Stroud’s second Communiversity took place over three days of wonderful and sometimes challenging weather. Max Comfort gives us some of the insights into topics covered such as Community Supported Agriculture, Street Allotments and food foraging.
Stroud’s second Communiversity took place over three days of wonderful and sometimes challenging weather – significant since we spent a lot of time outdoors, fantastic food from Star Anise and foraged from the woods and hedgerows (Odi’s wild garlic pesto stayed on the mouth for at least another three days!), and inspiring presentations and debates about what really matters in our communities. Stroud Common Wealth initiated the Communiversity in August 2008 with the simple idea of building a community of best practice in rural regeneration and community self-reliance, and to do this by showcasing some of the remarkable projects that started here in Stroud, inviting in practitioners from around the world to see what we do and having them tell us about their projects and experiences. This time the Communiversity was largely about our relationship to the land, food security and local enterprise.
Martin Large, Richard Keating and Kel Portman marched us up the Slad Valley and down again, sketching and photographing as we went, taking in the Summer Street Allotments, debating the difference between working with nature and (temporarily) subjugating it. We experienced our connections with the beautiful and bountiful landscape, and ate our lunch on Swifts Hill, surrounded by friendly and curious cows and watching the sun and the clouds play tag over the far hills beyond the silver Severn. Martin read from Laurie Lee and we walked amongst Rosie’s orchard, visited the Woolpack and drank in the beauty of it all.
Nick Weir took us through the various different ways that Community Supported Agriculture is being developed in the UK – amazing innovation and imagination there – and we were delighted to hear that the Foodhub had just received Lottery funding to get it started. It became clear that there are a huge number of opportunities out there for civil society to shape its own destiny, to lead the various sections of our community – council, industry etc – by simple and brilliant example into a sustainable future. A visit to Hawkwood and the CSA poly-tunnels made the point that the earth is the source of all our wealth and that – as the hands on our logo exemplify – dirt under the fingernails is something to be proud about.
With Max Comfort and Molly Scott-Cato, we debated what we, as individuals, can do to prepare ourselves to be effective in our communities, to consider – as in Aristotle’s time – the impact of our decisions and actions on everyone around us before carrying them out, and to contribute to and nurture the multi-symbiotic relationships so essential to our future well-being. We did so against a rapidly unfolding backdrop of extraordinary paradox and dysfunctionality at the heart of our democratic system. Again, in complete and soothing contrast, we learnt from Nathan the herbalist that there is so much in our often un-noticed wild places that – if we allow it – will sustain and heal us; I tasted for the first time the delicate flavours of Hawthorn flowers – a revelation.
For me, it is largely the tastes and smells that will endure; the excellent soups at Star Anise, the wild herbs, the cows and the fresh earth. But the biggest taste of all is that of freedom; freedom to be myself, to exercise my curiosity and my passions, and in so doing contribute to my communities in a lasting and meaningful way.
Max Comfort, May 2009
Photos: Kel Portman; James Scott;