roots of plants like Russian comfrey can replenish minerals from the rocky layer beneath the soil.
But, taken to extremes, self-reliance could lead to a survivalist model where you’re scared of everything collapsing in the world outside. NASA has expressed interest in a swimming pool turned aquaponic farm, in the US.
In a realistic context, however, we are of course entirely dependent on the wider ecosystem within which our farm is inserted, so the ‘closedness’ is merely illusory. And the danger of a survivalist version of closed loop is that we become introspective and cut ourselves off from our place in society. The point is that a farming model of the future must be able to feed the wider population in a sustainable way – which requires a large surplus over and above the consumption of the cultivators themselves.
At the same time, we must hold on to what is correct about self-reliance: instead of obsessing about how to absorb waste, let’s rather think about making our systems so efficient in themselves that they hardly produce any waste; and then the real meaning of ‘efficiency’ becomes ‘maximising the capacity for self-organisation’. Perhaps the slogan we’re looking for is ‘Output lots of food, not lots of entropy’!
Thus, taking as an example a project in France, La Ferme du Bec Hellouin, it’s possible using the methods of agroecology to produce a sizeable surplus that can contribute to the wider society – both by marketing the produce and by spreading ecological consciousness. We don’t yet have all the answers for a sustainable food system, but what is encouraging about today’s debates is that we are raising meaningful questions. For example, the curvy or concentric beds encouraged by agro-ecology or permaculture are intuitively much closer to Nature’s contours; but do they place an upper limit on productivity? This is an interesting question: do we still need to safeguard some mechanisation, and if so, what would it look like?
The recently released film The Guardians, directed by Xavier Beauvois, is set in rural France during the first world war, and offers an extremely interesting exploration of
Fashion brand hopes to make new jeans from old The quintessential American clothing brand Levi Strauss & Co. is among several fashion brands now embracing the circular economy model, writes Alexandra Heal.
The company partnered with apparel and textiles solutions provider I:CO in 2014 to start collecting clothes and shoes from any brand in its stores across the US, and in the years since, Levi’s has been expanding the programme across the globe.
The offer of a 10% discount on brand new Levi’s items to those donating may be seen by some critics as a slight snag in the scheme’s environmental credentials, but the brand says it hopes to eventually make new jeans from old ones.
In 2016 Aquafil, a company making yarn from old fishing nets and carpets, announced that it was teaming up with Levi’s to make a men’s 522 model.
Levi’s has also recently been promoting the resale of its pieces of yesteryear through its Authorized Vintage line. In 2017, it announced the acquisition of a giant collection of old Levi’s clothing, amassed by a single owner, and said the items would be available for custom tailoring in selected Levi’s stores worldwide. Alexandra Heal is a food and farming reporter at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and is a contributor to the Guardian and the Ecologist.
Image © Shutterstock human relations against a background of wider socio-economic shifts. In the early part, labour is very manual and harsh, but also necessarily cooperative, because everyone needs to collaborate. As things develop, farming is organised more as a business; families invest in machinery, productivity is improved, but the solidarity is lost and human relations are sacrificed. So what’s the solution? Of course, the mainstream approach to mechanisation is not sustainable anyway, but is there a different way?
Perhaps part of the answer can be glimpsed in a cooperative designing farm machinery, L’Atelier Paysan. Its principles of organisation are intrinsically commons-based, peerto-peer and open-source. In this way,
it is tapping into a sharing economy, and a more broadly sharing society, where creativity constantly circulates, as part of an iterative process of colearning. The result is a set of constantly evolving blueprints for a new type of machinery wholly dedicated to serving agro-ecology.
The lesson is that we need a circular system, not just in material flows, but also in flows of innovation and ideas; and this in turn can help galvanise social regeneration.
Robert Biel teaches Political Ecology at University College London (UCL), and is a practising urban farmer. He is a member of UCL’s Circular Economy Lab, and author of the open-access book Sustainable Food Systems: The Role of the City.
Resurgence & Ecologist