Rewilding Education

2 Apr 2019 | 0 comments

I have just finished reading Isabella Tree's inspirational book ‘Wilding’, documenting the decade long experiment in rewilding Knepp Estate in West Sussex.

Among the many themes it tackles is an ongoing discourse on our instinct for control of nature; to understand and therefore dictate what the natural landscape of Britain was, is and should be rather than allowing nature to fully express itself in its own way.  

When rewilding was first introduced at Knepp, it was met with a barrage of resistance and critique from the local community. Many felt that allowing nature to take control on its own would be disastrous for the land. The ‘natural’ landscape of neat hedgerows, divided areas of pasture and woodland, meadows, waterways, heath and parkland would be destroyed and replaced with a wild scrubland, full of weeds, benefitting neither farming nor wildlife, and eventually turning into thick closed-canopy woodland. What has transpired is an explosion of wildlife, a miraculous ‘healing’ of the land from industrial agriculture and a game-changing shift in understanding of the natural behaviour of wildlife. 

The obsessive need for control, when applied to the natural world has had a profound effect on our understanding of what we understand nature to be. Ecological studies that are only completed when species are limited to marginal habitats leads to a warped view of their optimal requirements, so when we finally take action to protect and prevent extinction we do not consider or understand what the true needs of a species may be. Our obsession with control and aversion to non-intervention management of natural systems defines our current relationship with the natural world and is an indicator of how the psyche of the nation has developed and changed over time. We have become a nation more averse to being in a position out of our control, that is, to be in a position truly experiencing nature and placing ourselves in it rather than above it.  

The cult of control has taken us to a level in society where every point of our lives now needs to be manicured and presented. We must control the outside perception, if not the reality of our lives. Within society, the control of narrative and political communication has entrenched binary world views - the with us or against us mindset is transforming the battle-lines of politics; warfare through words, aggressive posture and positioning. 

There have been numerous reports on how social-media has given rise to a dramatic increase in mental health issues with the youth of today, but again, it makes you wonder why? Is it not more prudent to question the underlying desire young people feel to have total control of their lives?

For an educator, the past years of upheaval from government control in the classroom has led to a number of complaints that the current system leaves no room for innovation. It may be fashion amongst teachers to lay all the blame at Michael Gove’s doorstep, but many have been questioning how effectively the current educational model fits for the needs of the 21st century since long before he rewrote the rulebook.  

Leading lights in educational commentary such as Sir Ken Robinson and Stephen Heppel have led a critique of the modern education system that values the Victorian ideals of conformity and control over a system of learning that promotes resilience in learning skills for the future. Heppel often talks of how university students should be expected to challenge and confront existing norms of thought; to wow their professors to achieve a first-class degree, but all too often now follow a framework of reference, diffidence and deference. 

At secondary school level, lessons are crafted and taught to such a strict discipline of structure that there is often no time for free exploration of topics and ideas. The last bastion of free-expression, the arts, have been completely undermined by years of austerity; “nine in every 10 [schools] said they had cut back on lesson time, staff or facilities in at least one creative arts subject.”  

Ken Robinson is clear when he challenges the assertion of the importance of the literacy and numeracy over the value placed on creativity; we need a fundamental shift in the paradigm of education. If we continue down this path of absolute control always planning to know the outcomes before we have even started, then how will we ever get to somewhere different?

Passionate about food and farming, Alex Fitton was a secondary school teacher in inner city London before relocating to Devon to establish an educational programme at Trill Farm. 

The Wonder of Wool

1 Apr 2019 | 0 comments

As the weather warms, our thoughts turn to wool and we arrange for our sheep to be shorn. Wild sheep would shed their winter fleece naturally (and indeed, some primitive domesticated breeds still do), but as we have bred domestic sheep for their wool, most breeds have lost the ability to shed it. Shearing keeps the sheep cool, comfortable, and of course provides us with an excellent natural fibre.

Wool is warm when the weather is cold and cool when the weather is hot, can absorb a lot of water without feeling wet – useful in damp Devon! – and is completely biodegradable. In the UK, we have a sheep breed producing wool for every purpose from carpets to baby clothes and everything in between.

Our Gotland sheep are prized for their soft and luxurious curly fleeces. We have the fleeces spun and woven into beautiful blankets, and tan the sheepskins.

This year, we are offering you the opportunity to have a go yourselves. Jane Deane, local textile designer and tutor, is teaching a three day spinning course (22nd-24th May) using our own Gotland fleeces, sharing a skill that has not changed in the last 700 years, despite the advances in technology. She will also be teaching two natural dyeing (7th June and 10th-12th July) courses, producing beautiful colours that cause no harm to the dyer or the environment as modern synthetic dyes do.

Finally, Jessica Watson Brown will be showing us how to produce our own sheepskins from our Gotlands in July (26th-28th) using the traditional bark tanning method. We can't wait to see how they turn out!

Wake Up and Keep Sharing

2 Apr 2019 | 0 comments

The kitchen has awoken from its winter slumber; the stocks are bubbling gently, we’ve sharpened our knives and the first shoots of the spring season are creeping onto our chopping boards.

It’s the time to refresh our palettes and get tasting again. The new season inspires me to get creative with new recipes and techniques, but my focus at the moment is working out how to get more people involved and excited about eating and cooking with us. 

The act of gathering around a stove of some sort, a large dining table or a picnic blanket on the grass is all too often taken for granted. It’s in these circumstances that arguments are settled, friendships formed, announcements made and bellies filled. Last year, I felt we got closer to creating a community focussed business, a warm restaurant and an inquisitive, welcoming kitchen open to all. It’s so important that we create more of these places for people to meet, eat, share, roam freely, discuss and discover their local landscapes, food producers and cultures. 

This year sees some exciting new happenings in the Old Dairy Kitchen. Our popular monthly Feast events will now take place on the first Friday of the month – keep an eye on the Old Dairy Kitchen website calendar for exciting collaborations and Feast themes as they are announced. We’ll be welcoming new faces around the kitchen’s oak bench to discuss, learn, feel inspired and share some great food on our cookery courses. Alongside our weekly Wednesday and Saturday Farm Lunches, this year we’ll be launching our new fortnightly Sunday Lunches, and are looking forward to sharing our not-so-traditional offering of the classic Sunday roast.

We hope to see you all soon to share some food and stories with us this spring. 

Chris Onions runs the Old Dairy Kitchen. He caters for all our events, courses and farm lunches, hosts monthly feast nights, and teaches his own range of courses.