Episode #25 Nurturing our bodies and souls: Talking to Abel Pearson of Glasbren
Abel Pearson is a poet, peasant farmer, permaculture educator & activist, tending soil in West Wales and listening for the stories we need to build community and culture, restore health and breathe new life into our connection to land, food and seed.
He is the founder of Glasbren, a non-profit social enterprise working to reimagine our food systems, rewild the way we eat, live and grow food and regenerate our communites, the people that live in them and the land we depend on. Glasbren is a Community Supported Agriculture scheme, offering it’s members a weekly ‘Share in the Harvest’ veg box & a transparent relationship with where their food comes from, volunteer opportunities, courses and workshops. They also raise money for tree planting and support the local food bank through their Solidarity Fund.
Abel is passionate about growing food, together, as a means to facilitate a collective shift to a radically ecological way of being and as a vehicle for social, ecological and cultural rebirth. He is a grower at Glasbren, but also teaches immersive experiences in permaculture, food growing and regenerative living, works with activists & Earth stewards to build a rooted connection to the Earth and is searching for authentic ritual spaces, passageways and the knowing to explore a truly indigenous connection to place.
Manda: [00:00:14.83] Welcome to Season 3 of the podcast where we will begin to lay out a vision for that more beautiful future. The old Welsh socialist Raymond Williams said ‘To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.’ And I want us to be truly radical. Nothing else is good enough now. So the act of making hope a possible means that we need to see a clear path forward to a world where our lives have meaning and agency where they have coherence and connection to the web of life in a way that allows us to feel as if we’re an integral part of something strong and resilient.
And that brings me to today’s guest. Abel Pearson is a visionary and a dreamer in the deepest sense. He’s a regenerative farmer who runs a community supported agriculture project at Glas Bren in West Wales that is at the forefront of creating a different way of relating to the land. Abel brings a spiritual dimension to all that he does, and his account in this podcast of his practice has such deep integrity and real grounded authenticity that I found it utterly moving. This is one of the most deeply moving podcasts I’ve had the pleasure to record, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. So people of the podcast, please welcome Abel Pearson of Glas Bren.
Manda: [00:02:43.59] So, Abel, welcome to The Accidental Gods podcast.Thank you for taking time out of what sounds like the busiest time of your year. How is it over in Wales?
Abel Pearson: [00:02:53.7] Thank you, Manda – it’s a pleasure to be here. A real honour to be invited onto you. I’m a real fan of the podcast and actually came at really interesting time in my life and my personal journey as a grower and living on land. So it feels very fortuitous and very synchronistic, which is wonderful.
Manda: [00:03:12.33] And you have rain.
Abel Pearson: [00:03:13.17] And we have rain. I’m sitting in my little cabin undera bBig Oak tree in the Welsh rolling hills between two rivers in the in the west of Wales. And we’ve had the first rain for many weeks and it’s a real relief. I was out there celebrating in gratitude this morning for the full force of rain because it’s been quite a harsh time of watering. We grow on about an acre of land for our veg boxes and we like to water by hand still, which is possibly strange for people growing on that scale. But it’s something that’s quite important to us as a ritual each evening to be in ritual, in contact with our plants and to see everything that’s going on.
But also to give an offering. And we often mix in our our homemade bio fertilizers, which is our way of bringing our woodland microbes into the soil. And that feels like our way of giving back for everything that we take. So we’ve we’ve kept up that practice despite growing to quite a big size. But, after many weeks of doing that every day for a few hours, it was starting to take its toll and there was a rust starting to settle on on my muscles and bones for sure. So I’m glad of a rest.
Manda: [00:04:39.67] Brilliant. So thank you. I’d really like to talk about hand watering and about the rituals that you do and about your spiritual connection to the land, which sound really deep. But before that, if we take a little bit of a step back just to give everybody listening a picture of how Glas Bren came about, how it is that you are forming an acre in the west of Wales. You don’t sound Welsh. So can you tell us a little bit about your history and how you came to be there and what the aims are of what you’re doing?
Abel Pearson: [00:05:10.53] I was not born in Wales. We moved to Wales when I was nine to this very place. So this is the land I grew up on. , I still walk in the woodlands that I used to play in as a child. And a lot of my family are here and we’re all doing this together in different ways. I wasn’t particularly interested to be honest, in land and and agricultural permaculture, any of these things until I went away. I had to leave this land to discover these things. I left when I was 18, and I spent a lot of time between now and then in wild places, mountain landscapes, mostly – mustering sheep in the Southern Alps of New Zealand or working with with horses, learning natural horsemanship in Spain.
