Thursday, 22 October 2009

pigs link on the incredible-edible site

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Our Great Work – Education for a Sustainable Future Paul Clarke October 2009

Our Great Work – Education for a Sustainable Future
In Autumn 2009 I have the privilege of visiting The People’s Republic of China and Australia to participate as a speaker in a series of conferences and meetings on the theme of education, leadership and teacher development.
In the following papers I sketch out some of the issues that I think frame the current debate which I will draw upon at these events. I offer my own insight into some of the practical responses to the challenge of providing education for a sustainable future, what I have called ‘Our Great Work’, a title influenced by Thomas Berry, a scholar and philosopher of powerful insight and importance who died earlier this year.
Paul Clarke

Our Great Work – Education for a Sustainable Future (paper one)
In the first of a series of short papers I will contextualise my recent work and explore the foundation for what Thomas Berry calls The Great Work (Berry 1999). This provides a focus for what I think we, as educators, must attend to as our primary activity in the coming years as we respond to the question: How do we create and grow sustainable learning communities?
There are occasions in human history when we look back with the luxury of time and we recognise that the future was being determined in a comprehensive and beneficial manner.
We might take as an example the moment that humans began to control fire, or when the first languages were spoken, or the first wheel was crafted, when we learnt to cultivate edible plants and created an alphabet and learnt to read and write. There were also moments when great visionaries lived, and they presented to people of the world a view that transcended the moment and put us in the context of the universal, longitudinal time frame of human history. We can think of the many prophets, gurus and spiritual leaders, we can think of the musicians, painters and storytellers. We can also think of the historians, Ssu-ma Ch’ien in China, Ibn Khaldun in the Arab world, and the Greek Thucydides in the West. All of these in their own ways represent breakthroughs in the human journey, each taking us to a higher level of awareness and consciousness.
The sum of these contributions created great civilisations, cultures and dynasties. They were instrumental in assembling ways of governing the mind to connect the sacred with the practical; they were formative elements in generating the basic norms of reality through which people designed their lives. We can see that for many thousands of years, human beings have lived a relatively sublime existence in keeping with natural systems, in so doing; they sustained a quality of life, which connected directly with nature.
These civilizations of our shared human past were sophisticated and cultured, they were founded on a practical understanding of the connection between spirit and nature that was often witnessed in their temples, cathedrals and sacred places. It was through an ecoliterate (Capra 2005) agrarian consciousness (Denton-Thompson 2009) that this connection between the human and the planet, the nature and the spirit, the self and universal was demonstrated and maintained. However, despite the immense legacy they represent, they no longer on their own provide us with enough guidance, the lessons they give us of the past are insufficient to guide us into the future because our intervention in the world is so significantly different now from that past record. Whilst we cannot function without these lessons, they are insufficient in themselves to generate a collective critique of the present way we live our lives in industrial society. We are out of step with ourselves and with our world upon which we depend. Something is happening that is profoundly different, apart from the lessons we have learnt from the past. We need to form the conditions to enable a new vision for the future to emerge.
The ecological crisis
Let us begin by taking it as given that the environmental crisis is a fact of our time and this alone distances us from our fellow human beings of the past . The human effect on planet earth is now damaging it sufficiently to suggest we need to consider a change in the way we are living. As Rees (2003) observes, ‘We still live, as all our ancestors have done, under the threat of disasters that could cause worldwide devastation: volcanic super-eruptions and major asteroid impacts, for instance. Natural catastrophes on this global scale are fortunately so infrequent, and therefore unlikely to occur within our own lifetime, that they do not preoccupy our thoughts, nor give most of us sleepless nights. But such catastrophes are now augmented by other environmental risks that we are bringing upon ourselves, risks that cannot be dismissed as improbable.’ (p2) Our presence here on earth is no longer benign; we are no longer ‘one species amongst many’ on this planet. Instead we are a dominant species exerting that dominance over all other forms of life. This is having a damaging effect on the environmental conditions upon which we, and other species depend in order to survive.
This change is historically significant, brought about by disturbing the biosphere to such an extent through human industrial actions that we are now at an impasse in our relationship with the earth. It has no parallel in historical terms of ecological shift since the geobiological transitions that occurred some 65 million years ago. At that time history witnessed the passing of the dinosaurs, and a new biological age began. This was the lyric-age of life on earth, and so it has been until now. Evidence from all parts of the planet is suggesting that, through our wanton destruction of the natural environment there is a profound change taking place across the planet. This change is likely to take centuries for our species to respond and adapt, if we are able to do so at all (see Berry 1999, Lovelock 2009 and an extensive commentary by McIntosh 2008).
Seeing the challenge
So how might we respond? Do we bury our heads in the sand, live in denial and proceed as usual? Do we worry, but think we cannot do anything? Or do think of this as a period of creative innovation and opportunity? Or none of the above?
Much depends upon the circumstances in which we find ourselves and how we see the challenge, that is, if we see it at all. However, if we can begin to understand our identity in relation to other living things we begin to recognise we are all part of a great story, and that we each play a part in its narrative. This narrative takes us from the distorted reality of the industrialised world towards the ‘deep ecology’ that Arne Naess (1988) introduced to refer to the implicit penetration of ecology into all other fields, including the human condition itself. Starting this process of change and re-alignment of the human race with the planet, we will change our behaviour; in effect we will act upon enlightened self-interest for personal survival. Already it is clear that enough people, in enough parts of the world see this, and they represent a poignant political impetus for change.
We already have clear examples of this pressure in action. It has forced nation states and coalitions as diverse as the United States of America, The European Union, India and China, to combine and consider reductions in climate emissions as a serious international response to the changing environmental situation. The power of the political myth, of individuals pressing for change, ensured that governments were held responsible to their people’s demands to act. Most governing bodies in nation states realise and interpret and respond to this self-interest to ensure and maintain internal decorum, if not their own political position. It makes pragmatic sense.
What is happening now, across the world, is an awakening and a response to the fact that our human centric relationship with the planet is causing too much damage, and the resulting actions are geared towards changing that relationship to make it more earth centric in keeping with the needs of the natural environment (Berry 1999). These actions will have implications for every citizen, as governments will demand personal changes to lifestyles, just as much as they will mandate for regulation on carbon emissions by industry. These represent starting changes in what is highly likely to be a much longer-term global effort, one that in future times may be seen as just as significant as those moments of our shared past that changed the course of our life on earth. It is hoped that the next few years will set the conditions for generations to come to be able to live fulfilling lives whilst at the same time ensuring that they have the necessary knowledge and conscious awareness of what we do and why we do it. That is why what we do now is so important for the human race. Furthermore, and because this involves learning something new, the demands that will be placed upon education will be greater than ever before. In effect we have to rise to the challenge of this time, we have to do our Great Work. We have to educate for sustainability, for now and forever. It is as simple and as complex as that.
The role of education
This is a creative challenge of immense proportions; it is a challenge of hope and optimism that builds upon human ingenuity and the desire to learn and to know more (Orr, 2009). The way we respond in education is going to build upon much of what we already know, but it will have to extend further because many of the solutions do not exist yet in response to many of the challenges that we face. The role of education will remain that which good education has always been, it will be emancipatory, taking individuals and our people from their current state of knowledge to a new state. Education has to be there for us all to guide, to help us to critique, inform and facilitate people’s creative interests so that they are able to respond to this challenge with optimism and hope.

Our educational response also needs to be aligned with the ecological world, and not governed by the ghost of the industrial past. As with any work that is concerned with the natural environment, it needs to be understood as an emergent and evolving concept, rather than representing a set of fixed and predetermined views.

We need to generate pedagogic approaches which are themselves emergent, open-ended, developmental and can respond to dynamic contexts. Education for a sustainable future should provide individuals with a way of understanding both global and local issues in a coherent context. It should encourage forecasting as a way of seeing possible futures based on different scenarios, in this way it will overcome dogmatic and deterministic approaches to change. In contrast to traditional, industrial-age transmission-oriented education, education for a sustainable future focuses on developing competence-based education, it encourages project-based learning, it functions best with multidisciplinary case-studies, role-playing, task-based learning and cross-disciplinary problem-solving. The educational and learning emphasis here is collegial; we learn how to learn these skills together, not on our own. We deliberately orchestrate the conditions for community through the pedagogic structures and processes we adopt in our schooling.

Leading the learning
It seems to me that educational leadership is a vital part of this vision of a sustainable future. It is not acceptable that educational leaders persist with the pursuit of educational improvement as if it were business as usual (Soros 2008), where the character of our schools, even under the new building programmes, continues the exploitative attitude to the natural world originated in the industrial age which has led us to a point of ecological catastrophe.
Instead, we need to encourage and support our educational leaders to lead by example. We need them to give the public permission to experiment, to create imaginative connections and links between different conceptual approaches to knowledge and the construction of reality as they lead the educational community forward to illustrate and inform and support the education of others.
All educators are leaders, and all leaders are already skilled communicators. We should encourage public leadership of education to enable the many different communities of interests, place, action and connection to flow out from the school to work closely with the entire neighbourhood of communities and businesses, health, and social support, creative and sporting groups, old people and youth groups, to ensure that there is a vibrant, rich conversation for the future taking place in and around every single school community.
In effect, we should envision our schools as the hubs for the transformational journey towards a sustainable society. They need to be exciting places where people can meet, connect ideas, share insights, debate, challenge, create and make links with other people in other places through communications technologies so that the great human dynamic is able to generate responses to the changing world.
How we identify with, and respond to this challenge, is therefore a leadership issue of international significance. It is, as Thomas Berry (1999) says, the Great Work of our time. It is a work where we move human consciousness to a new level of awareness and activity in response to potential planetary ecological collapse.
The spirit of the age
It was Novalis, the German poet and philosopher who said that wisdom, happiness and well-being rest on the ability to overcome the challenges of life, namely alienation and fragmentation, and the way to do this was to nurture a connection between nature and spirit – between the self and the universal.
If we look at our schools as they are now, and we ask ourselves if the experiences that students have as they pass through school prepare them in any way to make this connection of nature and spirit, we are sadly left with the impression that our despite all of our efforts to ‘improve schools’ we are for most of the time, unsuccessful. What we are improving is the likelihood of ecological collapse as we educate for unsustainable living. Whilst our education systems generate unprecedented levels of prosperity and opportunity for some people, we have predicated these contemporary ideas of success upon the serial exploitation and deterioration of the natural world.
In his recent book, Goleman (2009) writes of recognition of this deep simplicity of connection between self and the universal (see also Gribbin 2004) when he talks of the ‘countless ways man-made systems interact with natural ones’ and describes these interactions as examples of a form of ecological intelligence. Goleman (ibid) suggests that this intelligence is an innate part of the fabric of the human mind; it enabled us in the past to cope with the harsh realities of existence. However, over time, we have blunted this ecological intelligence as we have rapidly grown accustomed to an urban version and vision of reality, developed as a result of people moving away from the land over the last two or three hundred years into cities.

My suggestion is that we have to discover a way to reconnect with our past selves in order to move forward with any likelihood of sustainable future for life on earth. To achieve this we will have to educate ourselves to realise that all education is environmental education (Schumacher 1973), that all of the many ways human beings explore and respond to reality need to be drawn upon to focus the collective human spirit upon this essential and universal agenda.

