Published: 21 November 2013
Sue's Views: Week 7
Sue is studying sustainable horticulture at Schumacher College, Dartington. Week 7 has included a diverse range of topics. Below is her report on the key points of interest.
This week has completely blown my mind. It started with the best day: a tour of the forest garden created by Martin Crawford about 20 years ago. It’s so tranquil and absolutely fascinating. About 400 plant species, on seven levels, from nitrogen fixing alder trees to mycorhizal funghi and everything in between. 
 
These plants do everything from dying clothes to making wax to providing sweet sap, to medicines, but most of them you can also eat. A low maintenance type of food production. It won’t provide as much food as a field full of annual vegetables but it will be a lot less work and a lot kinder to the environment. 

I spent the next morning planning my own garden, complete with bamboo viewing area and ducks on the pond. I’ve posted a picture that Melinda and Tara created to depict their garden. It shows the layers of plants perfectly.


We planted some strawberries in Mypex (the black plastic stuff that stops the weeds growing and prevents the strawberries from rotting) at school farm. Sadly we won’t get to pick any as you have to take all the flowers off in the first year. We burnt charcoal in a barrow to heat brands to make holes in the Mypex. It’s always fun having a fire. Although even that has some ethical issues. We import 80% of our charcoal and much comes from unsustainable sources, so buy local! However, Pete provided us with light relief by creating a BBQ out of our wheelbarrow and cooking some courgettes he’d found. They were pretty tasty- thanks Pete!


We also had fun pulling apart a chainsaw engine and trying to put it back together again. ( You will recall my affinity with chainsaws from week one). I’m not sure any of us will be engineers (well maybe Melinda) but it was great to see the inside of an engine again. I hadn’t seen one since my first boyfriend reconditioned his car engine on his mum’s dining table. Cam shafts and rockers kept springing back into my mind. It’s such a simple and yet ingenious idea. It changed the world. Look where we are now, all due to the industrial revolution. At that time our resources seemed endless. Not anymore.
 
We had a discussion at the beginning of term as to what sustainable horticulture really is. Is it large scale agriculture, hydroponics and GM? Or is it organic farming, small mixed farms and agroforestry? The latter is strongly supported by Schumacher but I feel I don’t know enough yet about the wider picture. Is it safe to eat GM? What is the carbon footprint for hydroponics? Can organic compete with monoculture farms? 
 
I’ve read a couple of books recently. One is Colin Tudge’s ‘Good food for everyone forever’. The other is Jay Rayner’s ‘A greedy man in a hungry world.’ I’m not sure that there could be two books further apart in outlook and style. However, they both agree we’ve all got to stop eating so much meat.
 
 I’ve also got Graham Harvey’s ‘The Carbon Fields’ on the shelf. All this reading has taught me three things:
1: being sustainable is not as simple as you’d think
2: politicians are too dependent on popularity to help very much
3: nobody can be virtuous about this unless they live in a cave
 
Someone recommended another book to me: ‘10 Billion’ by Stephen Emmott. Their précis was that there’s not much point us trying to be environmentally friendly (buying tomatoes loose instead of a plastic packet, making our computer last a couple of years longer). It’s a drop in the ocean when our population is growing so enormous and the middle classes globally are increasing and consuming exponentially. Nobody has the power/will to do anything about it.  He recommends we teach our grandchildren how to shoot a gun…
 
I’d really appreciate some feedback on this whole area. What do you think? Should we be gearing up with science and mass production to feed the world or should we ‘take the road less travelled’ and work with our environment in an ecologically friendly way? Or, at the risk of sounding like Tony Blair, could there be a third way?
 
Please tweet me: @sustainablesuzi.
 
Or email the editor Chris Allen: info@thegardeningtimes.com
Reported by Sue  
   
 

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