key ingredient. The will is there to start joining the resource dots.
I delivered four workshops about food growing. November is not an easy time to capture peoples imagination and get them hooked. Generally I find seducing people with tomatoes is the best way to ignite a desire. However this was the challenge and hopefully I did not get anyone too muddy. My workshop was simple- the main thing I wanted to convey was that growing food is accessible and enjoyable.
Firstly I asked the students to name a benefit of growing your own food. Some answers below:
It is tasty
It is fresh
It is economical
No reliance on oil based fertilisers, chemical treatments or tractor fuel
No food miles or energy used on refrigeration
Knowledge it has not been involved in causing pollution
Knowledge it has not been involved in causing exploitation
Knowledge about what lies on the leaves
You benefit your soil by cycling organic matter rather than sending it to landfill
You sequest carbon by composting
It can be fun
We talked a bit about practically engaging with the other discussions and lectures of the conference. What can we do better within our context? Where do our resources lie and what are we wasting?
We also did some seeding- a bad time of year for this but I wanted to demonstrate how accessible it is to grow things. Ten minutes and a few trays seeded, that will, (with the right conditions- namely spring or summer light and warmth!) provide over a thousand salad plants for example.
When I left I ran down to the valley to drop off my borrowed wellies. The sun was out and the students had built another couple of raised beds to add to their impressive efforts. I left happy and with the promise to return to help fill them next spring.