Berry, T. (1999) The Great Work. New York. Three Rivers Press
Capra, F. (2005) Preface. In Ecological Literacy: Educating our Children for a Sustainable World. Ed. Stone, M. and Barlow, Z. San Francisco, Sierra Books
Denton-Thompson, M. (2009) Private correspondence.
Goleman, D. (2009) Ecological Intelligence. New York. Broadway Books
Gribbin, J. 92004) Deep simplicity. Chaos, Complexity and the Emergence of Life. London. Penguin
Lovelock, J. (2009) The vanishing face of Gaia: A final Warning. London. Allen Lane
McIntosh, A. (2008) Hell and High Water. Edinburgh. Berlinn Limited
Naess, A. (1988) Deep ecology and ultimate premises. Ecologist. 18.128-131
Orr, D. (2009) Down the wire. Oxford. Oxford University Press
Rees, M. (2003) Our final century. London. Arrow books
Schumacher, E.M. (1973) Small is beautiful. A study of economics as ifpeople mattered. London. Blond and Briggs.
Soros, G. (2008) The new paradigm for financial markets. New York. Perseus Books

Our Great Work – Intergovernmental Policy and Education for a Sustainable Future (paper two)
The literature related to sustainability and education is by its very nature, interdisciplinary and interconnected. This represents both its strength and its weakness for practitioners wanting to apply environmentally sustainable principles and ideas into the educational setting. It represents a strength because many of these works draw upon reliable scientific studies of issues such as climate change, land management and desertification, water management and retention processes, renewable energy models, permaculture and issues of built environment and food production which serve to inform and guide. However, the weakness lies in the sheer volume of material, not knowing how to make this work transfer in practical settings, and being able to take what is available and put the ideas into material to suit the many educational practitioners in their own classrooms and school communities.
In this second paper I want to provide a brief overview of some of this literature, with particular reference to the declarations and intergovernmental agreements which serve as the frame of reference on matters related to environmental sustainability as this influences national policy activity. I will then shift attention from the macro to the micro level, where there is an expectation that the ideas formulated in policy will be implemented. This linear approach is questioned, as it misses the fundamental and critical feature of a sustainable form of living, that relationships matter – that they bring trust and generate community and that these are qualities which must be nurtured if we are to progress in this arena. To that end, I will propose an alternative framework that seeks to grow sustainable community.
Framing the challenge – the macro-level policy
The concept of sustainable development was established by the World Commission on Environment and Development in the Stockholm Declaration of 1972. In the same year, the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) produced a working document known as Agenda 21, this set the scene for sustainable development but failed to make the critical connection to education. It was a decade later, in 2002, that the UN Earth Summit on Sustainable Development was held in Johannesburg, that this direct link between education, learning and sustainability was formed. However, it was also extended to a range of issues such as economic and social development, health, effective governance, trade and environment .

The increased incorporation of sustainability into higher education was emphasized by UN’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014) . The central themes assigned to this decade of action reflect the major issues outlined in Agenda 21, together with the action plans of the subsequent UN conferences concerning sustainable development focusing on ‘promoting education, public awareness and training.’ It identifies three program areas for education and learning:
1) reorienting education to sustainable development;
2) increasing public awareness, and
3) promoting training .

Clearly then, the international agreements form a policy framework through which practice would be encouraged, but the precise methods were still unfolding from these formative announcements.

ESD was to be envisioned as a lifelong capacity building process which would enhance the personal, community, regional and national capacity to respond to the need for a sustainable world. With its focus upon focus on social, economic and environmental issues that threaten the sustainability of the planet its ambitions were broad, they included an understanding of personal, ecological, cultural and historical values, the values of the present and future society, and the values of other cultures around the world as a central part of educating for a sustainable future.

Part of this capacity building was to include social justice and inclusion. Social justice includes respect for the traditions and religions of other cultures and societies – as well as ensuring intergenerational social justice through ecological sustainability and resource conservation. Preserving and conserving the physical planetary resource base provides disadvantaged communities with a legal right to claim sanctuary against multi-national exploitation of land and mineral resources, and in theory at least, prevents people from living long-term in disadvantaged circumstances and can promotes their chances of having a better life .

ESD is considered inclusive in that it brings together all the learning that a person does throughout life, in both formal and informal settings. Because ESD is considered to be a lifelong process, it is recommended that the formal, non-formal and informal educational sectors should work together to accomplish local sustainability goals, although how this is to be achieved is not mentioned.

These capacity building elements of ESD are defined as the four pillars: (1) learning to know, (2) learning to do, (3) learning to live together with, and (4) learning to be.

Because ESD is concerned with the natural environment, it is understood as an emergent and evolving concept, rather than a set of fixed and predetermined views. When ESD is adopted it provides individuals with a way of understanding both global and local issues in a coherent context. It encourages forecasting as a way of seeing possible futures based on different scenarios, in this way it attempts to overcome dogmatic and deterministic approaches to change. In contrast to traditional transmission-oriented education, ESD focuses on developing competence-based education, it encourages Project Based Learning, multidisciplinary case studies, role playing, task-based learning and cross-disciplinary problem-solving. The educational and learning emphasis here is that to succeed in making Education for Sustainable Development effective, learners must be able to apply their knowledge within a practical multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary context.

A further dimension of ESD which is of particular importance for school settings is the emphasis on establishing a community of learners. An ESD approach encourages the teachers the students and other stakeholders combine their focus to ensure that different members of the learning community undertake different roles, for example: the student may take an active role in the learning process and collaborate with others in the classroom, laboratory and in the field. Members of staff and other stakeholders might act as mentors, supervisors and guides to assist the students in discovering, applying and understanding information, technical and scientific knowledge, and different kinds of skills. In this way the learning experience becomes more dynamic and iterative (generating new cross-disciplinary knowledge) than it would in traditional subject governed courses.

Learning for sustainable development can be described as a joint search among individuals and organizations for knowledge and competencies that enable them to deal with dilemmas in complex social settings . The emphasis is upon learning how to tackle complex problems when working with experts from different disciplinary domains. The point is to help people build a personal and social capacity so that as lifelong learners, they are able to manage the tensions that arise between their own needs and those of others .

These detailed macro-level ambitions have had varying degrees of impact and effect across nations. In some places, such as Sweden and Denmark, ESD has been adopted and will form policy for the core curriculum in schools where efforts are being made to create school-level resource and support. In other places, such as the United Kingdom, ESD has been defined through a government target for every school to be a ‘Sustainable School’ by 2020 and many of the methodological features of the approach are being encouraged. The ‘Sustainable Schools’ have been defined as those which ‘prepare young people for a lifetime of sustainable living, through their teaching, their fabric and through the example of their day-to-day practices.’ However, what is quite evident is the variation across the country of the level to which schools have responded to the conceptual and pedagogical shift that ESD demands. Scratch the surface and you will find that the rhetoric is far from the reality in UK schools where ESD is often a marginal issue left in the main to interested activists and practitioners to undertake work in their own schools and communities and there is very little evidence of systemic, focused leadership at the national level in response to the general concerns over climate collapse.

Framing the action – from policy to practice
This disconnect between policy advocacy and practitioner response is perhaps of little surprise, and we might consider at least two reasons. First, we have known for over a decade that change is non-linear (Fullan 1991), and that despite what policy makers desire and mandate, it remains the case that people do not always do as they are asked to do as education from the top down fails to connect with the grounded needs. The reality is that whilst the ideas associated with ESD may make sense rationally, for most people, and most institutions, it is business as usual as they try to deal with their daily demands, matters on the global stage concerned with ecological sustainability can seem a long way from the pressing needs of the moment. Furthermore, the ideas would seem to fail to connect to the day-to-day demands of their school community. They are either too close to what they already do (‘we already work in networks of schools’), or too esoteric and heady (‘we don’t have time for research, just tell us what to do’). They illustrate an attempt to ‘cope with the conditions of the 21st century with the thinking and practices of the 20th,’ (Laszlo 1997) where responses fail to connect with the problems we face in a way that steps beyond the fundamentally mechanistic way of seeing the world. As such, the imperative to change, if it is not mandatory and made accountable is limited to those who are motivated to initiate and experiment.
The challenge
So whilst it would seem that the education system is an ideal place to locate an agenda for sustainable community it is competing with the day-to-day realities of schooling in the form of ‘business as usual’ and its close connection with the economic drivers of industrial society.
However, despite these seemingly immense barriers to change, human ingenuity and response tat a community level is generating such political pressure that governments are connecting the macro-policy to the micro-interests of different cultural groupings who all in their own way associate to the ‘greening’ of the economic corporate block.
Recent times there has seen a huge uprising of initiatives around the world which have shifted political practice to accommodate and respond . Some are broad-based and generate clear statement of intent such as those adopted in many towns under the Transition movement (Hopkins 2008), whereas in others they represent a driving focus upon a single issue – such as local food production (Incredible Edible 2009) which in turn generate community involvement and momentum and raise public awareness to other related environmental concerns and interests.
Whilst specifics of these community programmes differ, they do share a similar epistemology in that they question the prevailing logic of established systems and practices. They question the basis of existing mainstream cultural approaches to consumption, we simply consume too much, we produce too much that is of absolutely no use to anyone, anywhere. This just has to change. We need to establish a way of educating ourselves, across the planet that what we create has to have a benign effect on the planet, it cannot continue to deplete the earths resources because these resources are finite. Education must attend to this. It means, for most countries, that the focus of education has to change from educating people to be good employees, and good citizens, and good consumers, to be instead critical employees, critical citizens and critical consumers. The role and function of school within a community has to do this in a much more radical way than that which is being planned at present in response to ESD by national governments.
In short, the message can be paraphrased in the following manner - we have to realise that not all education is ‘good’ education. If we are to proceed with any chance of a sustainable future we need to recognise and act upon the fact that all education for the human species is fundamentally related to the environment, that ‘all education is environmental’ from the outset (Schumacher 1993, Orr 2004).
Growing Sustainable Community
At a local level ESD challenges educational practitioners to think about what they teach to young people, why they teach it, and whether it means anything in regard to the future sustainability of life on earth. One very important dimension of this is in the need to connect with people, and to help them to recognise and respond to the immense challenges we face as a species in reducing our carbon footprint sufficiently to at least provide the next generation with some degree of chance that they can continue this work throughout their lifetimes. A rise, it has been predicted, of just 2 degrees celcius is sufficiently damaging to the planets ecosphere to begin a chain reaction of ecological crises across the entire planet. Evidence is mounting that if we have not rectified this and stabilised emissions by 2015, just six years from now, then the likelihood is that we will have reached a tipping point . Education therefore plays a vital role in helping people to understand and respond to this problem Much of that will happen through people extending their educational role towards their local community. The emphasis on relationship building and networking means that there is much greater need for collaborative enquiry within and between school sites as it is clear that solutions to more sustainable forms of community will not be found through isolation but through collaboration and shared understanding. This collegial approach to the problem of creating sustainable community differentiates the practitioners micro-world from that of the policy-makers macro-world, because at the micro-level we can anticipate some form of action to occur that is guided and informed by interests defined in the place that they live. The simple process of bringing people together to co-construct a view of their existing city, town, village, neighbourhood, street, and to critically consider ways in which they might make changes to this environment, begins to generate new lines of thinking, new ways of working and new forms of behaviour. But people need to be supported in this way of working as it is, for many of them, a very different way to think about the learning experiences we offer to our students, and it challenges the implicit authority of schools as the exclusive locations for learning within the community in the future.
In my recent work (see Clarke 2009, or refer to the blog) I have been examining the ways in which a community food-growing project (see paper four in this series which discusses the Incredible Edible programme) has been establishing itself as an example of a possible sustainable community in action. In an eighteen-month study of the community project, three clear issues emerge that people connect closely with as they begin to take an active role in a programme that makes great claims about being focused on community and sustainability. These are a potent combination of head – reason, logic, argument, heart - engaging with people’s feelings, intuition, values and processes of understanding and hand – the management, active participation with, and doing of change.
This combination of head, heart and hand effects people personally, and collectively. Personal: I experience these different aspects of response to the place I occupy, and Collective: we experience these responses differently but we are able to share them together.
Any community, whether it be educational or otherwise, is dynamic. It represents through the people who engage with it, a diverse set of values and principles. Head, heart, hand provides a modelling frame for activity that can take place in school settings because people soon realise that if we are to establish any form of authentic community we have to be inclusive and encourage participation from all members of the community. We have to recognise that this might be problematic, because we are going to have to tackle difference of opinion, but this in itself provides a rich opportunity to explore what it is to live together and understand each other as we make changes and move towards a more sustainable model of community.
This emphasises the fact that we need to establish learning communities that will equip people with the tools, ideas and capabilities so that they can work together to reposition ourselves in relation to our planet. This repositioning of the basic action of education is what Thomas Berry (1999) calls ‘The Great Work’ of our time, where we learn how to provide sustainable food, energy, water, minerals, livelihood, health and shelter. We will achieve this, he claims, through the creation of authentic, creative and vibrant sustainable communities. This is a demanding agenda, it needs energy, stamina, courage, leadership and clarity of purpose and competence in the specific arena of what Frijof Capra (2005) calls ecological literacy .
Ecological literacy is radical, rather than mainstream, because the content of the vision, desired state and design emerge from the ‘central convictions’ (Sterling p.12) being informed from an ‘authentic’ educational standpoint which critically asks What education is for? Who it serves? Why it is fashioned like it is? As Sterling says, ‘Sustainable education…is about integrating and balancing process (what it is) with purpose (what education is for), so that they are mutually informing and enhancing’ (p26).
Work underway in the Centre for Ecoliteracy (2009) has been exploring the ideas of the school as the place where we learn to build a sustainable community which builds upon these earlier questions. A director of the Centre for Ecoliteracy, Frijof Capra observes that we do not need to begin the process of creating sustainable community entirely from scratch. Instead, we can learn from the natural world where ‘life creates conditions conducive to life.’ (Benus 2008). In Capra’s work, sustainable community is centred around natural patterns and processes which provide our ‘lifelong’ lessons. This is a significant departure from earlier formulations of sustainable education literature because it offers a way of interpreting the design of the sustainable paradigm through a new methodological approach more attuned to natural systems, rather than developmental designs drawn from industrial systems (Clarke in press).
To facilitate their work, the Centre for Ecoliteracy (2009) uses just four guiding principles, reflecting the simplicity through which they present their message.
These are:
1. Nature is our teacher
2. Sustainability is a community practice
3. The real world is the optimal learning environment
4. Sustainable living is rooted in deep knowledge of place.
In the third paper in this series I will discuss the development of these ideas in the form of capabilities, and how we are using these to guide and inform our work with schools and school leaders as they develop responses in their own settings to the challenge of education for a sustainable future.