I ended up in a place called Eco Dharma in the Catalan Pyrenees, which is really where the transformation happened that led to this. I initially went there for a week for an immersion into permaculture and deep ecology and nature connection. And it was a highly transformational week, both from the content and weaving together practical activities that could allow you to live in a sustainable and regenerative way with kind of a deeper, radically ecological way of being, one way of starting to feel our oneness – our part in nature rather than separate from it. The idea that we are nature.
It’s interesting because as bit of a side note, I’ve heard you talk before in the podcast about the difficulty of certain words and language. And ‘nature’ is one of those words that always crops up for me – how the very word nature in itself facilitates that separation in a way, and then oversimplifies in a way. But for the purposes of of communication, I think it’s helpful.
Manda: [00:07:21.06] I’m not sure, actually.I think it perpetuates the separation. I try and talk about the ‘natural world’ or ‘the world outside of windows’ or something that it has slightly less of a sense of other.
Abel Pearson: [00:07:33.68] I try to use ‘the web of life’ as well because it honours that complexity. And the idea that it can’t just be reduced into a single entity. And taking myself off running to the onto the limestone cliffs that they have there and having a really profound experience wf my own wildness and of being in flight with with the vultures there. I went running along the cliff tops. And I was scrambling up in in the midday heat. And as I reached the top of the cliff, there were I was level with a vulture hovering only a couple of metres away from where I was.
And there was a thump in my stomach. I’m sure you’re familiar with being just awestruck and being set upon by the wonder of the natural world. And I suppose something in the running in my own physical movements and my own physical nature at the time was there was a feeling of real kinship and of being in flight. And I only talk about that and tell that story to illustrate how I was s coming across a lot of content that was giving form to a lot of thoughts I’ve been having within the same time, having experiences in this kind of value of such power and gravity – a felt experience of this. And that experience is the commonality, of all the things that led to this, to trying to bring together physical activity and a more sustainable, and regenerative way to be on land – a radically ecological way of being on land and with a very personal felt, deep rooted connection to the natural world.
And in being called back to Wales, there was something to do with with wetness, dampness, green. Catalonia was very dry and hard – it was very hard to grow food. And we worked really hard on building – it was it was almost monastic in the way of moving rocks and meditating together. And it was a wonderful, rich time, but there was some calling back to the to the green lushness of home. And I think I was starting to think about how I could fulfill my social conscience and how I could fulfill this need to be in service to the earth and be in service to all beings.
Manda: [00:10:41.86] Had you been brought up with that? Your parents had taken you to West Wales as a nine year old. Were they already heading in that direction? Have you taken them deeper than they already were? Or are you continuing family tradition?
Abel Pearson: [00:10:59.68] It was such a brave and courageous move that my parents took. To my knowledge, they had no experience of farming or of growing or f being on land at all. My dad’s always been very practical. He’s taught himself a lot of different practical skills. He’s very self-reliant in that way. So I think that really helped him.
But they they made a huge brave step and it took a lot of vision to see what the place could be. It become quite rundown and neglected.The woodland was full of rubbish That had been dumped there, which was a common story at that time for farms. I think all of their friends were taken aback by what they were doing. They thought they were crazy and and only as the years have gone by, do I realize what a sacrifice and what vision, it took to make the move.
And then and slowly, farming came and and living self-sufficiently came to them. And I suppose that’s where they’ve come from: trying to be self-sufficient as much as possible. But they’ve done lots of different things before tht – they fostered children for a long time. And they have holiday cottages on the farm now. So I suppose I introduced permaculture to them and and some of those techniques and some of the ideas around how to be a little more ‘whole systems’ in our approach and in our thinking
Manda: [00:12:36.16] So you came back from Catalonia, drawn back by actual rain. You got an acre on on your parent’s farm and you are now beginning to run that as a commercial business. So can you talk us through some of the sense of your vision for that and particularly of the spiritual grounding in the earth and what you’re hoping to do in a wider sense with that?
Abel Pearson: [00:13:08.9] I would say that the vision arose out of starting to realize that we’re looking for a way to make this idea of needing to shift our consciousness to a far more ecological consciousness, or as I was saying, if we’re going to approach the challenges of our times: climate change, ecological collapse, but also social problems, like diet related health problems, isolation, loneliness, the breakdown of our communities… looking for something that might work on land that could encompass all those things and try in a small local way, start to address some of those issues.
And I started to realize that growing food feels like and felt like a really democratic and universal way of doing that. I’s not exclusive in the way that certain worlds and the permaculture world can feel and can be. I was looking for a way to reach out beyond the bubble and bring in more people to the ideas and to the feeling of it, without using language that was alienating. And growing food maybe cliched, but we all eatthree times a day.And that’s an opportunity three times a day for each of us to have a relationship with our local land.
