Glastonbury, glyphosate and goodbyes - agri-activism blog #4

12 July 2016

The last blog from Elena and Lili, as they pass the bio-baton on to Janny and Josie at Caerhys farm.

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Sadly, as I write this, it is already the end of our fantastic six weeks together in Wales. We are both extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to be there, helping Friends of the Earth and Gerald Miles as agri-activists for a short while.

The week before last, our awesome mentor Gerald was in Glastonbury (a music event attended by around 100,000 people), campaigning about the dangers of genetic modification, and the benefits of organic and community supported agriculture – please note that he is 68 years old!

In the meantime we kept ourselves busy by surveying supermarkets and stores in Haverfordwest for pesticides containing glyphosate, and what we found was astonishing. The volume, diversity and concentration of this killer chemical is more widespread than we could have imagined – we even found glyphosate weedkiller sold for one pound!

Armed with this information and a formal letter of demands, we can now visit the stores in person, hoping they will take this poison off their shelves. This is highly relevant in light of the recent EU vote in favour of re-licensing Monsanto to sell glyphosate for 18 more months. Countries still have the right to ban glyphosate from entering their borders, so there is hope! Individual stores can of course choose not to sell it out of responsibility towards their customers' health and environmental awareness.

We also made time for sowing bee-attracting herbs and plants, and made a bee hotel out of scrap wood, which will hopefully attract friendly biodiversity to the poly-tunnels, where pollinating efforts are needed most.

Our bee hotel

As soon as our rock-star came back, we zoomed off to visit some key places of inspiration in Pembrokeshire... but before I jump into that, I will first introduce the two new agri-activists who will be taking over for the next 8 weeks – Janny and Josie.

Janny studied Literature in the Netherlands, but moved to Latvia three years ago to work for a local environmental NGO. Her main reason for joining the project is to get her hands dirty, gaining some practical experience in food production and organic agriculture and learning about activism from one of the most experienced anti-GMO activists in Wales.

Josie is an American and world nomad who has enjoyed a year of WWOOFing around the world after obtaining an undergraduate degree in international political economy with a focus on agriculture. She sees agri-activism as an incredible opportunity to stay connected to grassroots farm work while also engaging with local issues that affect not only Wales, but the planet. She's thankful for this opportunity and is looking forward to a wonderful summer spent at Caerhys.

We spent Tuesday, the girls' first day, helping out Transition Café at an NGO fair in Fishguard town hall – the event was well attended and we got to graze on a wide selection of donated food – turns out free food is a good way to start a conversation about our food supply, who knew!

With Jasmine at the Lammas community

On Wednesday we went over to Lammas community where Cassandra and Jasmine were kind enough to show us around their plots to see their eco-designs – Lammas is an eco-village in Tir y Gafel, North Wales, made up of 9 autonomous plots connected to a hydroelectric plant. Wood and cob are the main materials used on site as they are freely available from the lands' woodland area. Most plots include edible landscaping, greenhouses with a variation of materials and designs, and living areas or workshops built complementary to the surrounding landscapes and as energy-efficient as possible.

We were further impressed by our meeting in the afternoon with Ed Revill, a 'nutty professor' as he calls himself who is practicing the no-dig method on his 2 acre plot with impressive results. He produces bio-char by combusting wood chips donated from the surrounding community in Swansea in a low-oxygen atmosphere, which causes the smoke to be utilized in the process of making charcoal.

This resource is highly beneficial as it sequestrates carbon, and does wonderful things to soil quality. Manual labour (weeding, hoeing and digging) is minimal, and Ed manages to maintain the plot in excellent condition mostly on his own. Sadly it is not yet a very profitable system, but he hopes that in the future, subsidies related to fracking, fuel and industrial agriculture will be phased out, and public awareness on climate change will change consumer demand towards carbon-sequestrating production such as his.

The next day, we were invited over to Primrose Earth Centre near Brecon for an extremely tasty home-cooked meal and tour around the premises. Their bio-intensive plots cater for a farmer's market and circa 20 restaurants in the area, while looking very pleasant.

Primrose farm plots

The evening was spent in Porthgain, a small town within one hour walking distance from the farm where we joined in the usual Thursday Ukulele Pirates gig and sang our hearts out to our favourite tunes.

All in all, it was a lovely way to wrap up our experience. We now leave it in the hands of the 'new generation' of agri-activists, whom you will hear from very soon. We wish to thank all of the YFoEE team especially Paul, Kristiyan, David and Emma for their support, and of course Helen. Of course a big heartfelt thank you and goodbye goes to Gerald and his family, who took us in and shared everything with us – we couldn't be more grateful.

We wish all the best to Janny and Josie and hope they will enjoy their time in Wales as much as we did.

Sunset from Caerhys