Species Extinction

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This is very, very sad and scary, I have noticed the massive decline in insects as well as other species such as birds, hedgehogs, marine life and amphibians in my 51 years of life … and how changing baselines accept it as normal … For example years ago we would be engulphed in butterflies and grasshoppers whilst walking in nature but now we exclaim … ‘Ooo look a butterfly’ 🦋 😟 Elaine Avery

Volunteering with the Land Army

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Spend a day on the land getting your hands dirty, meet some lovely people and get some new skills all at the same time. If you are keen to come along have a look at the dates below and email landarmy@kindling.org.uk to book your place.

– Saturday 12th & Sunday 13th January –  Abbey Leys

– Saturday 9th & Sunday 10th February –  Woodbank

– Saturday 2nd March – Woodbank

– Wednesday 13th March – Woodbank

– Saturday 16th March – Woodbank

A day out with The Land Army is quite a physical day’s work (though we’ll look after you and make sure you get proper breaks!), but it’s really satisfying and a great way to get your hands dirty, learn a bit about commercial scale food growing, and meet like-minded and interesting people like you!

Make sure you come prepared. You’ll need waterproofs, sturdy footwear such as wellies or boots, and drinking water. And it’s a good idea to wear clothes you don’t mind getting a bit mucky in! In return for your hard work we provide a healthy, home-made lunch and plenty of tea and biscuits – two things we find go hand in hand with working on the land!

Inspired by the women’s land armies of the First and Second World Wars, The Land Army was set up to help small organic growers in Greater Manchester increase their yields and strengthen their businesses. We currently work mainly with new organic growers, supporting them at the beginning of their journey towards establishing viable and productive farms.

Our volunteers come from all walks of life and enjoy being part of The Land Army for many different reasons. You might be thinking about growing your own food at home or on an allotment, want to meet like-minded people, or simply have some spare time on your hands and fancy doing something totally different – either way, we’d love to hear from you! Becoming a Land Army volunteer is simple. You can join our mailing list by completing the form below to receive regular updates about Land Army trips. Or, you can keep an eye on the top of this page for upcoming dates. And if you want to come along, send us an email or give us a ring – and that’s it!

Land Army trips usually take place on Wednesdays and Saturdays and run from 10am until 5.00pm. We provide lunch, drinks and snacks, all tools and gloves are also provided.

Land Army volunteer and ‘city kid’ Luiza shared her perspective after getting stuck in at FarmStart Woodbank.

“Working as a Land Army volunteer was not only exciting because I could eat a lot of freshly picked tomatoes (!), but because it got my creative juices flowing. The new generation of urban farmers is young, motivated and idealistic. They are bringing the countryside closer to the city in what appears to me to be a new stage of the urbanization process that first set these two worlds apart in the 18th century. How exciting is that? Whether you want to be a grower or not, visiting new farms is a way of putting the food system into perspective and watching this process happening at first hand.” (Read her full blog post here.)

And here’s a lovely post by Sokhema Nara (Development Studies student and Project Officer at Transparency International Cambodia) on her experience with the Land Army. Thanks to Sokhema for letting us share it.

“Volunteering as Land Army for the FarmStart project with The Kindling Trust was an awesome experience! We’ve got to learn about the sustainable food and organic farm in UK. I like the concept of FarmStart as the opportunity for people to pilot their farming work while reducing the risk, which can help young entrepreneurs kick start their farming incubator! It was a one day worth spending. Surprisingly, all volunteers were girls! We had an exhausting, but educational and fun time figuring out how to build the saw table from scratch, cutting woods, putting fence for water barrel, making the sign boards for veggie selling and getting to know new friends! Looking forward to the next exciting volunteer journey!”

For more information and to book email landarmy@kindling.org.uk or call us on 0161 818 8384.

Greater Manchester Land Army On-line Registration

‘We’re humus sapiens’: the farmers who shun animal manure

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Patrick Barkham The Guardian Sat 12 Jan 2019 08.00 GMT

Vegans are increasingly looking for ways to grow their fruit, vegetables and cereals without animal manure.

“An olive orchard cultivated in a conventional manner is a bloody wound in nature,” declares Johannes Eisenbach as he drives – fast – south along the gleaming new Greek motorways towards Kalamata. The olives are harvested, the branches are burned, and all these nutritional elements leave the olive grove and never return.

Eisenbach is an ebullient German with a Bluetooth receiver in his ear, constantly switching between Greek, German and English as he takes calls from big German supermarkets including Lidl. He runs the Organic Marketing & Export Network, a group of 800 Greek and Cypriot organic farmers who sell to northern Europe. He’s also the accidental inventor of a new kind of compost that could kick-start vegan farming.

It is dawning on many vegans that although they eschew eating animal products, the fruit, vegetables and cereals they consume are grown with animal manure. Factory-farmed animal waste may contain antibiotic residues but even organic farmers have long argued it is not possible to maintain soil fertility without animal manure. Could Eisenbach’s invention change that?

Twenty-three years ago, seeking to better use wasted olive branches on his employer’s Greek farm, Eisenbach began a small trial, mixing olive leaves, olive cake – the dry residue after olives have been mechanically pressed – and grape pomace, the leftovers from local vineyards. He produced 80 tonnes of compost, which worked well.

A few years later, a crisis in his employer’s business forced him to devote his energies to establishing the organic network. Too busy to sell his compost, Eisenbach grew vegetables on it. He assumed the crops would eventually exhaust the compost. Oddly, however, as the compost aged, his vegetable yields got bigger and bigger.

He dispatched old compost for laboratory tests. The lab scientist phoned him, baffled: he’d never seen such strange material. Nitrogen levels were unusually high for a compost; it also held moisture uncharacteristically well and released pure water – no nitrates washed out as they do with conventional, water-soluble fertilisers.