And because our diet has become so globalized, we have no connection really to to where that food comes from, to who grows that food, the story in that food.We have no connection to how it was grown, to the impact of how it was grown and transported, you know.
So I was seeing a local food system and a local community food project as perhaps the best way to start talking about issues of sustainability and to start bringing people together in meaningful community.And to start to address health – not just dietary and nutritional health, but but mental health as well. There’s such links between health of soil and health have got and health of mind. Slowly, over time, this web has unravelled of how everything is so connected in that way.
Manda: [00:15:43.81] Can you speak a little bit more about that? Because this may be new to some of our listeners. – the concept of the health of the soil, the health of the gut on the health of our mind? And I think this links to spiritual health. But just in a purely materialist sense, the soil biome links to the gut biome, links to our mental health. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Abel Pearson: [00:16:09.63] Absolutely. And so, many people say that we are more fungi and bacteria than we are human. So, the amount of life in our gut, is so huge that it makes up more than the rest of our body mass. There’s a lot of work going on. I’d recommend someone called Zack Bush if anybody’s interested in finding out more. (link in the show notes)
There’s a lot of research going on in the link between industrial agriculture, weed killers like Glyphosate (Roundup) and the health of the gut lining, which in turn affects the health of the cells and has been potentially linked to increased cancer rates and autism. So essentially, those chemicals work at breaking down the communication system between ourselves – this is my sense of it, from my very limited scientific capacity.
It feels as if mental health and health in general is directly linked to the health of our soil. And that brings us into such intimate connection with how our food is produced. And that’s only possible on a local level, because you need to have a relationship with the grower and the land that it’s being grown and be able to be able to have that transparent relationship where, you knowhow the food is being grown and you know that these chemicals are not being used.
Manda: [00:17:53.21] It’s quite unlikely. But in case we have any industrial farmers listening, can you talk a little bit about the different ways we can function? They always say we we need the chemicals because otherwise we cannot produce enough food. This is Monsanto’s argument – that the only way to feed the world is to destroy it fundamentally. And yet, you and I know this isn’t true. I’m hoping that the people around you are beginning to learn this isn’t true. So in purely agricultural terms, can you tell us about the practicalities of growing in a way that does not involve the chemicals and which is going to enhance – and I’m hoping increase – your soil biome: the number of bacteria and fungi in your soil, so that the life of the plants and the lives of the people who eat those plants are enhanced?
Abel Pearson: [00:18:44.31] Yes. It’s important for me to say that there’s no judgment in what I say. There’s no kind of criminalization of individual farmers. I totally understand the system in which people are trying to operate, much like most of our industrialized capitalist systems. It’s a harsh master. And to be able to make a living in financial terms from farming is really hard.
And these are the reasons that people have been driven to increase in size and start using these these chemicals and the seeds that go with them and the machinery and…it just gets bigger and bigger. It’s never ending. And I can see having done it, how hard it is to contemplate trying to do it in the way that we do.
Because it’s really hard when you’re trying to have a product and trying to deliver veg boxes to people on a weekly basis, guaranteed – while also being in relationship with the Earth and also be in relationship with pests, trying to stay in a kind of surrendering relationship where you’re not trying to dominate.
Manda: [00:20:03.52] And probably not defining them as pests anymore on some level. We need to change our relationship.
Abel Pearson: [00:20:08.62] Yes, there’s a perception shift that has to happen between us and pests and weeds as well.
Manda: [00:20:14.38] So in terms of the land: you’ve got your acre. Can yougive us a bit of a kind of earth/shovel /hands-in-earth view of your work? What have you actually done on a practical level with this land?
Abel Pearson: [00:20:27.73] So the land that we’re actually growing on would be considered quite marginal. When I took it over, quite a degraded rocky paddock on on quite a severe slope, which would probably turn most market gardeners away from it.
Manda: [00:20:44.95] How severe is severe? Can you get a tractor on it?
Abel Pearson: [00:20:49.96] No, you you couldn’t work it with a tractor. I’ve done some digging work on it in the beginning, in the shaping of the of the terraces and the swails and the contours. But but no, nothing other than that.
Manda: [00:21:03.79] So we’re talking 30 degrees or more. So, you dug some swales. That was a starting point?
Abel Pearson: [00:21:10.96] As permaculture designer, that was quite an interesting challenge to start to look at how we could start to build organic matter and soil again and how we could work with it. One of the main problems being that we have a heavy clay soil and with a slope like that, the the water and rain had taken a lot of the good soil to the bottom of the hill.We had about a meter of good soil up against the fence at the bottom, you know.
