In the twenty years that we have been at Pen y Wyrlod we have been through waves of activity; developing the flock (both human and the sheep), careers and businesses, restoring the buildings, creating tourism spaces and developing relationships with some amazing chefs across the country. This year we felt we wanted to go beyond that and bring people to the farm to grow ideas. We set out to gather 15 people and one dog for some conversations and stories, but ended up with many more.
The concept was to link global thinkers and local activists together, to forge new relationships, spark ideas and seed radical projects. We were blown away by the response we received, with so many lovely people travelling from near and far to a simple space in a barn in North Monmouthshire.
We had amazing insights and stories from so many people – the first day kicked off with the amazing Robert Penn; speaking of bicycles, trees, wheat and bread; Rob Yorke made the case for entering the conversation without badges or baggage, then a trip to Robb Merchant at Whitecastle Vineyard to hear how a maverick vision became an award-winning reality in a few short years. We sat transfixed as Daniel Morden weaved complex tales drawn from the near-forgotten traditions of upland travellers; of witches and magic leaves and ancient Welsh heroes. We had cool sounds from Tom Carter to fuel the conversation over beers and street food.
We slept for a few hours, rising to Ashtanga yoga with Alex Hedges followed by a back to back of farm stories from Sarah Dickins and me about our reasons for taking on a small farm in this beautiful part of Wales and my obsession with soil. Our lovely neighbour Huw Evans described his huge ambition to grow Three Pools into the largest permaculture farm in the UK whilst bringing people on the journey through events, environment and music. Andy Middleton, inspiring and entertaining as ever, shared his vision for optimising the food chain in Monmouthshire and the possibilities open to Wales as a result of the Future Generations Act. We moved seamlessly into Sammi Jones of Wright’s Food Emporium talking about her work with Simon Wright to develop greater literacy about understanding and using artisan foods in hospitality and education. We hope to be working with Andy and Sammi on these projects and are really excited about the potential for re-localising and driving change back through the food chain.
A late lunch and then to France for Charlotte Southall introducing her pioneering work on tapping into natural resonances of plants to boost growth and resistance to drought. Mark Lloyd took us through a real call to action on soil erosion and the impacts of poor framing practice on rivers, fish and ultimately our ability to produce food in the future.
We were then taken on a moving journey around marginalisation and the reality of climate change for one small community in rural Wales. Fairbourne is the first village in Wales to be officially given up to the sea, with a strategic decision to no longer fund flood defences. Ruth Tudor is embarking on a long-term, immersive study of the human scale effects of living in a condemned community and the challenges of grieving without a fixed end date, anyone to blame or a point of closure.
The afternoon came to close with a meditation of thanks to the farm and “Grandfather Stone” from Jurjen Rolf – restoring our connection to the earth and finally bringing the sun out from behind the thick layer of perma-cloud for a tour of the farm whilst multi-talented Mark Lloyd sparked up the barbecue – doing full justice to some Black Welsh Lamb. As dusk fell, the bar filled up and local band the Ironics played long into the night. Conversations flowed and we crawled into bed around 3.30am after an inspiring day.
I was up again at 7.30 to prepare mountain bikes for an outing to Whitecastle with Gideon Mogendorff Jurjen Rolf and Jonny Miller – riding up hills and down muddy tracks was a great way to clear the inevitable fuzzy head from the night before.
The final morning was an inspiration, as Jonny Miller took us through his experiences of free diving, the links to meditation and learning to give way. Gideon Mogendorff brought things to a gentle close with a beautiful meditation around our ancestors; a fitting tribute to the ancient setting.
Sarah and I would like to really thank everyone who took part, those who wanted to and couldn’t make it (especially Lynn Zebeda who was prevented at the last minute by poor Manoa being so ill) and everyone who helped to make it happen.
A special mention to Turki al Saud and Nora for travelling halfway across the world to a small farm in Wales. It was a truly inspiring weekend and will rest with us for a long time to come.
Earth Summit is over; the barn is empty, the pub quiet and holding a faint memory of darts in the dark and stilt walking for beginners. We just wanted to express our profound thanks to all who came and made this happen; from far and near. The sun let us down, but the rain brought a closeness and sense of the collective as we pretended to be warm enough in the ancient barn.
Would we do it again? Watch this space!