Peak Oil and Agriculture: A Farm for the Future Revisited

Image credit: Daily Mail
Film Maker Explores Post-Oil Farming
Last week I wrote about a BBC documentary which I hadn't seen, but the green scene in the UK was all a flutter over. A Farm for the Future explores nature film maker Rebecca Hosking's return to her small family farm and her search for a post-fossil fuel agriculture. I've since seen the film, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in food and farming - come to think ot it, I'd recommend it to anyone who eats. But for those without the time or means to watch it, Rebecca has also written an excellent article in the Daily Mail newspaper about her quest for truly sustainable agriculture.Rebecca's work (who incidentally is also responsible for a plastic bag ban in her home town!) is not just remarkable for the content she is covering - but the venues in which it is being aired too. To have a half-hour documentary devoted to peak oil, agriculture and alternatives like forest gardening and permaculture appear on prime time BBC is a telling sign of the times. But to also have an article in the Daily Mail - hardly the bastion of environmental radicalism - is dynamite.

There is no doubt in my mind that Rebecca is opening a lot of eyes to the unsustainability of our present food system. Take this excerpt from Rebecca's conversation with permaculture guru Patrick Whitefield [Disclaimer: Patrick is a former teacher and friend of mine]:

But it will work only if we have a lot more growers. Some reports estimate it's going to take as many as 12million, although currently we have 11million gardeners. A food-growing system based on natural ecology appeals to my naturalist side. But the farmer's daughter in me needed a bit more convincing. Could permaculture feed Britain? I asked Patrick Whitefield, Britain's leading expert in permaculture.

'Good question,' he said. 'A better question would be, "Can present methods go on feeding Britain?" In the long term, it is certain that present methods can't because they are so entirely dependent on fossil-fuel energy. So we haven't got any choice other than to find something different.'

The more permaculture people I met, the more hopeful I became that we can find a way out of this mess if we start preparing for peak oil now.

Along the way, Rebecca also meets Ben and Charlotte Hollins - the brother and sister team who now run the innovative Fordhall Farm in Shropshire - and talks about their nature-based no-till pasture system; she talks with peak oil experts Richard Heinberg and Colin Campbell; visits Martin Crawford of the Agroforestry Research Trust and explores the small holding of Chris and Lynn Dixon - who have pioneered their low input, biodiverse permaculture-based land management techniques in the hills of Wales for years.

For folks like me who have long followed permaculture and other sustainable, but often marginalized, food movements, it's really incredible to see voices like this getting a wide and receptive audience. Now we just have to see how many folks are willing to roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty, and start planting.

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