So we were looking at how we can we can work with the water to build soil, but also unlock the mineral potential of that water and keep it in the land rather than letting it run off.
Abel Pearson: [00:21:48.74] And so essentially, we have a no-dig system. So we have permanent fixed raised beds, designed to be optimized for human labour, so they’re all 70 centimeters wide, because that’s that’s kind of believed to be the best size of bed for humans to step between and humans to be squatted in the pathways, working the beds.
Manda: [00:22:12.76] And so it’s basically two arm lengths across?
Abel Pearson: [00:22:16.53] So it’s all designed for human efficiency in a no-dig system. The ideas is that we don’t disturb the soil biology, that we leave the structure intact and we just add organic matter every year, much like the forest does.
Manda: [00:22:33.54] And where do you source your organic matter?
Abel Pearson: [00:22:36.05] A mix, really. We make a lot of it ourselves using hot composting techniques. And also we do bring in some from our local council facilities.They offer an organic compost made from the green waste and tree prunings and woodchip from around the local area.
So that’s allowed us to be no-dig from the beginning, to have that organic matter imported back. But making a lot of our own wood chip compost. And we’re obviously going to be moving towards closing that loop on the farm.
Manda: [00:23:11.91] Is that because your parents have planted trees that you are now felling for wood?
Abel Pearson: [00:23:16.7] Yes. My folks planted about a thousand trees in 2012.But we also have willow and alder coppices that have been cut many times and so those provide a regenerative source of wood chip. But also, you know, we get a lot of donations. We get a lot of donated woodchip because there’s a lot of tree surgeons working locally who would dump it otherwise and instead bring it round to give it to us for free. So that’s really helpful to be able to bring in those waste materials from the local area.
So you’re beginning to get a kind of circular economy going.
Abel Pearson: [00:23:55.94] What I said about trying to mimic the forest informs everything that we do.It’s about looking to the natural world, at how natural ecosystems function in a sustainable way within their limits and then we have a mix of trying to close the loop on the farm, but also using waste materials from the local area that wouldn’t otherwise be put back into the system.
Manda: [00:24:25.97] Are you finding that people’s attitudes are changing? I’m imagining that already you have quite a high percentage of people who understand permaculture principles and circular economy and closing loops. But are you finding that what you’re doing is changing hearts and minds in the area around you?
Abel Pearson: [00:24:46.76] Certainly. There are definitely pockets of awareness. And obviously our One Planet development policy that we have in Wales, has allowed people to create low cost, low impact dwellings on land in Wales and build eco houses and live from the land. And that has brought a lot of people into Wales and into West Wales. That’s created all these little pockets of people living in permacultural and regenerative ways. But I’d say where we live here, we’re still in very much a traditional farming area and it’s not particularly economically well-off. It’s very working-class.
I’ve noticed in the time that I’ve been doing this a huge difference in general awareness around the climate and the environment and the need to eat locally.And I suppose that comes from a whole range of different reasons or stimu;i or catalysts. I think probably Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future and the kind of increase in awareness around the climate last year and the year before has really driven a lot of people our way.
Manda: [00:26:15.02] Then the virus.
Abel Pearson: [00:26:16.1] The virus – definitely since the lockdown happened, since the virus came into our lives. Interest in veg boxes and local food has surged. We’ve had so many requests and I’ve felt an increased willingness and enthusiasm for what we offer. It didn’t didn’t feel like we needed to push. We didn’t need to really work hard like we have done in previous years to find our members and find the people who engage with this kind of project and this kind of unique experience.
I think that’s a combination ofpeople being stuck in their homes and needing food delivered to their homes. But I think it’s also people starting to realize the fragility of ‘normal systems’, our ultra-fragile food system, which in a crisis isn’t fit for purpose and is very fragile, very un resilient and starting to realize that the local food and local community-based food systems and support systems are what people can rely on.
It’s been it’s been a really interesting time for reflection on that front. We’ve seen so much so much beautiful expression of mutual aid and of community and of pop up support structures. And we’ve seen it here at the garden as well. We were able to find a way to work with some furloughed workers who wanted to volunteer. And they’ve given so much of their time to help us still achieve what we wanted to achieve without without our usual setup. We’ve had offers of help from our community of members to do deliveries or to ake things easier for us.
I think it’s not just having a local supply of veg available. I think it’s something that people are yearning for in being part of a cohesive and authentic and supportive community that you can rely on. I think as painful and as full of loss and suffering as this crisis has been, I think it’s been a catalyst for that.
