Here’s the story. The Ecological Land Co-op are trying to start a little cluster of smallholdings with eco-dwellings on the Devon/Somerset border. We support this venture wholeheartedly, as large-scale industrial agriculture is very damaging to the countryside, and smallholdings produce more food per acre than large farms. Several mid-Devon councillors oppose the plan, however. On September 10th, Oliver Swann of NaturalHomes.org called one of those councillors for a chat about why she was against such a worthwhile project.
She was councillor Heather Bainbridge, a Tory, but I don’t think that’s significant – I think he could have had similar conversations with Labour and LibDem councillors anywhere. She made unsupported claims about the viability of the soil, the topography and the possibility of flooding, before coming out with a classic line: ‘Nobody would subject themselves to that way of life. You might as well be in prison’.
In prison! Well, what do you think is more like prison – having a smallholding, no mortgage, no boss and building your own home; or commuting to work in sales, finances or human resources for a large company, having a mortgage and credit card debt, sitting in front of a TV every evening and going shopping at the weekend?
This isn’t personal – I’m sure Ms Bainbridge is a very nice person, but she is an example of a certain way of thinking that we’d like to change. It just demonstrates, in other words, that we don’t just think that’s what unenlightened people are thinking – it really is what they’re thinking.
But is it what the general population is thinking? I don’t think so. Show me someone who enjoys their job, and I’ll show you ten who don’t. Most people watch Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s programmes, because they’d love to do it themselves; we put this on our website a couple of years ago, and 5,000 people have signed up; and look at Oliver’s 100k Facebook followers who swoon over photographs of homes that councillors like Ms Bainbridge don’t think we want to live in. People want beautiful, natural homes, they want local, organic food and they want good relationships with other people and with nature.
Yes, of course, just as popular as River Cottage is Dragon’s Den, where it’s all about making lots of money from fluff – silly inventions, fashion items or plagiarised hot sauces, rather than improving quality of life (although actually, it’s quite entertaining in a horrific sort of way). But there are enough people who don’t think having a smallholding represents prison, but freedom. And if we’re allowed to do it, Ms Bainbridge – if people like you remove the barriers, we’ll show that it can represent something better in terms of meaningful work and beautiful homes than most people can aspire to at the moment.
Take a look at some of these self-built natural homes at Lammas in Pembrokeshire. Does that look like prison? To me it represents exactly the opposite – freedom. Freedom from mortgage, freedom from supermarkets, freedom from advertising, freedom from corporations, freedom from traffic jams, freedom from debt.
This is precisely what organisations like the Ecological Land Co-op are promoting, and we should support them, or at least let’s help remove barriers for them and let them do something good.
Please share this, and please feel free to let Ms Bainbridge know how you feel.