Monday, 26 January 2009


Taken from the edible schoolyard website - written by Alice Waters

For me life is given meaning and beauty by the daily ritual of the table—a ritual that can express tradition, character, sustainability, and diversity. These are some of the values that I learned almost unconsciously at my family table as a child. But what beliefs and values do today's children learn at the table? And at whose table do they dine?

The family meal has undergone a steady devaluation from its one time role at the center of human life, when it was the daily enactment of shared necessity and ritualized cooperation. Today, as never before in history, the meals of children are likely to have been cooked by strangers, to consist of highly processed foods that are produced far away, and are likely to be taken casually, greedily, in haste, and, all too often, alone.

I believe public education must help restore the daily ritual of the table in all our childrens' lives. Public education has the required democratic reach. And it desperately needs a curriculum that offers alternatives to the fast-food messages that saturate our contemporary culture. These messages tell us that food is cheap and abundant. That abundance is permanent; that resources are infinite; that it';s okay to waste; that standardization is more important than quality; and that speed is a virtue above all others.

Fast food values are pervasive (especially in poor communities) and often where they least belong. Recently I visited a museum of natural history, for example, which celebrates the astonishing diversity of world cultures, the beauty of human workmanship, and the wonders of nature. It even houses an impressive collection of artifacts relating to food: tools and depictions of hunting, foraging, agriculture, food preparation, and the hearth.

But in the museum cafeteria, crowds of people queue up in a poorly lit, depressing space as if in a diorama of late-twentieth century life, surrounded by that unmistakable steam table smell of pre-cooked, portion-controlled food. In this marvelous museum, surrounded on all sides by splendid exhibits that celebrate the complexity of life and the diversity of human achievement, people appear to have stopped thinking when it comes to their very own everyday experience. People appear to be oblivious that the cafeteria represents the antitheses of the values celebrated in the museum.

Yet a museum cafeteria could have delighted the senses. It could have been beautiful and made you think. It could have served delicious meals in ways that teach where food comes from and how it is made. And when you returned your tray you could have learned something about composting and recycling. You could even have a little friendly human interaction, had the cafeteria been designed to encourage it. It could have inspired you to head out of the museum and see the world in a different way. Instead it was like a filling station.

Our system of public education operates in the same strange, no-context zone of hollow fast-food values. Maurice Holt, professor emeritus of the University of Colorado, has observed that public education today has little philosophical grounding and is relatively unconcerned with tradition and character. In school cafeterias, students learn how little we care about the way they nourish themselves—we’ve sold them to the lowest bidder. Soda machines line the hallways. At best we serve them government-subsidized agricultural surplus, at worst we invite fast food restaurants to open on school grounds. Children need only compare the slickness of the nearest mall to the condition of their school and the quality of its library to learn that they are more important as consumers than as students.

What we need is a systematic overhaul of education inspired by the International Slow Food movement. This eco-gastronomic movement celebrates diversity, tradition, and character and what it’s founder, Carlo Petrini, calls “quiet material pleasure.” This is exactly what Maurice Holt has proposed. “Slow Schools” would promote community by allowing room for discovery and room for paying attention. Concentration and judgment and all the other slow food values that testing cannot measure would be given a chance to flourish.

How do we begin to turn the public schools into slow schools? The Edible Schoolyard at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, in Berkeley, California, provides a hopeful model. King School is a public school with about 1,000 students in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. It is an astonishingly diverse group, socially, economically, and culturally—over twenty languages are spoken in the students’ homes. A decade ago, this school was surrounded by large schoolyard covered with blacktop. The school’s cafeteria had been closed because it was no longer large enough to accommodate all the students. Microwaved, packaged food was sold from a shack at the end of the parking lot.

Members of the community dismayed by the state of the school began speaking with other parents and teachers. We noticed that the blacktop schoolyard was large enough for an enormous garden and talked about initiating an edible landscape. We suggested that the students could plant and care for a garden and even learn to cook, serve, and sit down and eat together in a renovated cafeteria and lunchroom. These ideas would have been nothing more than well-intentioned fantasies had King School not had an enlightened principal. He understood that a new school garden and a renovated cafeteria and lunchroom meant more just the beautification of school grounds. He understood that these were the central elements of a revolution in both the lunch program and the entire school curriculum.