Manda: [00:28:56.45] So can you tell us a little bit about the practicality? Your members pay a subscription and then if you have a crisis – if the rain hadn’t come and there was no water, for instance – would they continue to pay the subscription and just understand that there wasn’t going to be so much?
Abel Pearson: [00:29:12.98] Yes. WE we try to operate as a true community supported agriculture scheme – CSA – which is probably more common and familiar to to audiences in the United States and in Australia. It seems to be much more common as a model there. But there are ‘s probably a hundred in the UK and there’s definitely five or six in Wales.
Manda: [00:29:40.15] Essentially the community supported agriculture model is a total reimagining of the relationship between consumer and producer/farmer in which the risks and rewards of farming are shared. So, the understanding that farming is seasonal. And farming in relationship with the earth and farming in an organic way comes with a lot of challenges and comes with a lot of struggles but then can also deliver such amazing rewards and such a beautiful harvest. And so it’s about tying the consumer and the producer together in a relationship.
Abel Pearson: [00:30:24.66] There’s a weekly subscription. We offer our members the opportunity to contribute for the whole season in advance, which many choose to do. And that’s basically a pledge to say we support you for the season. And we support you to grow the food. We will take whatever is coming out of the garden that week, depending on that part of the season. So our first boxes are generally a little bit leaner because this time of year we’ve just come out of the hungry gap and there’s not so much variety. But then come August, there’s an abundance of variety and we can put so much more in the boxes and then we’re sharing that.And it just feels like it sort of flips that relationship where food is no longer seen just as a commodity product that you buy with a faceless relationship to the person who is it.
Manda: [00:31:18.85] And it’s in plastic boxes and it’s the same every week.
Abel Pearson: [00:31:21.49] Exactly.And we that’s one thing we do guarantee: that we use no plastic in the boxes because we don’t need to.We don’t have an organic certification because we don’t need to – because the members can come and be directly involved in the growing and see how it’s done.
Members receive between seven and 10 items of mixed fruit and veg every week and fresh herbs and salads. We also put in a ‘Wild Surprise’ – something foraged from the wild – that’s edible.
Manda: [00:32:03.49] Who creates that? Do you go foraging for it?
Abel Pearson: [00:32:05.0] We do! Last year we did it for every week, for every box. I think because we’ve increased dramatically this year, we’re going to have to do it slightly differently.
Manda: [00:32:15.55] And what kinds of things would you be putting in for your Wild Surprise?
Abel Pearson: [00:32:18.43] So this week, for example, we’ve got Plantain going in there, which is a very common weed that growers in the fields in the hedgerows. A big part of the experience for people is how we communicate it. So we put in a sheet with the box every week, every week, which is called the ‘Veggie Love News’ – named by my wife’s German mother. It’s our way of having that transparent relationship. On one side of it, we write something about how we’re growing the food or why we’re doing it this way. We’re thinking about maybe some of the challenges we’re having, whether it’s a drought or too much water or or late frosts.
And also, we have recipe ideas and we have great information about the medicinal properties of the food.
Manda: [00:33:14.11] And because Plantain is one of those amazing things that you can make tea, you can make poultices – I was drawing a splinter out of my dog’s foot with it – but people won’t know unless you tell them.
Abel Pearson: [00:33:25.12] Yeah, exactly. And we’ve already had feedback from last year that it’s totally revolutionized people’s dog walks. And that says something about what a little bit of knowledge about what’s around you – about new dimensions of of the natural world that can open up for you. And it speaks to what we’re trying to do. It’s trying to use food as a as a powerful vehicle for doing this.
Manda: [00:33:50.92] It seems to be about reconnecting people to the land. And it sounds as if you’re achieving that. So, can you tell us a little bit about that? Because when we spoke earlier, you spoke very movingly about your spiritual connection to the land and how you’re bringing that into what you do. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Abel Pearson: [00:34:12.38] Yes. It’s particularly relevant to the lockdown because. I’ve noticed since the lockdown – perhaps because we’ve had more time or maybe it’s something to do with the fact that our son was born on March 1st, just before the lockdown andthat’s created a bit of a shift in me and the urgency to go out there and find, or deepen, that relationship with the natural world, but more so with with the land I’m growing on. And the ceremonies and the practices and the rituals that feel authentic to me and have meaning for me and have meaning to this land and this place.
Manda: [00:35:05.08] And are you creating those in conjunction with the land – you and it together? Or are you following a particular system?