Benus, .J.M. (2008) Nature’s 100 best: Top biomimicry solutions to environmental crisies. Bioneers 19th Annual Conference. San Rafael. CA. October 19, 2008, plenary address
Capra, F. (2005) ‘Preface,’ in Ecological Literacy: Educating our Children for a Sustainable World. Ed. Stone, M and Zeno
Clarke, P. (2009) Sustainability and Improvement: a problem of and for education. Improving Schools. Vol 12 no 1, 11-17
Clarke, P. (ongoing)
McIntosh.A. (2008) Rekindling Community: Connecting people, environment and spirituality. Schumacher Briefings 15. Green Books. Bristol
Sterling,S. (2001) Sustainable Education: Re-visioning learning and change. Schumacher Briefings 6. Green Books. Bristol
Esbjorn-Hargens, S., and Zimmerman, M.E. (2009) Integral Ecology – Using Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World. Integral Books. Boston
Illich, I. (1973) Tools for Conviviality. London. Open Books.
Dalin, P., with Rolff, H (1993) Changing the school culture. London. Cassell
Fullan, M. (1991) The New Meaning of Educational Change. London. Cassell

Our Great Work – Creating Community for a Sustainable Future (paper three)
In this third paper I examine the way that a redefinition of community and its relationship to school may facilitate greater levels of capability to respond to the challenge of education for a sustainable future.

There is no middle path. Do we join together to build an economy that is sustainable? Or do we stay with our environmentally unsustainable economy until it declines? It is not a goal that can be compromised. One way or another, the choice will be made by our generation. But it will affect life on earth for all generations to come. Lester Brown, Eco-economy. 2002

This paper explores the development of community, within which our idea of ‘school’ is currently located. When we think about the future relationship between the community and school, it seems to me that community is what will be developed, and what develops it will be learning. The paper will suggest that it is only through thinking about community as a forum for development of interdependencies that we have any real possibility of making progress with the urgent agenda for a more sustainable form of life on the planet. If we are to enhance our capability to learn new ways of living which have a reduced footprint on the environment of the planet I think we have to consider how we re-define our relationship with a dominant community based institution – the school. This takes us beyond our current idea of building schools for the future, into an exploration of renaissance of community for the future.

I suggest that the development of community is not to be defined as new buildings and priorities imposed through government reforms, nor as recycled ideas of the old model of school, but as a set of interdependencies which may be practiced face to face, or through the new opportunities open to us through technology. These interdependencies come in the form of individual engagement, through connection with ideas and shared interests, and through collective action in the pursuit of new freedoms. As Sen (1991) argues, ‘Greater freedom enhances the ability of people to help themselves and also to influence the world, and these matters are central to the process of development’ (p.18). As such, I am interested in a new economic model, or more particularly an eco-economy (Brown 2002) or what is also called eco-eco (Kelly 2009) where development of community is undertaken through the practice of sustainable development.

In the paper I will use ‘community’ as the term which captures a set of capabilities (Sen 1999) – one where we depend upon each other to generate understanding, engagement and participation and through which we can respond to social, environmental and economic collapse (Putnam 2000, Orr 1994, Soros 2008). I describe the concept of community as a network. It is an interdependent construct of human activity. Community functions as the manifestation of a set of capabilities within and between communities of connection, communities of place, communities of interest, and communities of action. Learning plays a significant part in framing our definitions of community and the capabilities that sustain communities, sometimes impeding, sometimes enabling and focusing the development of these capabilities. Historically the school is located at the interconnect of these capabilities. However, increasingly the school is a part player, the setting is always within the wider social context of the community and as such, learning takes its place (see figure 1).

Figure one: Capabilities of an interdependent community

Community is both boundaried and at the same time is boundless. We live our lives largely dependent on systems which have no respect for national boundaries such as the atmosphere, oceans, ocean life, biotic provinces and the Sun, without which nothing lives. All these natural structures demonstrate forms of community interdependence which function as flow, an entangled alliance. This illustrates sufficiently that community can exist as something visible and tangible and at the same time something abstract.
This forms the basis of much of my own work, exploring the practicalities of new forms of what I have come to call ‘local dependency’ (Clarke 2009) where example can be drawn from what happens in one location and can serve as a stimulus to develop new ideas and new activity in another. Since our world is increasingly connected through cultural, economic and technological mechanisms, and proportionally ever less physical, the meaning of 'local' is not geographical, at least not only geographical, it explores the ways in which flows of ideas combine as communities in the form of practices, theories, possibilities to be realized as forms of wealth as environmental capital (Clarke 2009), human capital, social capital, spiritual capital, creative capital, and financial capital (Porrit 2009) – the flow is between people sharing and playing with these things both in real-time together, separately, and at times virtually in their own time.

Sen (1999) describes the qualities of collective action which widen the opportunity for individuals to generate forms of wealth as ‘capabilities.’ It is a combination of these capabilities in the form of dependencies of what I call connection, place and action that I wish to explore when we move forward in our consideration of the role and function of a relationship between community and new forms of learning.

A community of connection
Governments, regions, communities and individuals are beginning to recognise the scale of the environmental challenge that human beings face in this century as we have to make the move from an oil-based industrialized economy to an ecologically focused post-oil economy (Steffen 2008). This transition is starting to happen and recent predictions suggest that it will have to have completed within 50 years regardless of whether we want it or not, as oil is rapidly running out and a looming prospect of energy shortage and blackouts gets ever closer .

Whilst the 20th century is now well behind us, we have not as yet, learned how to live, yet alone think in terms of actions and relationships, in the mindset we might need for life in the 21st. This should not be all that difficult, as the dominant ideas of the economic and political model from the 20th century have clearly just fallen apart around us in the last two decades and the lessons are there for all to see. These models have until now been looked upon as mutually exclusive, the failure of Soviet state socialism in the 1990’s, and now Western market driven capitalism have both defined in their own ways, the failed ideologies of national systems. However, as Hobsbawn (2009) argues, both are ‘bankrupt ideas’ when we contemplate our futures. We need a progressive model to transcend the old order and respond to the new situation in which we find ourselves.

One particular feature of both of these ‘bankrupt’ models, is the reliance upon institutions to perpetuate old-order ideological viewpoints. Ivan Illich (1973) argued that modern societies across the industrialized world appear to create more and more institutions, and that the consequence of them is that we live our lives in ever more institutionalized ways. This makes it difficult for people to challenge the existing order of things, or to suggest and to have taken seriously the idea that there are alternative ways of living. 'This process undermines people - it diminishes their confidence in themselves, and in their capacity to solve problems... It kills convivial relationships. Finally it colonizes life like a parasite …that kills creativity' (Finger and Asún 2001: 10).
Institutions do other things too. They create experts. In Medical Nemesis (1975) the book began, 'The medical establishment has become a major threat to health' (ibid.: 11). In much of my work, I maintain a similar argument, that the educational establishment has become a major threat to education (Clarke 2008). The case against expert systems is that they produce a form of damage which outweighs the potential benefits they offer, because they obscure and collude with the political conditions that render society schooled but ill-educated, and they perpetuate the idea that people are unable to act for themselves. They diminish the power of individuals to learn and value their personal and social experience of learning themselves the means by which they might shape and improve their own community.
This problem of expert systems becomes particularly acute when there is a need to redefine the relationships that exist between school and community. Here, the institutional boundaries and structures can compromise the institutional potential to learn from the community, its default position being that the school educates the community and not the other way around. Despite plenty of examples that refute this claim, particularly coming from recent changes in communications technology (Leadbeater 2000), the underlying cultural message from schools remains the same, ‘we know how to educate, and you don’t know, so learn from us.’
It seems to me that as a result, community and school are stuck in a perpetual cycle of dependency of the worst possible kind. One where professionals and the schools in which they work tend to define the activity of learning as a commodity which they call education, 'whose production they monopolize, whose distribution they restrict, and whose price they raise beyond the purse of ordinary people and nowadays, all governments' (Lister in Illich 1976), and the community receives the product. Extending an earlier notion of schooling, it might be suggested therefore that people are conditioned to believe that the self-taught community is being discriminated against; that learning and the growth of cognitive capacity, require a process of consumption of services presented in a planned, a professional form (quoted by Gajardo 1994: 715 my insert of community) In this way, learning is a commodity rather than an activity, so any way in which a community might attempt to engage with a school is inhibited by its inability to present a form of knowledge to the school in a recognizable and therefore acceptable professional manner.