Presently the Edible Schoolyard consists of a one-acre organic garden and a kitchen-classroom. In the garden, students are involved in all aspects of planting and cultivation; and in the kitchen-classroom, they prepare, serve, and eat food, some of which they have grown themselves. These activities are woven into the curriculum and are part of the school day. A new ecologically designed cafeteria is being built and the program is preparing for the transformation of the school lunch program. When the cafeteria has been built, lunch will be an everyday, hands-on experience and an essential part of the life of the school.

Such a curriculum is not a new idea in education. Waldorf schools and Montessori schools, among others, practice similar experiential, value-oriented approaches to learning based on participation. This kind of participatory learning makes all the difference when it comes to opening minds. The Edible Schoolyard, for instance, has shown that if you offer children a new dish, there’s no better than a fifty-fifty chance they will choose it. But if they’ve been introduced to the dish ahead of time, and if they have helped prepare it, they will all want to try it.

Learning is supposed to be a pleasure, and a food-centered curriculum is a way to reach kids in a way that is truly pleasurable. At first, the kids may not quite believe that they are allowed to have so much fun outside in the garden. But before long, they all know what compost is. And all know what’s ripe and what’s not ripe, and when. This is knowledge they have learned without realizing it from experiences like picking the raspberry patch clean every morning. While they are touching, and smelling, and tasting, so much information floods in—because they are using all of their senses. What better way to learn about geography than by combining twenty seven aromatic spices to make an Indian curry?

This is the beauty of a sensory education: the way all the doors into your mind are thrown wide open at once. Esther Cook, who teaches in the kitchen at King school, says it so beautifully: “the senses are truly the great equalizer. They are the key to a beautiful life, a really fulfilling life, and they are available to anybody.”

A slow school education is an opportunity that should be universally available—the more so because kids aren’t eating at home with their families anymore. In fact, in the United States, many children never eat with their families (an observation confirmed by our experience at King School). Our most democratic institution, the public school system, now has an obligation to feed our children in a civilized way around a table. And students should be asked to participate—not just as a practical life exercise, but as a way of putting beauty and meaning into their lives.

There are countless ways to weave a food program into the curriculum at every level of education. The creation of the Slow Food University in Pollenzo, Italy, which will open next fall, clearly shows the seriousness and wide reach of an eco-gastronomic perspective. It is reconfiguring gastronomy as a subject of academic inquiry. The depth and breadth of the subject—its relevance in ecology, anthropology, history, physiology, and art—assures it could easily be integrated into academic studies of every school, from the kindergarten to the university.

Now if every school had a lunch program that served its students only local products that had been sustainably farmed, imagine what it would mean for agriculture. Today, twenty percent of the population of the United States is in school. If all these students were eating lunch together, consuming local, organic food, agriculture would change overnight to meet the demand. Our domestic food culture would change as well, as people again grew up learning how to cook affordable, wholesome, and delicious food.

To make this a reality we need more model programs at all levels; when these models are good enough, we will have the momentum to seek the mandate and the money to make them a reality throughout the country. We know from experience that it can be done.

Forty years ago, a presidential commission in America told us our children were physically unfit and that we had to launch a national physical fitness program. The country responded by building gymnasiums, buying equipment and training new physical education teachers, and by making physical education a required part of the curriculum in every school. Today we are worried anew over the health of our children. Child obesity is shocking, and at the present rate of increase, one out of every three children can be expected to develop diabetes, and for African American children, the statistic is one out of every two. We must respond by bringing real food, nutritious food, back into the schools and into the curriculum. We must create new incentives for educators to integrate real food into the lives of their students. Perhaps the best and most radical way to do this is to give credit for school lunch, just as credit is given for physical education or for math or science. This would add a new dimension of integrity to the lunchroom, placing it on a par with the classroom, and breathing new life and dignity into learning how to eat.