Abel Pearson: [00:35:11.76] I suppose they’re informed by a Celtic earth-based spirituality which is the closest I can find to a lineage. But but more, I’m trying to just listen – trying to just listen for what the land has to say. Because I want to be able to offer my son something. I want to be able to offer him the kind of ceremonies and rituals and rites of passage that will allow him to have a relationship with the land and to feel and kinship with it.And it very much feels like I’m walking around feeling my way along the dark, damp and, you know, passageways that I might be able to lead him through one day.
Manda: [00:36:08.67] Because you had been sitting out at Beltaine?
Abel Pearson: [00:36:13.29] Yes, at Beltaine (1st May), I went out for a couple of days fasting in this forest here, which is interestingly something I’ve never done here. I’m sure many people have the same thing – you go off to a sort of wild places to find these kinds of experiences. You go to dramatic landscapes or mountain landscapes or into caves in the Catalan, Pyrenees. But there’s something about. Going into my local Acre, my local land, this land, I’m working and trying to go there for answers and just to listen and just to hear what the language is here and start to feel something like an indigenous connection, I suppose.
I’m using that word indigenous very carefully, without trying to appropriate and that’s something to do with coming up with the rituals and ceremonies that I want to engage in is being really clear not to appropriate anything. And anything doesn’t feel authentic to me in my life or my lineage and ancestry. But to be indigenous, to mean of this place. Not from this place, but of this place. And that’s taken the form of working with what I call the twin gods of gratitude and grief.
So I have practiced I’ve been doing for the last few months, which is to leave the house early while everyone’s still sleeping. And I walk to the river that runs along the bottom of the garden where we grow the food and we go to the river and I call in the four directions and try to create a bit of a ceremonial space and then allow a stone or stone to choose me.
I see it as a stone in the river choosing me. Whichever one calls out, I take that stone and I speak to my gratitude for that day, which at the moment is is brimming because I am grateful for my son every day. And I’m also grateful for life and health, when there’s so much death and suffering around at this time.
But it can be anything. And then I take that stone and walk slowly up the hill through the garden, past all of our crops and everything that we have growing with that stone weighing in my hand. And then I place it on an altar by the fire pit. The fire is oriented to the south. And we have an alter that rises up above it. And I place that stone on the altar. And slowly over the months, a cairn has started to emerge in that tof symbolize the power and the weight of that collective gratitude over time. And that’s been something that came as something I wanted to start doing. And it feels very true to me. And it feels very honest and simple.
Manda: [00:39:34.08] And beautiful. It sounds really grounded.
Abel Pearson: [00:39:38.4] And it goes deeper and deeper as time goes on and it starts to feel more a part of me as time goes on.
Manda: [00:39:47.91] And by the time your son is joining you, if he chooses to join you, that cairn will be quite substantial. Unless any of the Stones decides it needs to go back to the water, which of course, they might. But I’m wondering, listening to you at the start of our conversation, you spoke about the vultures in Catalonia. And I am very aware of the red kites here on the other edge of Wales, wondering if the red kite to speaking to you in the way the vultures did.
Abel Pearson: [00:40:16.1] Yes, I remember during my sit, during my two days, there was a moment where it came down super low. I must have been still for long enough and present for long enough that I’d become a part of his view. And he swooped through really low level and gave me a nice flash of all his colours. Because the kite is the kind of the bird of this area if we’re going to talk about the majestic bird of prey.
There was a moment when I first made my grief shine in the woods. We have this area that we’ve been working with that we’d like to become a ceremonial space for doing work with our course participants. It’s a unique place because it’s the only place in the whole forest, whether it’s the Rowan tree and it’s the only place in the whole forest where there’s the birch because the rest is just all oak, ash, hawthorn – the traditional deciduous forest residents of this area. But there’s this area where there’s the only rowans and the only birch.
At the base of a big giant fallen rowan, I’ve created this Grief shrine. As I was building it. and speaking to the to the to the Hawk of Dawn or to the bird representing east, a red kite came soaring through the break in the trees in that moment and really just shouted loud. Because I was kneeling there, almost begging for some answers as to what am I supposed to do now?
I made this shrine from the bones of a goat that I buried myself maybe 10 years ago now. I was quite young, and I had a close relationship with this goat. His name was Gandalf, this old gruffly Billy Goat. So, I had taken it upon myself at that time to dig his grave by hand. And I remember it being a very intense experience. I even remember getting very sick after it, which is interesting.
And, then years later, we were we were we were doing some digger work on a space that was going to become a space for our polytunnel and his bones were dug up by the digger. But had also previously been dug up by animals, I think, so they’d been collecting over time. And so I gathered all those bones and I decided to bring them to my to my grief shrine and because of feeling a sense of a sense of something binding us together because I buried him, there was something that bound us. And maybe the symbology of his bones would help me come into a closer relationship with grief and with death and with mortality.