Just like cigarettes, institutions and institutional practices would appear to be addictive. The fact that school is perceived to be compulsory may be significant here – as institutions, schools generate habitual activities and rituals and these are difficult to quit once people get hooked on the idea that they are the only way to behave, or to solve existing problems. If as individuals and communities, we can develop the capabilities to distinguish between what we want and what we understand to be a requirement, we can use such capability to make proactive choices acting as agents rather than consumers of learning.

Having grown conditioned to schooling of a certain type (Orr 1994), the action of individuals, communities, regions and countries to overcome the challenges we face from economic and ecological meltdown demand the cleverest of inventions, the smartest of technologies, and the most politic and decorous of societies. The current landscape of challenges offers immense potential for people to work together in new ways to form new types of economic well-being which serve both personal and societal needs (Porritt 2009). By challenging the process of institutionalization, by questioning the established notions of expertise and experts, and by critiquing the idea of learning as a form of commodity, we should be able to move towards a way of living and working in our communities where collective wisdom is captured and focused with clarity and purpose and without the embedded issues of ownership and power getting in the way; where people have a clear sense of the purpose behind the initiatives which serve self and others and indeed the well-understood needs of the community as a whole. A transition in thinking about how to live in the 21st century that redefines wealth in the form of environmental capital (Clarke 2009), human capital, social capital, spiritual capital, cultural and creative capital, manufactured capital and financial capital needs mediation. The basic ideas need to be explored and discussed from which practical actions can flow.

A ‘community of connection’ that develops capabilities to appreciate and engage with alternative solutions, designs and opportunities and which values the very process of connecting meaningfully with others, helps us to think differently and enables us to respond to the eco-eco (Kelly 2009) demands of the 21 century. This model of community serves as a frame for thinking about the contributing factors which inform a dialogue for transforming the relationship between community and school.

A community of place
In a similar way to the failings of the macro system, the micro-level is not without its problems (Klein 2001). Whilst state-led reform of ‘communities’ continues to illustrate systemic failings through the alienation and disengagement of the majority of those this hoped-for reform is intended to assist, other, equally problematic issues arise when the alternatives being pursued are for self-sufficient purposes. As an idea, the notion of self-sufficient communities has done just as much harm than as good. It perpetuates the ‘otherness’ of those beyond one’s own clique, and it generates economic inequality just as efficiently as any macro market-led solution. The self-sufficiency argument extends now into our current school model. While defined primarily through school choice, it is just as much about exclusivity and self-sufficiency. Academies, Trust and Foundation schools are quite possibly the next failed extension of the industrialized, individualized cultural obsession with privacy and isolationist solutions to large-scale problems, they are the macro solution to micro challenge and they perpetuate the myth that a new building with a new name (Academy, Foundation) will redefine the relationship between it, as an institution, and the community in which it exists. ‘We don’t need you, we are self-sufficient, we generate our own solutions’ is as much a lie as that which argues that we can only make cultural, environmental and economic progress with government. The message is clear, there is no dissectible self, we depend on each other.
It is therefore a maturation towards some other form of interdependency, one which connects rather than dissects self from community and from wider networks, that we urgently need to develop.

So a community of place is particularly important as a way of making sense of the important role school plays within a social context. When one’s environment has a ‘sustained and lasting human value’ (O’Sullivan 1999) the result of the individualized and commodified version of globalization, rootlessness, transitoriness, and dispossession become more and not less transparent (ibid p245). The dependence by people on a community of place becomes in itself a value. Place is often cited as a significantly important feature of schools in locations of economic disadvantage, where, in the best examples, students are embedded into activity which help to develop capability in the forms of environmental capital, human capital, social capital, spiritual capital, creative and cultural capital, manufactured capital and financial capital. However, just as the community of place can be a physical reality it can also demonstrate capability in the form of a virtual reality. Take for example the degree of interest young people have in facebook, Bebo and other social networking sites.

Our capability to create and maintain a sense of place within a community – school relationship therefore explores both physical and virtual realities. To be successful it needs to generate capabilities which include a sense of identity, a need for love, care, protection, affection, understanding, participation, creativity, and friendship.

Community as interest
Capability as interest is demonstrated through the variety of ways in which ideas emerge and are seen to stick within a network of people. Examples of community as interest are as diverse as human experience wishes to take them. They are the nurseries of imaginative possibility, essentially important for the evolution of human activity from where and what we are to where and what we might become.
Community as action
A particular form of community capability is often found in and around schools in the form of active groups who pursue specific projects on behalf of the school such as community liaison, parental outreach, after-school and breakfast clubs all of which illustrate the commodity function of school. Whist they are interesting and in some cases quite powerful examples of ways in which relationships can be developed between school and community. They do not go far enough to illustrate the capability in which I am particularly interested because it seems to me that they maintain, rather than transform the possibility of greater levels of interdependence.
However, there are some interesting examples of community as action which are showing signs of significantly contributing to the redesign of existing systems.
In one example, an action community in the form of a local food production project approached a school to form a community interest company (CIC) which is joint owned between school and community trustees. The CIC applied for and won a significant lottery fund which is establishing a sustainable fish farm eco-business on the school site. The students from the school, working with a number of local businesses and regional agencies, are actively involved in all stages of design, commissioning, construction, maintenance and development of the business. There are new school courses being established in land management and eco energy, which will run within the school and the local college. Alongside people from the immediate vicinity of the town who are helping to support and provide guidance, there are students and lecturers from University departments from other countries who have experience of developing this type of farm with associated aquaponics and filtration systems.
Furthermore, to illustrate the idea of community as connection, place and action; the town has partnerships with other communities in Ghana and Tanzania in Africa who are involved in knowledge transfer, planning and development conversations as they too are undertaking similar projects in their localities.
This paper has attempted to provide a stimulus for a different way of thinking about the complicated issue of school and community. Instead of suggesting more of the same, I have argued that we need to radically realign our concept to take full advantage of the types of capabilities we might need to encourage if we are to truly transform our education system to meet the changing demands of an eco-eco society.
I have suggested that the future of sustainable economy and community depends on the connections we choose, the place we define as local, and the life we subsequently decide to live in the form of deliberate action.
The implications of this type of reform are considerable. In conclusion, it is worth thinking about some of the challenges and posing some questions.

Capability building for communities – What would need to happen if these kind of changes were to be brought about in disenfranchised communities which are characterized by an absence of collective vision, aspiration or leadership? Who would take responsibility for the development of the ‘capabilities’ that would be necessary for the first steps of positive action? This could generate a new role for school – a model of learning as community capability building, where the school has as much responsibility for developing the wider context for learning (i.e. the community and the connected members within it) as it does for the process or activity of learning (teaching).

In the chapter I have briefly referred to the radical change in the perceptions of educators of themselves as experts. Any profession under fire (as teachers always seem to be) clings onto its ‘expert’ status as a last resort in the face of change. Unless the practical and attitudinal changes required to bring about this new vision for a sustainable learning ecology are acknowledged we may find ourselves locked into the increasingly desperate version of ‘sustainability training’ as another bolt on reform. An exploration of the capabilities that teachers may need to help them to contribute to community capability seems a practical way to proceed.

It seems that a deeper consideration of values may be useful in seeking to bring about such change. Whilst a great deal of the thrust of my argument centres around the impending disaster and possible response anticipated when the oil runs out, we may usefully engage people more fully in the debate through a broader consideration of the need for change. This discussion could include:
➢ The need for greater social cohesion
➢ The need for improved physical and mental well-being
➢ The need for greater personal agency and active citizenship
➢ The need for greater social justice and equality
➢ The need to address ‘crisis’ issues such as crime, poverty etc

I would also suggest that it is through deep consideration of the values that drive and shape our education system that change might be more widely justified or rationalized. When people think about re-visioning education they often ask ‘what kind of young adults do we want to see as a result of this process?’ – and those imaginings are shaped by a set of values. At the moment the vision is limited and largely defined by government, as is the tradition in education – primarily by the values associated with economic productiveness. Perhaps the question needs to shift to ‘what kind of community do we want our schools to build as they redefine their service to others?’

We urgently need the process of learning to be meaningfully integrated into the social, the community context, and for learning transactions (the process of education) to be more closely aligned with the transactions that are more widely necessary for the development of sustainable communities and societies.

Further reading and references
Birol, F. (2008) World Energy Outlook. International Energy Agency. Paris
Brown, L. (2002) Eco-economy. Building an economy for the earth. Washington. Earth policy institute.
Clarke, P. (2008) Education and Sustainability. Professional Development Today. Vol 11 no 1.
Clarke, P. (2009) Sustainability and Improvement: a problem of and for education. Improving Schools. Vol 12 no 1, 11-17
Clarke, P (forthcoming) Creating Sustainable Learning Communities. London. Routledge.
Finger, M. And Asún, J. M. (2001) Adult Education at the Crossroads. Learning our way out, London: Zed Books.
Gajardo, M (1994) 'Ivan Illich' in Z. Morsy (ed.) Key Thinkers in Education Volume 2, Paris: UNESCO Publishing.
Guardian 16 April 2009. Nuclear plans ‘too slow to stop lights going out.’ P.27
Hern, M. (ed.) (1996) Deschooling Our Lives, Gabriola Island BC.: New Society Publishers.
Hobsbawm, E. (2009) Socialism has failed. Now capitalism is bankrupt. So what comes next? Guardian. 10 April 2009. P.33
Illich, Ivan (1975b) Medical Nemesis: The expropriation of health, London: Marian Boyars.
Illich, Ivan and Verne, E. (1976) Imprisoned in the global classroom, London: Writers and Readers Publishing Co-operative.
Kelly, A. (2009) Education futures and schooling theory: adapting Sen’s early work on Capability to choice and sustainability. Personal correspondence
Klein, N. (2001) No Logo, London: Flamingo.
Leadbeater, C. (2000) Living on Thin Air. The new economy, London: Penguin.
Monbiot, G. (2001) Captive State. The corporate takeover of Britain, London: Pan.
Orr, D. (1994) Earth in Mind. First Island Press. New York
O’Sullivan, E. (1999) Transformative learning: Educational vision for the 21st century. London. Zed books.
Porritt, J. (2009) Living within our means: avoiding the ultimate recession. Forum for the future. London
Putnam, R. D. (2000) Bowling Alone. The collapse and revival of American community, New York: Simon and Schuster.
Reimer, E. (1971) School is Dead. An essay on alternatives in education, Harmondsworth: Penguin. 176 pages. Highly readable analysis and positing of alternatives.
Sachs, W.(1992) The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power, London: Zed Books.
Schwartz, D. (1997) Who Cares? Rediscovering Community, Boulder, CO: Westview.
Sen, A. (1999) Development as Freedom. Oxford. Oxford books
Smith, L. G. and Smith, J. K. (1994) Lives in Education, New York: St. Martin's Press.
Soros, G. (2008) The new paradigm for financial markets. New York. Public Affairs Books.
Steffen, A. sourced November 11th 2008
van de Veer, J (2008) leaked email to executive board 22 January 2008 sourced for this chapter in Preparing for Peak Oil: Local Authorities and the Energy Crisis. (2008) Oil Depletion Analysis Centre. London.

