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Taking a lead from Nature

By Sara Venn

Circular, local economies, short distribution systems and understanding how the way we consume affects the people who are a part of those systems can seem like a minefield to work through.

We all know we need to support local producers and shop on local high streets and in local markets, but how do we ensure we make those decisions and that they are the right decisions to make? It’s easy to buy something from a local store thinking that it’s been made locally to realise later that it was made in the far east and that the money you thought was staying in your local economy is actually not.

The reality is that, as economist Kate Raworth, who wrote “The citizens of 2050 are being taught an economic mindset that is rooted in the textbooks of 1950, which in turn are based on the theories of 1850”. There can be no meaningful change whilst we try to turn the system we have now into something new as that system is broken, but we need to look for and create a new system. Of course Incredible Edible groups are an important part of that new system. For many the concept that we grow food available to all in the community for free, is incomprehensible. How many of us, whilst working on our gardens, have had people genuinely confused by the idea that they can help themselves to the produce? As if there’s a catch? As if there is a requirement for something back? For some it’s a step too far, and they remain suspicious, but for many others it’s the beginning of a conversation that leads them towards food citizenship and thinking about food and more sustainable ways of living. But often explaining what this might look like, or how it works can be quite difficult and lead to confusion.

So, we thought we’d look to nature and the idea of the forest and how it supports itself, with everything living in it playing a part in the health and well being of the forest. A forest is a complex community. Its trees are homes and ecosystems in their own rights and some of the residents are there for their entire lives whilst some come and go. The trees support each other, linked by mycelium in the soil, dropping their leaves each year and feeding the soil with that leaf drop which also supports that mycelium to grow it’s fruiting bodies and spread. Each plant, each animal, however small, has its role to play and whilst the system is complex it’s self-sustaining and needs very little input. Local economies are just like this. The trees are the things we need; the farmers who sell to the butcher, the baker, the greengrocer, or who operate a CSA, or a box scheme. Another tree might be the local health centre, or a community hall or local market.  A place where local people can find local services and support, where there is honesty about what is being sold and known provenance as to where you are buying from. Every last person within that economy is vital, just like the trees are in a forest, but equally all rely on each other for the system to not just work but thrive. But there’s also something else to consider.

Nature isn’t interested in growth, or profit. It seeks only to support itself and those who rely on it for support. So perhaps our new economic systems could also take a leaf (all puns intended) from nature and hold health and well being at its core, with a sprinkle of kindness thrown in? Wouldn’t that be a better world?