What we are calling for is a revolution in public education—a real Delicious Revolution. When the hearts and minds of our children are captured by a school lunch curriculum, enriched with experience in the garden, sustainability will become the lens through which they see the world.

the edible schoolyard

The mission of the Edible Schoolyard is to create and sustain an organic garden and landscape which is wholly integrated into the school's curriculum and lunch program. It involves the student in all aspects of farming the garden - along with preparing, serving and eating the food - as a means of awakening their senses and encouraging awareness and appreciation of the transformative values of nourishment, community, and stewardship of the land.


The following principles guide the design and conception of the Edible Schoolyard:

Participatory: The Executive Committee, Steering Committee, staff, teachers and students who help plan, develop, and manage the garden reflect the multicultural and demographic diversity of the school and community.

Ecological: The Garden is designed and maintained using sound ecological proctices that are reflected in all aspects of the project, from the way the food is grown, harvested and prepared, to the recycling of waste back into the earth.

Aesthetic: The goal is to create a beautiful environment that will inspire personal and social responsibility, one that will also function as a model for other schools.

a single carrot

The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.
Paul Cezanne

Friday, 23 January 2009

floating wind turbines

chair made from carrier bags

removable sink

LED charges by day glows by night and above...streetLED

futures through design - some examples

Here are a few pictures of designs and ideas that are showing us ways that the ecoculture is going. Welcome to the future!

creating - sustainable - communities

Let's begin with the title.
Creating sustainable communities says a good deal about the intention behind this book.
This is a book that anticipates that to achieve something that is sustainable there is a need to attend to both the relationships between the custodians, and a need to engage and nourish the imagination.
Community plays an important part therefore in establishing a tone for participation through the quality of relationships, the extent to which people feel that they have a voice and are capable of action as engaged citizens. This serves to define both the emancipatory possibility of community as a social movement, and ensures that there are fundamental principles of equity, social justice and most significantly ecological consciousness at the heart of the community venture.
Creativity is the dynamic that engages individuals and groups. It is a way of being that stimulates, inspires, designs, imagines and models our world.
Sustainable retreat, is the progression from a managed to a living systems understanding of reality. It is the fundamental framework within which we live our lives in collaboration with all other living beings on the planet.

Monday, 19 January 2009

chapter two outline

This chapter will get into thinking about and having an influence on the future
Sustainability is intricately linked with the future as well as the present way we do things. Choices we make today influence how we live and how we might live. Rather than get tied up in knots with development plans and goals and objectives, I think that the key thing we need to learn is how to live with emergence. Once we understand how to think using a living systems model we can nurture appropriate forms of change.

This chapter will provide the simple outline of a proccess of understanding through a living systems model drawn from the thinking of permaculture.

A series of headings provide a shape through which living systems thinking can be made more accessible, these are:

Observation, Boundaries, Resources, Evaluation, Design, Implementation and Maintenance.

Each of these will be described and developed, they make sense as a whole, so interconnection is a fundamental from the outset.


One of the greatest lessons we can learn from ecosystems is that in order to understand an ecosystem one has to look at it as a whole. It is not possible to look at an ecosystem and make predictions about its activity by simply adding together the constituent parts. The system is integrated. All of the parts are interactive and interdependent and by being like this they form a complex whole.

the atmosphere - connectivity

The earth's atmosphere could never persist without the presence of life. The atmosphere is maintained in a stable state as a result of the organisms that live on the planet. The interaction between the organisms, and the mix of gases generate the conditions for life to exist, and for the atmosphere to function. Lovelock found in his research at NASA that this applies not only to the atmosphere, but also to the temperature and all other conditions that living things require. In effect, the earth is very similar to a living organism itself, with many different life forms interacting in a similar way to organs inside the body. Lovelock gave this the name Gaia - the name of the Greek mother goddess.