Our Great Work – Walking a Softer Path for a Sustainable Future (paper four)
So far I have argued that we are at a point where we have to make some significant strategic changes about the ways in which we educate people for a sustainable future.
I have suggested that this is an educational leadership issue of profound importance that transcends national boundaries and connects all people across the planet on a universally important developmental mission. It challenges us to rethink the ways in which we relate to our existing institutions and begin to develop new formulations for their roles and functions within a society in transition.
The primary objective of that broader mission is to take action that will educate people to radically reduce carbon emissions, and facilitate a more benign relationship between human beings and the rest of the biosphere. However, it also initiates an educational journey which begins to define the next phase of human existence on earth. Clearly this route will represent a departure from the ‘business as usual’ mode of educational reform and development as it steps away from the Industrial age of fossil fuel power into a new era governed by a renewable vision.
This renewable vision implicitly suggests that we need to take a softer path, connect to the planet and life systems therein and learn how to listen to this journey with wisdom.
This path represents a true educational transformation. It demands a new epistemological stance to be taken as we move forward that is based upon listening, connecting, communicating and acting with a conscious intelligence in relation to our world.
We face this challenge together as a species. We can see this time as a liberating moment in human history where we finally begin to understand that there is a more harmonious and eco-centric way of existing which is much better for our own well-being, and coincidentally, is good for the planet.
To get to that state we need to experiment and innovate. We need to learn individually and collectively. It is self-evident then, that education for a sustainable future needs to be clearly focused in such a way as to equip people to respond to the changing circumstances that they will encounter through their lives.
Ecoliterate capability
There are many ways of developing a set of capabilities which combine to form an ecoliterate society. These are not exclusively the concern of schools as they are lessons we learn by living. However, schools play a critical role in preparing people to see the world in culturally acceptable ways. In the past, these culturally acceptable ways included an acceptance that we can use the natural world as a resource for our sole use, to the exclusion of other living things. This is no longer acceptable, if for no other reason than we now understand that our own life is dependent upon a bio-diverse community which in its interdependence maintains and nurtures further life on the planet. It is therefore in our own self-interest to nurture ecoliterate capabilities. We need to learn together how to live in harmony with the planet.
Schools can participate in the development of a range of capabilities that will facilitate this learning. Through the curriculum they offer, and through the ways in which they utilise their resources, buildings and land schools can educate young people for a sustainable future.
These capabilities include knowledge, use and understanding of:
• Permaculture – using nature as the modelling guide for our lives and growing food in ways that are in keeping with natural systems.
• Personal Sufficiency – being able to live without material excess in one’s life.
• Community – where we develop skills for nurturing community and working to enhance the environment around us for both food and aesthetic sources with our fellow citizens.
• Being ecologically intelligent – by looking at the world as a relational and interconnected whole and using this knowledge to invent and imagine new ways of relating to that world in sympathetic ways.
• Economic awareness – undertaking economic activity that is based on ethical and ecological values.
• Energy – how energy can be generated through sun, wind, light and water.
• Social justice – the ability to appreciate and hold deep beliefs and opinions about equity, inclusion and justice.
• Systems thinking – developing a recognition and an awareness of interconnection between different systems that function on the planet, and to use this knowledge to inform and guide planning and design of new systems.
• Advertising awareness – being able to expose the different ways that advertising companies undermine and distort sustainability for their own purposes.
• Green business – where the improvement in product and workplace are in keeping with environmental sustainability.
• Being a part of the world – a global citizen.
• Ecocriticism – the ability to investigate cultural artefacts from an ecological perspective
• Awareness of materials and resources – able to look at products and study them from a cradle to cradle design perspective, so that whatever we produce becomes at the end of its useful life either a form of food for some other living thing, or is re-designed through deconstruction to enable something new to be created from the component parts.
• Cradle to cradle design principles forming the basis of all designed activity across the planet.
• The aesthetics of sustainability – where we see and use the patterns and examples which nature gives us as examples of how to model our future aesthetic, in built environment, and all forms of product design.
• Well-being and emotional literacy – where the knowledge of the natural environment, appreciation of open spaces, of tranquillity and the living world are used as the basis of our health and well being.
• Spirituality and meaning without consumption, where we learn that sustainability is an inner quality as well as an external expression of a peaceful relationship with the planet.
• Skills of Transition – being able to prepare people for a post-fossil-fuel age where they have the skills to manage self and community with resilience and wisdom.
• Scenario thinking – where we are able to envisage, discuss and debate a set of possible future scenarios and design from these for a more desirable form of the future.
• Critical study - seeing the way that our natural environment is designed and being able to challenge the existing arrangements and propose different ways forward built around values in keeping with deep ecology.
• The learning society which is seen as a universal connector within, between and across human communities of the planet.
• Community food growing – being able to see ways of producing food in all environments in sufficient quantity and quality to ensure food security
• Commons thinking – envisaging a viable future of active citizenship through collective and connected action and pressure for sustainable living.
These capabilities are by no means exhaustive (see Clarke 2009) but they begin to shape a way of thinking about a curriculum for sustainable living. They generate a practical response to the challenge of climate change, which take us beyond that single issue and begin to form a more comprehensive and interconnected model and framework to guide our thinking about how to connect with the ideas in practical ways.
Capabilities in use – an example of ‘critical study’, ‘scenarios thinking’ ‘systems thinking’ and ‘cradle to cradle’ in action

In the final part of this paper I will illustrate how three of these capabilities connect and facilitate an enquiry, in this case it is in the form of an enquiry into the school grounds.

In my work I regularly visit schools to talk with teachers and students about how we might begin to make this transitional journey. In these visits I have found that a poignant starting point for our work together lies in taking a walk with parents, teachers and students into the surrounding school environment, to the playgrounds and school fields. This walk takes in four stages, intuitively responding to the landscape, objectifying the landscape, imagining in response to the landscape and subjectively relating to the landscape.

School grounds offer some of the greatest potential for connecting to the natural world in urban and rural settings. Children spend a lot of time in the playground, but more often than not it is simply so that they can run about and have a break from the ‘real’ work of classroom lessons. I want to suggest that we need to radically change this idea and think of the ‘outside’ as our primary guide to what might then happen within school.

Walking and seeing
We begin with a walk around the school grounds. These are places that are often taken for granted. The purpose of the walk is to initiate a set of questions and observations that can lead at a later stage to plans and action. The purpose is to generate an interconnected curriculum, outdoors -indoors -outdoors.

A survey of the site
This is a very intuitive process of enquiry. What does this place feel like is the type of generative question we are seeking to respond to.

Walking around, slowly taking in the environment of the school generates questions, it is helpful to take photographs and even video footage as we walk because it serves as evidence for later discussion and timelines of activity. We might ask:

• How much space are we looking at here?
• What is the relationship between tarmac and concrete and natural ground?
• What trees are there here?
• Is there a pond?
• Is there any food-based plants or trees, for example are there apple trees, nut trees or soft-fruit bushes?
• Is there any evidence around the school of any animal life?
• Is there any evidence of gardening taking place by the children, teachers or parents? What happens to the rainwater? Is it captured in any holding facility for later use or does it run into drains?
• What does the field look like?
• Is it regularly cut by a tractor or lawnmower, or is it left to grow wild?
• What is the elevation of the land, is it flat, does it slope? What is the contour?
• Is the site windy or protected from the wind?
• Are there ditches and hedgerows, or walls and fences?
• What do we see from the boundary of the grounds, how does it differ from the centre?
• What grows here naturally?
• How sunny is the site, how much natural shadow is there from trees, how much shadow comes from other buildings?

Review and reflect
Having taken this walk we return to a reflective discussion. We observe the factual data we have gathered. It is quite possible to construct a series of walks which reflect on different issues each time, for example biodiversity, plants, water, soil, structures and so on. The combination of these observations forms the basis of the review process. We would look at the photos, share our observations and record these in a way that we can all see each others ideas and responses.

The exercise is deliberately designed as a generative conversation. No observations or ideas are closed down, all observations and ideas are equally possible. It is useful to ask why the existing arrangements for school grounds are in place. Often they are simply part of the routine of the building, they have never been part of the developmental plan for learning, they are simply outdoor space.

After about an hour people usually begin to raise a number of observations about potential, things which could be done differently to the site to make it more interesting, or perhaps more biodiverse, or perhaps more food-focused. This imaginative moment is a good point at which to stop and suggest a few days further personal reflection before moving on to consider in more detail what could happen. Holding people in suspense allows time to absorb the ideas in more depth.

Scenarios thinking
What would this have looked like in the past before we built a school here? What could it look like in the future? When we begin to explore scenarios we are opening up the creative mind to possible futures. It offers the possibility to include cradle to cradle design – ensuring any suggestion passes the criteria of being sustainable in its ambition.

We often use the school architects plans at this stage to look in more detail at locations which were identified in the walk as possible places to redesign. This might for example, be the main entrance to the school. The point here is to begin to establish a range of possible scenarios for changing the natural environment outside of the school by mapping ideas onto the plans and experimenting with the idea of space that is available.

It is useful after such discussions and planning to go back outside and walk around again, this time listening to the landscape itself. I have noticed that these second or subsequent walks are quieter, more meditative affairs where people listen more to their own ideas and those of others but they are beginning to connect to the natural world they are relating with. People often say that these later walks are much more intense and focused, they are much more attuned to the possibilities of the outside space as somewhere to learn from, to listen to and to ‘hear’ a different type of response to that which they had previously desired. They move from seeing the landscape as a set of things, and begin to see it as a series of processes and relationships (systems thinking capabilities).

Finally it is very useful to ask people to go and visit the part of the site which they found most compelling, a place they felt drawn to the most. They are asked to spend some time there, and if there is more than one person in that spot they are encouraged to explore what it is about the spot that drew them to it. This seems to generate a greater level of intimacy with the space. The relationship is no longer one of indoor – outdoor, it becomes something personal. From then on the process opens into what people want to do next, but we have begun a simple and profound journey of reconnection with the natural world.

Our Great Work: Education for a Sustainable Future - Making Connections
(paper five)
So far in this series of papers I have focused on the formulation of policy, the theoretical and practical concerns of sustainable community, sustainable schooling and the links between these. In this final paper in this series I will focus upon one example of a programme in my home-town. I have been involved in this programme since it started, and I have observed the ways in which it has provided the community with a way of connecting powerfully with business and schools. It is still very much in its early stages and as a result the work I am reporting is simply a reflection on compelling aspects of the programme, its meanings and its possible implications for the creation of sustainable community.

