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Back To The Land 2.0

This reading list is for students on the summer course I run together with Konstfack, in Sweden. These texts span new ways to think about food and food systems – how to be,as well as what to do, in a food context.




Annie Proulx on Barkskins
Or, how we first got the idea that the earth’s resources are limitless. Proulx’s story begins with the arrival in “New France” – the vast tract of north America and Canada colonised by the French between the 16th and 18th centuries. Two young men set out to earn their freedom by clearing an area of forest; they are soon awestruck by the imposing, often impenetrable and seemingly limitless extent of the forest. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/10/barkskins-annie-proulx-review-alex-clark

Simone Weil on The Need for Roots
“Rootedness in a place is the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. It is one of the hardest to define. A human being has roots by virtue of his real, active and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future.” https://lifeondoverbeach.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/simone-weil-to-be-rooted-is-perhaps-the-most-important-and-least-recognized-need-of-the-human-soul/

Pamela Mang on Storying of Place
“What makes a shift to true sustainability possible is the power of the connection between people and place. Place is a doorway into caring. Love of place unleashes the personal and political will needed to make profound change. It can also unite people across diverse ideological spectra because place is what we all share: it is the commons that allows people to call themselves a community. In every place, geology and nature interweave over time with human history and culture to create a place’s recognizable character and nature—its essence. Understanding these patterns helps reveal new possibilities for how to live in partnership with place, growing a future of greater abundance and creativity for all life. https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/blog/revealing-the-story-of-place

Robert Woodford on the Deep Time Walk + Luma Atlas + Time
The Deep Time Walk app helps people walk a story of Earth’s evolutionary journey – a new story that can reorientate us to where we come from – our origins, our purpose. A story that combines the latest scientific insights with the deep reverence inherent in our perennial traditions that bind us to life and the cosmos. The Deep Time Walk is experienced as a 4.6km walk, inspiring wonder and reverence for Earth, and galvanising positive action needed in our times. https://www.deeptimewalk.org/blog/2018/03/27/walk-new-story/


Donella Meadows on Thinking In Systems,
“Every change changes everything. We are embedded in a complex adaptive web of interconnection. A setback today may be the trigger that inspires a new coalition tomorrow. Persistence in the face of uncertainty is one of our superpowers” https://wtf.tw/ref/meadows.pdf

Jane Memmott on Ecosystem Interactions
“All organisms are linked to at least one other species in a variety of critical ways – for example, as predators or prey, or as pollinators or seed dispersers – with the result that each species is embedded in a complex network of interactions.The sciences of the mid-20th-century, rooted in units and relations, have a hard time with three key biological domains: embryology and development, symbiosis and collaborative entanglements, and the vast worlds of microbes”. Memmott, Jane et al, ‘The Conservation Of Ecological Interactions’ http://www.bristol.ac.uk/biology/people/jane-memmott/index.html

Margaret Wheatley on Emergence
“Rather than worry about critical mass, our work is to foster critical connections. We don’t need to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, we need to connect with kindred spirits.” Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage, and commitment that lead to broad-based change.

Lean Logic, by David Fleming
‘Large-scale problems do not require large-scale solutions; they require small-scale solutions within a large-scale framework” A dictionary unlike any other, Lean Logic leads readers through fields as diverse as culture, history, science, art, logic, ethics, myth, economics, and anthropology. Four hundred and four essay-entries cover topics such as Boredom, Community, Debt, Growth, Harmless Lunatics, Land, Lean Thinking, Nanotechnology, Play, Religion, Spirit, Trust, and Utopia.

James W Drescher on Thinking Like A Forest
If maintaining the fertility of the soil is a core principle of ecological agriculture, so, too, is a commitment to think in longer time frames than markets – or even than individual human lifespans. We need to think like a forest. Enrichment Forestry at Windhorse Farm James W Drescher http://www.windhorsefarm.org/media/files/Enrichment_Forestry.pdf


Molly Scott Cato on Gaian Economics
“The idea of framing everything in terms of the economy is a new thing in human history… The heart of our problem lies not in the actions which destroy the environment, but in the economic system which causes them. The business of economics is about creating abstractions, imbuing them with power, and then using them to acquire resources. An understanding of the spiritual value of life and the ability to mediate between humans and the natural world are far more useful qualities for an economist than complex maths”

Jason W. Moore and Raj Patel on “A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet”.
Nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives: these are the seven things that have made our world and will shape its future. In making these things cheap, modern commerce has transformed, governed, and devastated the Earth. Bringing the latest ecological research together with histories of colonialism, indigenous struggles, slave revolts, and other rebellions and uprisings, Patel and Moore propose a radical new way of understanding—and reclaiming—the planet in the turbulent twenty-first century. https://www.versobooks.com/books/3139-a-history-of-the-world-in-seven-cheap-things

Ina Praetorius on the notion of a Care-Centered Economy
German writer Ina Praetorius revisits the feminist theme of ‘care work,’, re-casting it onto a much larger philosophical canvas. The Care-Centered Economy: Rediscovering what has been taken for granted suggests how the idea of “care” could be used to imagine new structural terms for the entire economy.

Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary
From commodities, to communities. Frugality. Courage. Marginality. Magic. Generosity. Accessibility. Collaboration. Care for place. Care for people. Indigenous traditions and world views have long understood that everything is inter-connnected and has its own lifeforce. The one hundred short entries here (it’s free to download) elucidate many paths to a social transformation that places empathy with humans and non-human beings first. The visions and practices here honour cooperation rather than competitiveness as the norm. https://www.ehu.eus/documents/6902252/12061123/Ashish+Kothari+et+al-Pluriverse+A+Post-Development+Dictionary-2019.pdf/c9f05ea0-d2e7-8874-d91c-09d11a4578a2

Africa Says: I Can’t Breathe
“We are told that our seeds have to be hybridized and genetically modified to be of use. We are told that we need is more calories, and to focus on seeds of few crops. We are told that our knowledge about farming is backward and we need to modernize with knowledge from the West. We are told that we need to pump our soil with artificial fertilizers and pesticides. For all this, we are told, we need foreign business to invest billions of dollars. Our world is defined simply by producing more, not in having healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate food – food that is produced without harming the environment” https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/06/10/africa-says-i-cant-breathe-african-civil-society-perspective-systemic-racism

Jose Luis Vivero Pol on Food As A Common Good
Treating food as a purely private good is denying millions of people access to this basic resource. Food should therefore be seen as a commons or public good. It could then be produced and distributed more effectively by a governance system combining market rules, public regulations and collective actions.

How To Thrive In The Next Economy, John Thackara (PDF)
Drawing on an inspiring range of examples, from a temple-led water management system in Bali that dates back hundreds of years, to an innovative e-bike collective in Vienna, Thackara shows that below the radar of the mainstream media communities creating a replacement economy from the ground up.


James Merryweather on how It Starts With The Soils
Ninety-nine percent of all food comes from our soils. As home to an enormous variety of organisms – from bacteria, to mammals – soil health determines the metabolic health of all terrestrial ecosystems. See: Living Soil Forum Sweden http://www.summerofsoil.se/forum/http://www.stourvalleywildlifeactiongroup.org/secrets-soil.JAMES%20MERRYWEATHER1.pdf

Fred Provenza on “Nourishment: What Animals Can Teach Us about Rediscovering Our Nutritional Wisdom
When people’s knowledge becomes detached from the acts of growing and harvesting foods. people little understand or appreciate the biological or cultural origins of their diets. Nor do they realise when those norms change, as they have in the past century, in ways that are harmful. By raising our level of awareness of the knowledge we’ve lost, we can redesign ‘grazing circuits’ that better enable the health of herbivores and humans and the landscapes we inhabit. (see Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/fleroy1974/status/1126381773611577345

Richard Powers on ‘The Overstory’
Richard Powers writes about tree-consciousness, cultural epiphanies, a world going up in flames, and what lies beyond despair. “The idea, quite plainly put, is that there is no separate thing called humanity, any more than there is a separate thing called nature.…Now, when we look at a forest, we see a highly cooperative and interdependent system that you can almost think of as a superorganism”. https://dark-mountain.net/older-than-writing/

Paul Stamets on Nature’s Internet
In an old-growth forest, a handful of soil also contains millions of super-delicate mycorrhizal fungi. Linked together with the roots of plants, mycorrhiza form vast subsoil networks – ‘nature’s internet’ – in which mind- bogglingly complex interactions support the flora and food webs upon which we all rely for our existence. This vast, invisible web does more than ferry water and nutrients; it also enables long distance communication between plants. https://e360.yale.edu/features/microbiomes_at_the_roots_a_new_look_at_forest_ecology


Carolyn Steele on “Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives”
The gargantuan effort needed to feed cities across the world on a daily basis has a massive and vastly under appreciated social and physical impact on people and the planet. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3520169-hungry-cityhttp://www.ted.com/talks/carolyn_steel_how_food_shapes_our_cities

Carolyn Steele on “Sitopia: How Food Can Save The World,”
We live in a world shaped by food, a Sitopia (sitos – food; topos – place). Food, and how we search for and consume it, has defined our human journey. Sitopia is for those of us who believe that food production should be localised and should not “oppress workers, abuse animals, poison oceans, destroy ecosystems and churn out greenhouse gases like there’s no tomorrow.” https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/109/1097397/sitopia/9780701188719.html

Ann Whiston Spirn on Bacterial Urbanism
“Cities, and the people who live in them, are part of the natural world. Cities are habitats. Cities are ecosystems. And urban ecosystems are dynamic and interconnected. Ecological urbanism weds the theory and practice of city design and planning with the insights of ecology – the study of the relationships between living organisms and their environment and the processes that shape both. It’s an approach that necessarily interacts with other environmental disciplines, such as climatology, hydrology, geography, psychology, history, and art”


John Thackara on Bioregioning:
Pathways to Urban-Rural reconnection (in She Ji)
My 6,000 word paper in China’s new design and innovation journal, She Ji. Main points:
A metabolic rift runs through the economy and culture.
The reconnection of urban and rural is an enabling condition for system change.
Bioregions reconnect us with living systems, and each other, through the places where we live.
The design of social infrastructure enables the emergence of new enterprises.
Knowledge ecologies, not transmission channels, are the key to bioregional learning.

“Urban-Rural” Exhibition In China
Last November (2019) John Thackara curated an exhibition in China called Urban-Rural. Here are 82 slides. https://www.slideshare.net/johnthackara/urbanrural-exhibition-shanghai-november-2019-john-thackara-personal-slides

Social Food Atlas
Social Food Projects include municipal gardens and urban farms; community meals; social harvest festivals; farmer-to-farmer meet-ups; food waste platforms; community kitchens; community baking and brewing sites; care farms; school gardens; street food festivals; cooperative grain growing; farm hacks; regional gatherings; farm tours; and many more. A two minute video is here. Among the key takeways: social food projects create ‘public goods’ in the form of social cohesion, public health, territorial development, food sovereignty, farmer livelihoods, learning, innovation, and biodiversity

(Sweden) Small food initiatives in Sweden
Local initiatives play an important role for improving resilience of food systems. The paper (from the Stockholm Resilience Centre) presents a new approach for navigating regional food system change: It identifies conflicts to, and opportunities for, change across scales. Trade-offs between local diversity and resource efficiency need to be clarified. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211912419300501?via%3Dihub

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