Saturday, 17 January 2009


Permaculture followers will recognise the O'BREDIM mnemonic that forms the basic operational method of thiis approach to growing plants.
I want to explore its use in human systems thinking, particularly as the possible ways of creating a working methodology that enables people to nurture sustainable community.
The sequence is as follows:
Observation, Boundaries, Resources, Evaluation, Design, Implementation and Maintenance.
In order then, first in relation to permaculture, and then extending into community.
Observation allows you first to see how the site functions within itself, to gain an understanding of its initial relationships. Some people recommend a year-long observation of a site before anything is planted. During this period all factors, such as lay of the land, natural flora and so forth, can be brought into the design. A year allows the site to be observed through all seasons, although it must be realised that, particularly in temperate climates, there can be substantial variations between years. In the community context this approach is stressing the importance of time to get to know and feel the ways that a community responds to situations. It is about taking stock, reflecting and connecting.
Boundaries refer to physical ones as well as to those your neighbours might place on you, for example. Within communities boundaries can be environmental - what physical space have we got to do things, emotional - in terms of the impediments and possibilities the emotional state of readiness exists in the community, and conceptual - based on preconceived ideas
Resources would include the people involved, funding, as well as what you can grow or produce in the future. Similarly in the community - who, how and what would people be doing, or be able to offer to do?
Evaluation of the first three will then allow you to prepare for the next three. This is a careful phase of taking stock of what you have at hand to work with. This is interesting as it emphasises the importance of taking stock along the way, in the form of continuous examination and reflection as part of a learning process.
Design is always a creative and intensive process, and you must stretch your ability to see possible future synergetic relationships.
Implementation is literally the ground-breaking part of the process when you carefully dig and shape the site. In a similar way we engage and develop strategic activity, build things, establish working patterns and foster new initiatives with colleagues.
Maintenance is then required to keep your site at a healthy optimum, making minor adjustments as necessary. Good design will preclude the need for any major adjustment. To maintain the sustainable community we nurture the relationships, we seek patterns that reinforce and encourage relationship and interdependence and we encourage connectivity.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Introduction to the book

Alex Steffen describes a tension between the unthinkable and the unimaginable in his presentation of past, existing and future worlds. Unthinkable because the challenges facing humanity are on such a scale, and in many cases of our own making, that it is easier to pursue business as usual and hope it will go away, unimaginable because the fabric of a new way of living on the planet is as yet too ill defined to capture people’s imagination.

To understand the possibilities of how this will play out in the education sector we need a new frame of reference, a new paradigm. The current paradigm is failing to provide a sufficiently coherent overview any more, driven as it it is by an assumption that organisations such as schools are rationally functioning places that seek and require equilibrium in order to define and practice successfully. This is a double ‘whammy’ - it is both a false interpretation of school and learning, and it is incredibly misleading of reality. Much of the problem that we encounter with schools in most developed westernised systems are the result of the failings of this paradigm, it is time to attempt a new world view.

The paradigm is not strictly limited to education. It is in fact a dramatic shift in general terms about the ways in which human beings make connections between thinking and their everyday reality. Recent events such as the financial market collapse and the increasing awareness of rapid depletion of critically required resources such as oil are serving to underline the need to attend to the practicalities of change. The ‘thought world’ (Douglas 1986 Douglas, M. 1986 How institutions think. Syracuse.NY Syracuse University Press) that we create is known to subsequently define the worlds in which we live - a dominant operational narrative, or, as Wittgenstein commented ‘words create worlds.’ We need to find new words in order to transform our thought world and embed it into our daily lives.

A decade ago I made a first attempt at creating a conceptual framework to help me in my work where I was focusing attention on the ways in which schools might attempt to enhance their overall operational performance in response to this challenge. The central feature of the framework was a shift from the mechanical interpretation of the operation of the school and process of education, to a living systems interpretation of school and education that was rooted in deep ecology. This framework subsequently made me draw into question the appropriacy of managerialism as a device that would enhance educational improvement, founded as it is within a contrasting world view from that of living systems, where order, predictability and accountability form the basis of operational practice across both the management and development of the educational journey.