In the paper I ask the following: What does community-based food growing have to do with the impending environmental crisis? Why might such an approach contribute to the transformation of communities, generating discussion and engagement in actions which can lead towards a more sustainable future?

The production and distribution of food has for many decades operated at an industrial scale in Western economies. We import food from all around the planet, and we have grown accustomed to having any kind of food available at any time of year. But as global temperatures rise, and populations increase, there is a corresponding concern that the existing models of food production can no longer sustain the demands, be they environmental (the form of production is itself creating ecological catastrophe) economic (the sheer cost and moving food around outweighs the value), or ethical (producing food in one country to feed another while their own citizens are malnourished). In response to these concerns, attention is being given to new ways of growing food which depend much less on ‘oil-miles’ (the additional carbon emission needed to move food over huge distances to provide for an all year round demand). These new ways of growing food locate the growing in the heart of the urban setting, on streets, in any spare land, on school sites and public spaces. This is done to graphically illustrate new ways of thinking about strategic infrastructure which can enhances the potential for reduction in the carbon footprint. If we are to make the transition to a less oil-dependent form of economy, and we are to maintain food supplies for our people, it is imperative that we establish new forms of infrastructure which can produce and distribute within local networks. The starting point for this in my own work is through a community food growing programme called Incredible Edible .

This paper will tell a little of the story of the Incredible Edible initiative from an insiders perspective, I will explain the basic idea and how it has evolved over a relatively short period of time into a powerful example of a way of responding at a community level to the considerable challenge of matching foodprint and footprint. Like all of this work, it is embryonic and emergent, it is recorded primarily so that we might learn from what we have done and share it with other communities who are interested in similar types of initiatives.

What is Food security?
Food security is a term which refers to the availability of food and the individuals access to it. A household is considered food secure when its occupants do not live in hunger or fear of starvation. According to the World Resources Institute, global per capita food production has been increasing substantially for the past several decades. In 2006, it was reported that globally, the number of people who are overweight has surpassed the number who are undernourished - the world had more than one billion people who were overweight, and an estimated 800 million who were undernourished. At the same time, Western societies are reporting obesity epidemics.
According to a recent Oxfam press release (2009) 852 million people around the world are chronically hungry due to extreme poverty, and up to a further 2 billion people lack food security on an intermittent basis due to varying degrees of poverty, much of which is being associated to the impact of increasing levels of desertification of previously fertile farmland that is turning to dust due to climate change. As the price of oil becomes more and more volatile, farmers are turning to the production of biofuels to increase revenue as ethanol subsidies turn farmers away from growing food. The high price of fuel also places increasing costs for transportation and management of the food product, pushing process higher. As more people move to live in cities, and earn more money as a result, their dietary demands move towards greater levels of meat and this in turn increases the cost of basic grain, particularly in China and India, the availability of grain at a price that is affordable to people on low or poverty levels of existence has led to food riots in many countries across the world.
Community food security
Community food security is a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice. It focuses attention on infrastructure at the level of grounded action, within communities of practice which are capable of having a direct effect upon people’s lives.
Following are six basic principles of community food security, as defined by the Community Food Security Coalition, a North American Non-Profit Organisation:
Low Income Food Needs Like the anti-hunger movement, CFS is focused on meeting the food needs of low income communities, reducing hunger and improving individual health.
Broad Goals CFS addresses a broad range of problems affecting the food system, community development, and the environment such as increasing poverty and hunger, disappearing farmland and family farms, inner city supermarket redlining, rural community disintegration, rampant suburban sprawl, and air and water pollution from unsustainable food production and distribution patterns.
Community focus A CFS approach seeks to build up a community's food resources to meet its own needs. These resources may include supermarkets, farmers' markets, gardens, transportation, community-based food processing ventures, and urban farms to name a few.
Self-reliance/empowerment Community food security projects emphasize the need to build individuals' abilities to provide for their food needs. Community food security seeks to build upon community and individual assets, rather than focus on their deficiencies. CFS projects seek to engage community residents in all phases of project planning, implementation, and evaluation.
Local agriculture A stable local agricultural base is key to a community responsive food system. Farmers need increased access to markets that pay them a decent wage for their labor, and farmland needs planning protection from suburban development. By building stronger ties between farmers and consumers, consumers gain a greater knowledge and appreciation for their food source.
Systems-oriented CFS projects typically are "inter-disciplinary," crossing many boundaries and incorporating collaborations with multiple agencies.
In each of these related principles there is an urgent need for examples and leadership, however, my experience of recent academic conferences suggests that there is a great deal of discussion and relatively little grounded action being referred to. Informal networks exist which serve as very useful starting points for action, but these are still in the formative stage, we urgently need embedded, conceptually robust examples to extend the knowledge base and further challenge the policy makers efforts in the regard to this field of work.

Local food security – a response
Whilst there are efforts taking place at the macro-level to establish developmental approaches that consolidate and connect the systemic management of food, it is at the local level that many individual actions will be most felt by people. In the UK, the issue of food security has had relatively little media attention, but, over the summer of 2009, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, Hilary Benn published a report on the need to reevaluate current food systems across the UK (HM Govt 2009). The main focus of the government response was on farming practices and potential changes to the ways in which farmers would reduce their oil dependency on diesel, chemicals and fertilizers. However, there are other, potentially high yield responses to food security which offer a different response to food production, and of these the example of community response is perhaps most poignant and stimulating.

Local and global – the crisis of economic connection
In the project in which I am closely involved, our story goes that Incredible Edible started with Pam and Mary sitting around a kitchen table talking about how to draw attention to a serious problem of disconnect between people and place. In the winter of 2007 we had already all heard and shared in the general concern that was being voiced in the press and in papers and magazines about food security , the problems that we might have with peak oil, the change in climate which we felt was already evident in the never ending rainfall in the valleys and the general sense that we were heading for troubled ecological and economic times, the ‘perfect storm of environmental and economic collapse’ of which the government chief scientific officer John Beddington (2009) recently reminded us.

Our town had, like many other communities, started to feel the effect of slow and sustained economic flight from the rural economy that continues to be a blight on rural development. The ever growing urban marketisation seemed to persistently suck the life-blood from any form of economy that deviated from current economic hegemony. The previous two decades has witnessed the closure of almost all the local manufacturing industry, much of which was associated with the cotton industry, the location of the town is not best suited to modern development and transportation networks. Local farming was in crisis with fewer and fewer hill-farms being commercially viable, the local market was struggling under the competitive pressure from the two newly built supermarkets and there was a feeling that the community was losing a lot more than simply an economic base. I see this as part of a continuing power struggle to stimulate and advance one form of economic development over and above all other forms of economic activity, and particularly agrarian economic practices. Having a fluid, responsive workforce remains a prerequisite for a capitalist industrial economy, as it did in the time of the land clearances of the 19th century. The detachment from land ensures that the people have no direct means of feeding themselves, and so become dependent upon money to buy food. This was both a deliberate policy of the recent past, and its repercussions and its cultural messages resonate to this day.
Economic development of an underdeveloped people by themselves is not compatible with the maintenance of their traditional customs and mores. A break with the latter is prerequisite to economic progress. What is needed is a revolution in the totality of social, cultural and religious institutions and habits, and thus in their psychological attitude, their philosophy and way of life. What is, therefore, required amounts in reality to social disorganization. Unhappiness and discontent in the sense of wanting more than is obtainable at any moment is to be generated. The suffering and dislocation that may be caused in the progress may be objectionable, but it appears to be the price that has to be paid for economic development: the condition of economic progress. J.L Sadie (1960) Economic Journal, in McIntosh (2001)p.94

Whilst it was clear that our town was in transition from its role as an industrial northern market town on the border of Yorkshire and Lancashire, it was and still is not really clear what this transition is taking us towards. Earlier policy that had taken people away from the land, and from some form of economic independence, had now rendered many people dependent on forms of employment that were in themselves no longer operable in a changing economic environment. This has created in part, an underclass of people in the area who have no experience of work for more than one generation in their family structure, and no land available to grow any of their own food to support themselves. For others, it has meant that commuting from the town to the city and this has increased the dependency on paid work, and distanced people who remain residents of the town from the day to day life of the place because their sense of place is now hometown and city.

The transition through economic need, to work outside of the community in which one lives, has generated a gradual and yet identifiable fracture in what Alistair McIntosh perfectly describes as the ‘ecosystem of place’ (Mcintosh 2001) a term which I have taken to my heart in my work to explore and explain how we respond to changing ecological challenges that we face. An ecosystem of place relates to the ways in which people connect to each other through a deep understanding and relationship with their local environment. It is through this that they contribute to its cultural dynamic that helps to give a community both a character and a sense of collective self-justification. In effect, a practical relationship within a community setting generates a form of identity which has lived long in the memory, if not in the reality of our community structures. Identification with a location, with its activity and its ways of doing things is in part about being in a tribe, a group who share more than simply the co-existence of a location. The identity with place generates interdependencies. Just like any other ecosystem, an ecosystem of place is responsive and integrated with other systems, these both which influence and manipulate it in its functioning. These may be social as well as cultural and economic systems, they certainly generate a powerful narrative to which people can easily relate.

What we tell ourselves is that when a community has a sense of place it is resilient and vibrant, it provides successfully for its inhabitants by generating sense of worth, well-being and what Illich calls ‘conviviality (1973). In such circumstances we might argue that an understanding of a local ecosystem of place has beneficial value in establishing an appreciation of the weave between forms of economy such as mutuality, reciprocity and exchange, and social and cultural actions through which people establish relationships and create lasting patterns of mutually supportive activity. However, in periods of economic hardship, and period of transition towards a form of economy which is now much more inter-dependent and dispersed, relying not simply upon local transactions, but upon economic connections on a global level, its ecosystem of place is much more fragmented, fragile and open to the same economic turmoil that afflicts any other part of the world. The transition, is therefore of local importance, if it is not to end up as drift, but it is influenced on a much broader scale than that which anyone can orchestrate.

However, this is not to say that people are simply hostage to ‘given’ or ‘received’ circumstances. People talk about change, they witness it happening around them, they share their feelings about it. Sometimes this is simply to complain, to express a rather detached feeling of regret or anxiety or frustration, sometimes it is simply to express a feeling that something was amiss. Sometimes it is an observation of the relationship between community and idealism and the fragile relationship that exists between individuals, their community and their feeling of personal and collective power to effect change which they cannot in the end, influence. This is far more than simple sentiment, it is a substantive sense of loss of identity and purpose which is as much spiritual as it is economic (Berry 1999, McIntosh 2001). In ecosystems of place, which are under threat, people have been, and continue to lose their sense of self, their sense of connection to a place, with which I think come other associated losses of community, self and local belief, and shared ambition. The identity of our town, like so many others, was becoming lost into the general anonymity of modern life, it was ‘just another place to go through to get somewhere else.’