And then once I feel that’s something that feels real, maybe I can then ceremonially bury those bones again. But I also found myself once I made my shrine kneeling there and kind of begging for a voice or answers that would tell me what to do – how to do a grief, grief ritual how to do this authentically, how to do this in a way that’s real and with meaning. Because I’ve held really powerful grief ceremonies within the context of The Work that Reconnects, which is amazingly powerful to bring together everybody’s grief in a circle. But in terms of a personal daily practice and in terms of a way to do it, a way to evoke those spirits of the wood or a way to evoke a ceremonial space around that – I was feeling like ‘I need some answers’. And that was the moment that the red kite came through.
And it said something, and it said something that maybe I can’t put into words. And I talked to you about this in our conversation before about how sometimes there aren’t words. There isn’t a way to talk about the experience. And sometimes it’s not even a grand experience, something that seeps in.
Manda: [00:45:19.75] Something that’s changes the texture of who we are, in my experience, somehow. And it’s only looking back that we can know ‘That was a turning point.’ And it wasn’t as if it was that I chose to go left when I could have gone straight on. It’s that I moved a degree one way or the other from the trajectory that I was on. But then that brought me here because a degree over a lifetime takes you to a very different place. That’s so very, very, very moving. Really. I am sitting here with tears flowing down my cheeks. Thank you. So taking that as our springboard, I would really like to look forward to your vision of how the world could be if we got it right. In your own land, in the wider context, however you see it, Abel, what would your vision be for a world where we’ve moved towards flourishing?
Abel Pearson: [00:46:20.92] Well, I can certainly speak to food and farming in my own land here, and bring together those two things that we’ve been talking about, about farming and agriculture and a sacred connection to land or a ceremonial connection to land and earth. I am understanding that for peasant farmers around the world, that been the way forever and still is. And those people still feed most of the world.
That relationship of reverence and using ceremony as a way to give thanks for what we reap from the land and to honour the fact that being a grower and growing food and farming links us with a long line of people who have had their hands in the soil and have produced food through the seasons, and that cycle has gone on and on and on, and we’ll continue to do so beyond us.
And I suppose that’s one thing that I think we need to do, is to reimagine or rediscover what it means to be a farmer. That’s something I’m doing – learning how to move in a dance with the earth and kneel in prayer and in the dirt, in the soil, and listen for the dreaming of the land. I am finding again, that the child’s wonder in the germinating of a seed and giving thanks for the sacrifice that seeds make and to humbly take our place, pull our chair into the circle of life – and dig in and root and acknowledge that we are not just food producers. We are Beauty makers, we’re the keepers of the seeds and we’re the keepers of the stories that go with those seeds. And we’re protectors of the earth and we’re stewards. And we’re partners.
So that’s something I’m starting to feel, this shifting my own perspective as a grower from very much a sort of utilitarian sense of being stuck in the doing of the things I have to do to produce food to get it to market – to a more reverential, more surrendering relationship.
Abel Pearson: [00:48:50.2] As well, I’m learning a lot from doing this project and growing food in this way and using the CSA model of sharing the food. I think food and farming have such potential to address so many of the issues that we’re facing and if we’re trying to reimagine and vision a different world, I think these kinds of models are what we need to see.
We need to put farms and food at the heart of communities. We need to reimagine our lifestyles so that we have the space to eat well, the space to go and be on community farms – go and be involved in growing our food. Because I for me personally, I don’t necessarily feel like everybody growing their own is the answer. I think it’s wonderful that that so many more people are and I would never discourage that, but I think. If we’re looking at a true alternative system, we need to be looking at community supported farms where people can support growers to do the work that they need to do, but also reap all of the benefits.
Abel Pearson: [00:50:06.91] Therefore the benefits of being in touch with the soil for mental health and for physical health and combating isolation that we have in our communities and all the things that I’ve talked about that we’ve seen during this lockdown – if we could normalize those things, not just during a lockdown, not just during crisis, but to see those things as normal and to give people the space and release the pressure on people that forces them to work so hard and which is a vicious cycle with the convenience food system.
Abel Pearson: [00:50:45.53] I imagine land filled with people. And I think I spoke to you about the first time the vision of the garden being filled with people was realized for at the first time and we had people snaking through all the different parts, working and helping to grow their food and then being able to give them all a basket of food at the end of the day was usually moving and just seemed right.
There’s something to be unlocked, a willingness to give in community that a lot of people have, but which is locked up and that needs to be given the space to unfurl. And that takes away as well a lot of the financial pressures on farmers that force them, as we were saying, into those practices, into those ways of doing things that they don’t necessarily want to be doing. Because we can rely on our community as much as they can rely on us.