Over the last decade I have come to realise that the organisational thinking frame - the thought world plays a huge part in the likelihood of profound change taking hold. People do not, and indeed cannot, base their practical day-to-day decision making on knowledge alone. Having a well conceived theoretical framework in itself might help us to interpret the reality of the school in a new way, but it hardly serves as a way of scoping human activity to lead towards operationalising a new paradigm. I have seen schools grapple with the desire to create a learning community and at the same time be locked into the hierarchy and routine of a managed model, accountable to a wider system that holds to a different set of guiding rules and principles. The duality of perspectives, one that looks towards understanding the contextual challenges they immediately face and the other which seeks to change the way of doing things in response to these newly defined challenges emerging as society and environment changes places teachers and headteachers, students and parents in a constantly colliding series of situations, these can interfere with each other but fundamentally they are working from different paradigmatic frames. As a result, the dominant thought world prevails, and school communities find that they are not making the change to a learning community because the managerial thought world impedes the transition.

So a decade has run by and during that time I have worked closely with networks of schools to explore ways in which they can help themselves to move towards a style of working, shaped by a thought world of function as learning communities. I discovered that my ideas generated better understanding and provided the context for initially reinforcing but ultimately self-defeating processes of change. Indeed I now think that I deluded myself into thinking that the ideas espoused in Learning Schools, Learning Systems were in any way a radical break from the pack. I was attempting to shape and redefine a discourse of change from within an established, dominant world view. Little surprise then, that frustration has triumphed over euphoria.

Despite the failings and frustrations, I have remained closely aligned to the central tenet of the theoretical framework. That is, that we need to make a profound shift in our ‘thought world’ and take it from the mechanical to the quantum. In so doing we embed deep into the functionality of any newly posited design, the fundamental truth that we are a part of nature, not apart from nature, we are living beings pursuing our lives within a living system.

Recently, and continually during the last two years, I have begun to find ways in which this simple issue, can be realised and I have watched and participated in a movement that is fast gaining recognistion and influence in my local community. Whilst I am now far more realistic of my own role within this, I feel it is time to say something more. At its simplest, I think we can safely say that the existing paradigm is best defined as a deficit model of education, where schools, students and professionals all adhere to a thought world where success is defined by knowing, and that the ‘knowing’ is something that is more often than not defined by someone else, somewhere else. The resulting ‘catch up’ of those charged with providing the educational service within this knowledge framework is perpetual, it will never resolve the problem because the ownership of the knowledge is beyond the self or the resources of the organisation of the school. This I think serves to compound small successes, and doubly disempowers those who are struggling to deal with existing demands. Second, the entire system that serves to manage and improve education is premised on the first assertion. So we have inspections, national curricula, state mandates, off-the-shelf solutions which schools become ever more obliged to use in order to at least show some semblance of effort to keep in line with the direction of the flow. It is initially reinforcing, people see success, they are reported as improving, they receive adulation, they then buy into the idea that it is the only game in town, and once they do this the likelihood of introducing any alternative design is impeded significantly. What we see in educational reform is a repeating pattern, as Seymour Sarason (1990) reported ‘a predictable failure’ lies deep in the managed system, a prevailing misconception about change. For more than a decade this situation has limped onwards, with educational systems across the western world squeezing ever less and demanding ever more from the managed model. I maintain that this is no longer sustainable, there are too many externally pressing challenges for business as usual to prevail. It presents us with some significant challenges, one being the very question of whether we really need schools in their current form any more if their capacity to make the leap to a new paradigm is a practical impossibility.

This book tries to expand upon these basic ideas. It is conceived as both theoretical and practical because both theory and practice are part of a system and closely connected, it is work in progress because, as I have begun to learn, that is all we ever have in the emerging, living system.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

small steps

WHEN THIRTEEN-YEAR-old Andrew Davey read a blog by a leading expert in green computing, explaining how changing from a white background computer screen to a black one could save energy, he decided to put the theory to the test. He is now the proud owner of an environmentally-friendly search engine called - a search engine with the motto “We are saving energy, now it's your turn”.

Andrew’s search engine uses a black background which saves energy because the computer monitor uses 59 watts to produce the image on the screen, whereas a white or light screen uses 74 watts to display the image. This means that every time is used, it saves 15 watts. As it is Google-powered the search results are exactly the same but use less energy.