Historically, Todmorden has been a pioneering town of cotton mills, cooperatives and interestingly, creative dissent and challenge . The memory of cotton and the connection of a trade across national boundaries that spanned the globe remains evident to this day in some of the impressive Victorian municipal buildings. The pioneering social and cooperative legacy remains strong in the many affiliations and self-help clubs that convene in the area, and the dissent is still present in the many creative professionals who take advantage of the studio space left as a result of the industrial decline. However, the resulting changes over the last twenty years in its population (from 22k in 1980 - 12k in 2008), and its subsequent impact on both local employment and infrastructure had started to show in the way people responded to the place. As a long-time member of the community I have noticed this gradual decline, particularly in some of the things which in the past have served as points of contact for people, places where they can connect, meet and share their ideas and observations. Many of the signs were typical of rural decay and poverty, suffering an economic crisis of their own whilst being effected by the broader economic changes which they can have little influence upon. The high street shops that have been empty for months, the pubs that have closed, depressed house prices, restricted employment opportunities and the general feeling that there was nothing anyone could do about it, it was just a symptom of a systemic problem over which people had no control. It felt like we were on the slide and the only end-result would be something worse than before.

I describe these changes as a feeling of decline because that is how it was experienced. Living in a place for a long period of time generates an emotional attachment to that place, through familiarity of the air, the seasons and the climate, through memories and through relationships. An awareness of loss is manifested therefore in an emotional response, it felt a bit like the idealism and community that must have been vibrant in the town of the past to create what it once was, had long gone. There was a feeling of drift, anonymity and alienation in what was once a thriving and close-knit community and this makes one uneasy, uncomfortable and unsure. This undercurrent of unease and dissonance is not unusual in a border town trying to survive in a world which seems ever more geared towards an urban form of modern life. Traditionally, border towns have been used to a steady through-traffic of people and with them comes a tidal wave of ideas and possibilities. The town is no exception in its diversity of cultures represented over a substantial part of the 19th and 20th centuries. In the past people had arrived and stayed, now they were not even stopping. What we were witnessing was the decline in the way that the place caught those people and embraced their contributions and provided them with a home in which they could consider the possibility of creating a living.

Growing connections - a model for action
When we reflected recently on the origins of Incredible Edible it was clear that there were a series of concurrent discussions in which we were involved that were taking place over ‘futures’. Some were local, some were regional, some were national and some were global. These discussions held within them a similar theme, that the old industrial-capitalist-reductionist way of doing things was no longer working for us, it was not meeting the changing needs that we were witnessing in our daily encounters with life. In the words of the poet TS Eliot, we were ‘... no longer at ease in the old dispensation.’ Indeed, our feelings were that we were beginning to witness the dis-ease of consumption at all costs, which was leading to our collective feeling of decline.

In response, Incredible Edible’s basic aim was to generate awareness of three core agendas for change: change in community behaviour, change in local business activity, and change in awareness and knowledge of sustainable living achieved through new learning. Our intention was to design (Braungart and McDonough 2009) a different way forward which carried with it a simple and powerful message which people could connect to, and which would be open enough for widespread participation and engagement without exception.

We envisaged this in the form of three interdependent agendas of community, business and education. The critical connector was the local production of food. Food serves as the catalyst for discussion and action to establish new ways to see and use land within the community, new ways of educating people from cradle to cradle (a term originally used by Walter Stahel) from the school through to colleges and into the local environment, and engaging local business in sourcing and creating new ways to connect to the community by growing new markets to ensure greater levels of local food production, sourcing, and distribution.
Figure one: linking food and learning, community and business

Figure two: creating new connections and new challenges to focus on sustainable food production

The connections between food and land, food and markets, and a need to educate people to re-think their relationship with food use and food production and to pass this knowledge to others was our way of response to the wider, macro-economic challenges that we were recognising. Whilst we heard from elsewhere that more interdependent communities would have a better chance at responding resiliently in times of economic challenge (Hopkins 2008), we did not know if this was the case in our environment. So the simple focus on the growing and sharing of food to spread the ideas and aspirations of a bigger change game in the form of a re-established food focused community seemed like a good first step to take.

This early formulation of our approach was pragmatic as much as idealistic, it was necessary to take a route that would lead to jobs as well as begin to raise awareness across the community of the implications of food insecurity, and influence formal and informal education providers of a need to look again at their role and function in generating capacity for deeper understanding, knowledge and skills to generate food security. We had seen the slow deterioration and decline of food production around the region, and a corresponding increase in the import of foods from around the world. Food has always featured in our local landscape, we had grown up with local farms providing for us, and we had a strong tradition in the town of public allotments and private gardens, added to which the local countryside was an abundant resource for people to pick berries and nuts in the coppices and hedgerows. As such, food has always been there to serve as a connector, people understood the essential role it plays in their lives and historically people knew which kind of food grew well in the region and where it could be sourced. We were aware though, that food has increasingly become something distant, the rise of imported food and out-of-season food had generated an expectation for easy availability, low cost, and no questions asked. This situation does two things, it detaches us from one important part of identity of place through food, and it generates an unrealistic expectation that this form of commerce is sustainable. The idea of security of food does not need to be in our design for our survival because we have come to believe, as a result of experience, that someone else will always supply it.

Growing connections: A model of action
One practical step which bridged the gap between talking about food security and actually engaging in something which created change that focused on food security started on the railway station platform. Mary and Pam planted herbs in the railway platform flower beds. People could get off the train at the end of the day and gather a handful of herbs to take home and use in their cooking that evening. Then Nick visited France and was struck with municipal planting in rural France which included vegetables in the council flowerbeds. Why not here? Over a period of a few weeks many of the odd parcels of land dotted around the town were identified and planted, with orchards of fruit trees and bushes, and a variety of vegetables and herbs.

Within three months there were people all across the town participating in the effort to grow food, develop new networks to reclaim land and sharing ideas and knowledge some of which are outlined below.

Figure three: A whirlwind tour of six months of incredible activity 60 people attend first meeting Seed and plant swaps start Proper-gander gardens 750k school food hub bid to the lottery Incredible parents-all schools have them
Churches commit land and support Harvest Festival
Cafe discussions and films Doctors take a vote for veg Older peoples growing memories Every egg matters campaign Agriculture show- new growing section Community Pay-Back get on board
Incredible Buzz - bee keeping group

Simple messages
People did simple things, planting seeds and fruit bushes and fruit trees in public places, using school playgrounds to create community allotments. The high school, recognising that it had probably the most publicly available land in the town, recruited the help of the community payback scheme and working with Incredible Edible to build a large polytunnel. This now provides seasonal vegetables to the school canteen, and excess is sold in the town market. The school worked with the initiative to put a successful bid to the lottery fund which has enabled the project to plan to build on the school site a sustainable fish farm. This will offer courses and advice as well as produce for all the town restaurants and cafe’s. New courses in land management and rural ecology are planned for this academic year. Evening cookery classes take place monthly at the cafe. We have undertaken an audit of all the local egg producers, encouraging many people to take up hen keeping and created an egg map for the town of local producers. There is a bee-keeping group, aiming to have at least ten new bee-keepers in the next season underway with very little capital outlay through links with local carpenters workshop who can provide hives at discount prices. We regularly have gatherings in the cafe to show films and hold discussions on issues related to the wider picture of global warming, permaculture and other themed events.

This ‘seeding of minds’ coincides with our work through the website to share and expand the network of ideas to others. At present the website has about 15k hits per week, we will launch ‘Incredible Spreadables’ the ideas from across the planet to respond to a need for a renaissance of ecological / agrarian economy and consciousness. There is an autumn national conference to be held in the town hall and ministers, regional policy and planners, food company representatives and many members of the local community have registered to attend.

Messages: The power of action
So what are we learning from all of this activity? My first observation is that in themselves these activities are rather innocuous things, they don’t seem to demonstrate much more than people can still grow things, and can do that wherever they manage to put the plants. But we have come to recognise that these single small acts were symbolically important, as they represent a reconnection with the power to do something in a community setting, outside of the existing boundaries between individual landspace and public landspace. People were looking at the available public land and reclaiming it to make it more productive. In doing this they exercise choice, public action, civil responsibility and because it involves others, they are actively creating communities of action (Clarke in press).

Food as a starting point to a bigger conversation
We have also learnt the obvious, that food is a great connector. The simple act of growing food has a resonance with people from every corner of the community, it is so easily accessible. It was not necessary to orchestrate ‘community outreach’ meetings or similar ventures because people simply turned up and joined in. As people participated they brought with them ideas and suggestions. We have been very open to these new perspectives and suggestions. It is clear that not every idea will work, but how do we know which one’s until we try? For example, it was suggested that the initiative should be opened up to include young offenders involved in community payback. Their enthusiasm and pride in the project has seen them building polytunnels, planting areas, and they are now a vital part of the digging and laying infrastructure across town as the care homes, the old people’s centre, the schools, the health centre, the various cafe’s and eateries, the local police station, the social housing programme, the services such as bus shelters and railway platforms and car parks are utilised as resource. In turn, these individual locations generate pockets of interest and enthusiasm, and contribute to the cumulative impact across the town of the initiative as we can point visitors and media to witness the work first hand.

Furthermore, we have noticed that people make wider connections, they do not need people ‘banging on about climate change’ as Pam observed. They do not see Incredible Edible as a single-issue project. The recent meeting in the cafe showed a film about peak oil and over 70 people attended, and two hours after the film finished the room was still full and alive with discussion in response to the film, its repercussions are still being thought out as we meet and reflect further. This connection beyond the basic idea of the initiative serves to strengthen the enthusiasms of participants. It is reinforced further by recognition from national organisations, and through the multiple film crews and news reporters from around the world who have opened a conversation within and beyond the town extending across the planet. We use the website to generate links and to seed the deeper message about sustainable living.

The ownership of land
The use of public land is highly controversial and contested, land has historical ownership which often combines with power being exercised by one group over another to secure and maintain rights of access and use. It was somewhat predictable that the local authority would have problems with citizens planting on council land. However, after a number of meetings where the council raised concerns over safety and purpose of the work of the initiative, and where we reassured and illustrated both the actual and potential benefits for health, community well-being, and the press and publicity opportunity of a series of positive reviews and awards from both regional and national organisations (Market Towns Initiative winners and Sustainable Development Commission Breakthroughs for the 21st century winners) the council have made a significant change to the legislative process which enables people to identify and ‘land bank’ areas for public growing of food. This change in the way that the local authority responds to the initiative is evident of a broader issue, that the relationship between local authority and community can be redesigned to enable rather then restrict the activities of the communities in their care.

Defiant community, re-defining community?
In his recent book, Tobias Jones (2007) reflects on the visits he made to a group of ‘alternative’ communities, modern but self-contained places which function as places of - according to taste, idealism or escapism. He makes an important observation, that his interest was not to engage in stand-off voyeurism, nor to gently deride, but to genuinely see how people were attempting to redefine their realities.

In the case of Incredible Edible I think we are witnessing something similar, but not in the guise of an alternative community, just a community in a process of change which is trying to understand and re-connect to a new ecosystem of place.

First of all, it is entirely grounded in the harsh realities of a local, depressed market town economy but it is attempting to redefine this through consciousness raising about possibility of personal and collective action. This means that economy is a significant factor in the future success of the programme. We need to generate jobs, worthwhile forms of employment which will encourage people to stay and live in the town. The initiative raises the question however, what type of economy might we want to create here, what’s the right thing for this place? and how does it sustain itself whilst supporting the development of similar initiatives elsewhere?