Manda: [00:51:49.55] So it’s about unhooking the financial pressures from the creation of food and the sense of stewardship of the land and then allowing that surrendering into relationship that you were talking about.
Abel Pearson: [00:52:05.09] Yes, and that question can get very political – and I don’t know if we want to get into that right now, but there’s a lot that can be done on that level to support this kind of food and farming. And Brexit was potentially an opportunity for that. I don’t know if we’re going to see that opportunity realized through this current government, because it requires a government with vision and compassion and genuine green mindsets and care for the earth.
Manda: [00:52:37.0] So without getting too political, we can work with the assumption that this government is not going to deliver that because it’s too busy to break the economy. It seems to me that we can do this from the ground up. That in a way, we can render the politicians irrelevant.
Abel Pearson: [00:52:50.67] Indeed. And if we keep it small, keep it hyper-local and forge genuine, authentic communities around these small farming projects.
Manda: [00:53:03.93] Do you think the people who have volunteered with you, who were furloughed? Are they expressing a desire to work less for the system and be able to spend more time with you? Is that a reality?
Abel Pearson: [00:53:14.82] Absolutely, yes, that’s really happened. There are people who have maybe got jobs that mean they have to work indoors all of the time have said to me that this is totally changed their outlook. They want to have more time to be outside. We’ve had people questioning the whole concept of what they were doing or work in general and of what work is essential and what work isn’t, what is a meaningful way to spend our time? And to see people so willingly giving their time for no monetary rewards.
Manda: [00:53:53.58] But then you don’t need a monetary award if you have food and shelter and housing. Yes. And let’s not get political. I can feel myself going there. But we could do this. And if enough of us say ‘We’re just not interested in your system. You can have your system if you want it, but we don’t want to take part in it. Then that system will wither without us having to have a revolution, we can have it from the ground up.
Abel Pearson: [00:54:24.73] And I think that model of business that is a bit kinder and more community-focused, is perhaps something that can be rolled out across the board. It doesn’t just have to be food. We could have businesses that are supported by their community.
Manda: [00:54:48.44] And doing work that is relevant.
Abel Pearson: [00:54:50.34] Yes, that is relevant and needed and essential.
Manda: [00:54:55.16] And then all we have to do is work out what is relevant and needed and how we’re going to do it in a regenerative way. And then we have it: our new reality.
Abel Pearson: [00:55:05.56] I think that’s been my learning from this whole time, really.
Manda: [00:55:13.33] And you teach people. So, if people wanted to come and learn from you, is that possible? Do you have woofing schemes or something similar to that?
Abel Pearson: [00:55:21.58] We have offered woofing and also Help-X, which is a similar concept, but just a different organization. We have weekly volunteer days for local day volunteers, and we’ve been exploring our course and workshop structure, something we wanted to offer this year, but we had to cancel all of those programs.
We’ve been exploring what is our unique thing to offer? Because we don’t want to make tutorials on how to grow. Because YouTube is saturated with that stuff. But it’s I think what we’re looking to offer is an immersion into the experience of growing food this way with the natural world, with a relationship underpinned by the connection to nature, a deep understanding of ecosystems, and how everything works. But also, with a reverential ceremonial approach to giving thanks for the food and giving back to the land.
We want to create an initiation experience into becoming a fruit grower or a peasant farmer or an earth steward, essentially. And we’re going to offer that through a mix of day workshops and immersive residential courses and retreats.
Manda: [00:57:08.68] We’ll put a link for all the people who are at this moment thinking they want to do that because that’s so in line with everything this podcast and Accidental Gods is heading towards that I imagine it will be very popular. So there will be a link in the show notes for how to connect to that.
So we’re coming to the end of our hour. It’s been so rich and so profoundly moving just for me talking to you. And that sense of grounded integrity that you bring to your work is unmatched, . I am so in awe of what you’re doing, and the sense of genuine spiritual connection to your land and to the people and to the trees and the red kites and the mycelia and the bones of the goat on the altar. It sounds really profoundly moving. Your son is such a lucky person. So, is there any last thing that you would like to say that you haven’t said?
Abel Pearson: [00:58:17.04] No, just to express my gratitude for you reaching out and the opportunity to be here and to speak about my personal experience, my personal journey, because it’s not something I get to do very often and I also honour the work that you’re doing, I think it’s so powerful and I’m so grateful that you’re offering it to the world and you’re offering these voices to the world. And, yeah, it’s been a wonderful experience. Thank you.
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