The blog which inspired Andrew to invent his search-engine explains the maths: "Google gets about 200 million queries a day. Assuming each query is displayed for about 10 seconds, that means Google is running for about 550,000 hours every day. If users run Google in the usual full-screen mode, the shift to a black background would save a total of 8.3 megawatt-hours per day, or about 3000 megawatt-hours per year." Andrew realised that was a whole lot of carbon-dioxide that could be saved from entering the atmosphere.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

see the full film on the FOE website

Winberry Hill - (text from the FoE website) Interview with film winners from Todmorden!!!!

Where are you from and what do you do as a living?

We live together in Todmorden, in West Yorkshire. I grew up in Accrington in Lancashire and David grew up in Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire.

I work as a library assistant. David is a fishmonger, but we both think of ourselves as filmmakers really – it’s what we love.

He trained in animation at university, and I studied media.

Have you made films before?

David’s been making his own films since saving up and buying his own video camera two and a half years ago.

In 2007 he won the Ravenscroft award at the Meniscus Film festival for a film called Fuzzy Logic. The film’s a mix of animation and live action about a day in the life of a computer game character.

He also won a an award for a short documentary about re-homed battery chickens called Being the Change.

We sometimes film weddings and parties, which earns us a bit of cash and gives David a chance to improve his camera work and editing skills.

We’ve been a couple for almost eight years, and making films together for two. Our different skills and opinions on each project complement each other. Working as a team stops either of us from getting too self-indulgent.

What motivated you to make your film about Winberry Hill?

I grew up in Accrington. I picked berries with my mum as a child on a little hill just off the bypass.

We were supposed to be picking berries to make jam. Often though, I’d just munch on them and come home with purple fingers and not many berries.

The question ‘Which bit of the Earth are you a friend of?’ instantly made me think of Accrington. I wanted to break its image of a typical mill town.

As I say in the film, for most people this hill off the bypass isn’t a final destination – it’s just a blur at the side of the road as they drive on by.

If you take the time to come and look, you see a bit of Accrington that most people never get the chance to see. It’s not all terraced houses and mills – it’s different - full of wild flowers and butterflies, bumble bees and berries.

How was it making your film?

On the day we filmed it wasn’t as sunny as we’d hoped. But we went anyway, armed with our tripod and a flask of coffee.

David got some great shots of the contrast between the motorway and the greenery. After trying for ages, we got shots of a bumble bee, and a butterfly opening its wings.

We ended up with about 30 minutes of footage, which David edited down to one minute.

How do you feel about having won this award?

We are very pleased to have been awarded this prize by such respected judges and can’t wait to get started working with Friends of the Earth to make a film that will have a positive impact on the environment.

Monday, 5 January 2009

creating connection - building resilience

Cuban night was really great fun and very interesting. We showed the film, and people watched and clapped at the end. Then we pulled tables togeher and food was served. As the eating carried on people shared their observations and insights from the film. What slowly happened was a shift from the issues directly identified in the film, to people's local concerns and interests in and around the town. Phone numbers were exchanged, people made connections with others who were doing similar work, or had mutual aquantainces, we couldn't see a web of connection, but we could feel it.

It serves as a good example of resilience in action - nothing overly complicated - just a situation created where people could focus on something together, have a chance to listen and connect in their own way to ideas and possibilities and then reconstruct their observations in the company of others without any particular agenda or forced plan. The circle of diversity, feedback and modularity seems to hold together quite well - diversity - people who attended came from a really broad spectrum of the local community, and came for different reasons, some for the fun of an evening out with a film, some came to dance (!), some came because they knew us, some came because they were interested in the Incredible Edible 'thing' but didn't know much about it - this range gave the place a buzz and provided a base of difference from which to start. In modular terms, it self-organised - people drew tables together and just began to talk together, lots of different ideas being tabled, lots of ways of constructing and connecting to them with people responding and refining other peoples suggestions, and the ideas weren't simply coming form one source or influence, I think that this leads to peole feeling they have an ownership and a control - it becomes our shared and our individual stories. Feedback was of all three the most interesting - there was none, quite deliberately we chose to leave the discussion open with the simple pointer that we will pick it up again in the new year. These things take time to synergise, they take time for people to consider and reflect and sift through before committing to action. A few weeks and we will be back in there, - nurturing emergent thinking - don't you just love it!