Second, I think that the programme is not (in the rather dull nomenclature of the day) an ‘intentional community’, because there is no set of core values upon which this programme exists. It is a ‘town’ programme of activity, with some business, some community and some educational elements. It tackles head-on, the threads of numerous needs, from the family who want a bit of physical space to grow a few vegetables and ‘get away from each other once in a while’, to the market traders who support the idea simply because it brings more people into town and perhaps boosts their sales. It was Aune (2009) who notes how Habermas observed that social movements were no longer forming around the traditional class struggles. Instead, he recognised that the new struggles were with identity and lifestyle. Habermas defined two different levels of society, the system and the lifeworld. The system being the institution of the state, and the lifeworld being the day-to-day ways of the people within the state. The operable ‘space in society’ to act and live is what Habermas describes as the ‘public sphere.’ This public sphere defines space, but not place, and place is what the Incredible Edible initiative claims in the form of land, it provides a way for people to generate new forms of identity, of self, and of community, geared towards a more sustainable lifestyle, but this represents a struggle which as yet is only in its formative stage.

My third observation when talking with people involved in the programme is that they are aware of its public significance as a way of redefining the town, but they are often more interested in how it offers them a way to connect with other people in the same place. This connection between self and others, public and private, or self and an ideal defined through the many and perhaps conflicting visions of what the Incredible Edible programme actually is, is very interesting. As Jones (2007) reminds us, ‘Emile Durkheim suggested that idealism only ever emerged through the communal because it was only at the school of collective life that the individual has learned to idealise. It is in assimilating the ideal elaborated by society that he has become capable of conceiving the ideal.’

Across the entire neighbourhood of the town the connection of people to place is evident and provides a daily reminder to people passing through that their lived environment, the landscape of their daily lives influences the way people interact. If they are disconnected from it, they feel less need to engage with others, if however, they are actively working in it, even in a small way, they engage with it and others, very differently. This is therefore a cultural issue, at least as Matthew Arnold (1994) means ‘turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits.’

The initiative is therefore illustrating a number of different forms of community (Clarke in press) that are happening in response to the focus on food. We have communities of action - people doing things together, we have communities of place - people connecting to the physical landscape to identify and plant produce, we have communities of interest - people connecting on themes that they find to be useful to them, so we have a bee-keeping group, an egg production group, a vegetable group and so on, and we have communities of connection - where the original issue of food is being linked to the wider debates on sustainable living, sustainable economy and sustainable forms of business within local, regional, national and international frameworks.

A revolution of the hand, heart and the mind
Nurturing plants is both a connector of hand, heart and mind. It brings people together to share experiences, and to exchange plants and seedlings. It brings them together to talk. To share stories. The connection of hand with heart which begins to break through to the mind is a long standing way of seeing reality used by green activists (Schumacher 1973, McIntosh 2008). People begin to see examples of ways in which simple acts like putting herb plants on the railway platform for the travelling people to come home at the end of the day and have herbs fresh to put on their meals gets people thinking as well as adding to their culinary repertoire. Their minds become more open to the innovative, quirky, a creative way of looking at our environment and this in turn generates enthusiasm, it inspires, it opens up possibility. It generates a belief, even if not always borne out by reality, that it really is possible to influence and improve a place, and to have an influence upon a community.

The Incredible Edible programme brings together three critical ingredients which seem to matter a lot if we are ever to make any sense of how to move on from our industrial past into a more humane, ecological / agrarian form of economy. It brings together the hand, the heart and the mind.

Hand: people are putting their hands into soil and planting seeds. This is simple and profound. Simple because it transcends boundaries. Anyone can plant a seed. Anyone can nurture a seed to a seedling to a plant, in fact nature does it for us. And we end up with food. Profound because it represents a significant step forward from where they previously were in their way of engaging with their environment, they have made the first step.
Heart: We watch, we see and we wonder. I am not alone in thinking that many people are aching to have something to reconnect them with other people, with their community, with something that feels like they have a real role and responsibility and can commit towards (see for example McIntosh 2008, Kumar 2002, Whitefield 2009, Orr 2009). Modern living has eroded so much of the sense of being, and replaced it with structures which are designed by others to make us accountable, discontent and therefore ready to consume the next solution that we have lost the ability to see through this smoke and mirror existence. If we can find things which help us to reconnect with ourselves, and with other people and the environment in which we live then we are breaking into the empty void that so many people experience as their daily reality .

In the food project we have found that it opens our heart. We begin to talk about what is happening. We see that planting things makes connections between people, how did you grow that? Let’s swap these seedlings, why don’t we have a gathering to eat some of the harvest together and celebrate? Coming together to celebrate the food we grow together is a deep, universally embedded human experience which we have found serves as a connector across continents and race. I have found a bit of land and want to plant a fruit bush or two, can you help? Do you think we could plant an orchard on that bank near the railway? I have some plants extra, why don’t you put them in that spot you found? It places us into a situation where we are able to connect, it is very natural to do that.

Mind: A forgotten connection, a community of interest, a community that begins to find a place, a community that begins to see some patterns of togetherness that generate a sense of value. A community that thinks a little more of what is happening to its own locality, and in so doing, recognizes that this is also something that is more widespread, that is the mind, or as I like to say it creates a mindscape of the landscape.

Connections: People from other places begin to get in touch when they hear of our activities. They are interested in the same possibilities and connect with some of the same challenges. People are curious, they are interested, they ask interesting questions and make us reflect with more care on exactly what is happening. They come to us with doubts, questions and suggestions. They ask permission: can we do this? How can we do this? What happens if we don’t ask for permission but we just do it?

What we do not offer back to people who enquire of our work are solutions. People need permission to make their own mistakes as we have done, in their own places as these mistakes generate further learning, experimentation and imagination in response. They need the space to succeed and experiment. They need the reassurance that it is possible to undertake significant community action without having to take the established and existing routeways, these will adapt to help and inform, they do not have to be the only way forward. They need to find their own place, to see their own ways of seeing their places.

My experience suggests that simple practical actions like planting seeds and plants in public places can change people’s minds about their relationship with their environment, and in so doing, changes the way that they go about living in that community. I think that this has enormous educative value, with a central purpose behind those changes of generating greater sensitivity and congruence between what we do as human beings and the connection this has with a sustainable way of living. I think that this is fundamentally important if we are to continue to thrive on planet earth, and if planet earth is to continue to thrive with us upon it.

The mindscape of the landscape
As a result of our work in we are learning that ‘place’ matters. How we see it matters. How it influences us matters. How we influence it matters. How we design and model it matters. How it demands our attention matters. Place matters because our response to it generates messages, positive or negative which influence the mind of the people who live within that landscape of place. Place is where we are, where we live, where we dream, where we plan and scheme, where we do things, where we connect. It is where we practice our community, it is everyone, it holds everyone and it provides for everyone. If we witness place in crisis we act as if it is in crisis, if we witness it in development and improvement, we act to facilitate that improvement. I think that there are some very interesting possibilities in exploring the behavioural response of people to the landscape in which they exist, perhaps this offers us a way to explore differently the regeneration of communities, certainly there are programmes elsewhere which indicate that there is some mileage in pursuing these ideas further (see for example East New York City Farms ).

I have argued elsewhere (Clarke 2000, 2008, 2009) that the challenges we are facing in a wide range array of human activity from education, to well-being, to community and to economy, can all be traced back to one single, defining crisis, in the form of the ecological crisis. At the root of the disconnect between the services we have created to provide nurture and support of our communities, there is a disconnect of self from place – a disturbance in the ecosystem of place which is having an immense impact on how people live. We are collectively responsible for committing our societal energies into a developmental view of our future which holds that progress will come through the creation of ever more material wealth, divorced from our environment, distanced from place, and yet the evidence is available to refute and counter the pursuit of this without connecting to other equally important ‘wealth’ forms (Wilkinson and Pickett 2009). However, our persistent focus to the external change required will do nothing to attend to an equally problematic inner abyss (see Berry 2009). We need to activate our senses and overcome the crisis of consciousness, behaviour, culture and systems that span from the internal world-views we hold through to the collective exterior realities that we share. For some commentators such as Otto Scharmer (2008), this is a leadership challenge, to others such as Alistair McIntosh (2008) it is a community and a spiritual challenge. However we define it, it is a pressing need which people are both recognizing and responding to. The Incredible Edible initiative is but one example of this great work that is starting to happen across the planet.

We seem to have come to a point in time, which coincidentally connects with an optimal moment in the industrialisation of our land, where it is believed that a certain type of management and power over that land and lifestyle can result in the draw down of all useful resources without penalty. In addition, this view has permeated all aspects of our collective psyche and persists now across most of the habits of mind related to human behaviour. We have come to a place where it seems that progress is measured only through clarity of direction, hierarchy of management, and the exercise of power over others. In so doing, we have accustomed ourselves to a view that non-conformity, a breakout from the established way of doing things, is somehow deviant and must be eradicated as it represents a form of failure to comply that challenges our shared sense of what is right.

Put another way our world reserves of food are at an all time low, world population is growing and our existing agricultural systems are failing to produce enough food but these systems are completely unsustainable. This is a very serious situation. The guaranteed market and the guaranteed price for farming products provided by the Common Agricultural Policy over the last 40 years have pushed food production away from all but 2.5% of the population. We have utterly lost our ability to grow food, making all of us extremely vulnerable. Do we really sit back and accept that there is enough research going into how to produce enough food without oil and natural gas - a situation we shall soon find ourselves in? Do we really accept that we can always rely on importing food from other countries? I do not think so! I would like to think that Incredible Edible has demonstrated that a wider cultural shift is possible, one that begins to realign the ecosystem of place towards something more connected, challenging the sterility of the public landscape and transforming public values placed on the land. There is a good chance that the industrialisation of food growing will have to give way to more human effort, spread more evenly across society, involving most of us. We will be better placed to harness the power of natural systems to sustain human life as we move towards a new era when we value multi-functional landscapes to meet more of our needs.

If I scatter a small handful of seeds into a readied plot of land, I can guarantee that what will happen will not be in keeping with that which I expected, and it puts me in a spin. Do I ignore the obvious, that my established and cherished world-view is somehow incorrect and needs realignment to the new order of things, or do I eliminate the deviant plants to restore my own illusion of order and control? What would be most productive, what would be the easier route to take? To play follow the leader, or to lead together? We tend to default to follow the leader. But the existing way of doing things is clearly no longer working.

We face huge environmental challenges in the next few years and yet our response is business as usual. What would be the consequences of taking the natural path with all its glorious and unimagined implications? My feeling is that we are entering a time when we need to both scatter with deviant abandon, and we need to be able to cherish, nurture and enjoy the new directions such actions can open for us and illuminate the way to a sustainable future.

Paul Clarke Thursday, October 15, 2009

I would like to thank all those colleagues who generously gave me feedback on this work, especially Tony Kelly, Jane Reed, Chris Cotton and Chris May.

Please feel free to comment on all or any of this work, I would be delighted to hear from you.

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