My own experiences as a little girl growing up in rural South East Asia have formed my own lifelong connection with nature. Where I’m from, creative land use and agroforestry is nothing out of the ordinary. We would go out and play in the orchards and woods, plucking bananas for a snack when we were hungry, making a sled with the leaves and then bringing them home for my godmother to wrap around the fish she would steam for dinner, or to wrap our rice parcels for lunch the next day.
Everything had its purpose and nothing was wasted. I loved how she could turn the ingredients readily available around us and those she grew herself into delicious meals, always simple but full of flavours and nutrients. She went above and beyond to teach us the importance of having a healthy, balanced diet. Looking back, I am so grateful for the time spent playing in and observing nature.
When I became a mother, my perspective on life changed. I see things differently because my role is different and I am brought back to how I grew up and how my godmother helped forge my relationship with food and nature.
A meal isn’t just something to eat anymore. It’s the energy my children need to grow. It’s how they experience the world and expand their passions, their imaginations. It’s how they interact with and care for their planet. I hope I will be able to help them build a relationship with nature just like I had as a child.
I have been proud to work with the local school and community on various projects since moving to Ewhurst. It’s from these roots that I believe that we can cultivate the passion for nature and preservation in a new generation who will influence the decisions we make about our environment and our food, everywhere from local schools and farmyards in Hampshire all the way to the conference rooms of Kunming.
You might remember last year there was huge interest in the global climate summit in Glasgow, COP 26. Media attention has moved on now to the cost of living crisis and the awful war in Ukraine. But did you know that this year there’s another COP this year? This one is focused on biodiversity and will be held in Kunming, China.
I’ve been following the Guardian’s excellent Age of Extinction series and its recent report showed there is still a lot of work to be done. With everyone’s attention drawn to the cost of food and energy, advocating for nature, conservation and sustainable food is more important than ever.
Of course, all of these issues are actually connected, which was brought home to me at a recent conference I attended. I learned that if we reduce our production of factory farmed chicken and pork in Europe by just 15 per cent, we could actually make up for the shortfall in grain caused by the Ukraine-Russia war. This was part of a series of presentations at the Soil Association's agroecology summit.
Throughout many fascinating sessions, there was a consistent point of agreement among speakers that here in the UK we need a National Land Use Framework. This would be a guide to a multi-functional use of land that would be good for nature, the production of healthy food and the climate. This would help to create a farmer-led approach towards achieving our tree planting targets, supporting agroforestry and farm woodland projects, all while enhancing food production, soil health and animal welfare.
All of this has been feeding into my own thinking here in our corner of Hampshire at Ewhurst Park. My long term vision for the land is one where nature takes control again, and where we can restore the link between the health of the land and the quality of food we eat. To create the nourishing, sustainable communities we all want, we have to learn to live lightly but productively on the land. I believe we can achieve this.
We’re just at the very start of what will be a long journey, and so far what I have enjoyed most, and which I think will contribute most to our success, have been the many ways in which we are working and learning with our neighbours and the local community.
Together, we aim to create experiences of nature and the landscape that help people find their place amidst the nature of Ewhurst once more.
I am looking forward to many more opportunities over the warmer months.As the days get longer and the leaves on the trees become more full, I am filled with hope for the future summers that my children and future generations will be able to enjoy on this beautiful land.
Read more of Mandy's articles in Sublime Magazine