Eisenbach shows me his small plant on the edge of Kalamata where he makes what he calls biocyclic humus soil. There’s one small shed, two employees, and 12 long hummocks of black soil tended by a mini-tractor – a purpose-built Swiss composter. He first mixes grape pomace, olive leaves and olive cake. The temperature must be above 56C to kill harmful micro-organisms. For a month, the mini-tractor churns the compost like a whisk and adds water daily. For another three months, the compost is turned weekly to enter the first stage of “ripeness”.

“Even with a difficult raw material you can produce a fantastic ripe, balanced compost within five months,” says Eisenbach. “Everybody would say this is a ripe compost. But it is not a ripe compost.” As he accidentally discovered, extra benefits occur when this compost is left to mature for up to four years. In one row of maturing compost, Eisenbach is growing vegetables directly into the humus soil. He picks a lettuce – it is the size of a large pumpkin.

Demand for ‘vegan’ fruit and veg

Farmers are rightly suspicious of “miracle” products but the humus soil is bearing fruit on farms beyond Eisenbach’s compost plant. His work has helped created a new global certification, the biocyclic vegan standard, for crops grown only with plant-based fertilisers.

“There are a lot of biocyclic vegan products on the market already but people don’t know that they were actually grown vegan,” says Axel Anders, the Berlin-based coordinator for Biocyclic Vegan Agriculture. “It’s like organic farming 40 years ago. We experience the same resistance. People say using plant-based composts doesn’t work; even organic farmers have the same attitude.”

Farms and fruit orchards in Greece and Cyprus have been among the first to adopt its new certification, growing produce for export to German, Austria and the Netherlands, where there is increasing demand for “vegan” fruit and veg.

On the sunny plains of Northern Greece, groves of peaches and nectarines mingle with rectangles planted with potatoes and courgettes. Orange orbs of hokkaido squash ripen as birds sing in thick hedges. A luxuriant field of broccoli dances with scores of large white butterflies.

The abundance of bird and insect life is unusual and Óthon Grigoriádis and his daughter, Stephanie, do not resemble typical farmers. Grigoriádis is a studious engineer and wears a smart shirt; Stephanie wears luminous trainers and sportswear. Their farm, Oiko Bio, is organic and now has the biocyclic vegan standard too.

Óthon Grigoriádis, founder of Oiko Bio farm in Makrochóri Verías, with a hokkaido squash. Photograph: Georgios Makkas for the Guardian

What’s really remarkable about this “vegan” farm is the size of its vegetables. Organic yields are typically 20-30% lower than farms that use synthetic fertilisers and chemical pesticides. But Oiko Bio has had a spectacular harvest this year. One hokkaido plant has produced nine squashes; plants often produce only two. Stephanie shows me photos of their earlier courgette harvest. She taps her phone for more data. This 0.2-hectare (0.5-acre) field produced 1,500kg of courgette: 7.5 tonnes per hectare. The previous year, on the same field, with similar weather, it was five tonnes.

Like most farmers, Stephanie and her father are naturally cautious. “I’m not sure about anything if I don’t see the results,” says Stephanie. Does the biocyclic humus soil really work? “Yes, I’m sure, and I see a difference in the broccoli here.”

Is there a demand for vegan vegetables? “In other European countries, maybe,” she smiles. “In Greece, we are still thinking about vegans. I’m not sure about vegans. In Greece people still eat a lot of meat.”

It’s a point reiterated by Dimitrios Bilalis, professor of agronomy at the Agricultural University of Athens. “Ten years ago if you said you were vegan in Greece, it was a joke,” he says. Now a third of his students are vegan. “Unfortunately,” he grins.

Organic hokkaido squash at Oiko Bio farm. Photograph: Georgios Makkas for the Guardian

Bilalis and his colleagues have been studying the qualities of Eisenbach’s humus soil. These include Eisenbach’s daughter, Lydia, who was so interested in her father’s compost she sought to scientifically test its capabilities. In trials now published in peer-reviewed scientific papers, Bilalis, Lydia Eisenbach and colleagues measured yields of tomato and sweet potato growing in humus soil, an inorganic fertiliser and a control. Tomatoes’ average marketable yield was 7.95 tonnes per hectare in humus soil compared with 4 tonnes in the plots with the inorganic fertiliser and even less in the control; the sweet potato yield was 24.3 tonnes per hectare in humus soil compared with just 3.2 tonnes in the inorganic fertiliser plot.

What are the constituent parts of biocyclic humus soil and why is it so effective? “There is not a concrete answer in science,” says Lydia Eisenbach, who since graduating from the Agricultural University of Athens now works alongside her father. “We don’t know all the chemical substances within this complex of organic matter that is called humus. It’s carbon but it’s not only this.”

According to Bilalis, the humus soil contains natural hormones that help root development; crops grown on it have particularly good root architecture, which penetrates the soil more deeply. He believes that the humus soil probably produces similar yields to animal manure fertilisers but he is alive to its additional benefits. Produced on a larger scale, he says, it would better use olive grove and viticulture waste. Its lack of solubility means nitrates won’t wash into and pollute rivers.

Organic broccoli at Oiko Bio. Photograph: Georgios Makkas for the Guardian

There is no patent on this humus soil, so why is it not ubiquitous? “Agro-terrorism,” grimaces Bilalis. He argues that big chemical corporations hinder simpler solutions that are better for people, crops and wildlife. “It’s very difficult to penetrate the market because the barriers come from big companies. Unfortunately the food we serve in big cities is industrial food – the fruit has to be the same size, the same colour, like cars.”

But there is also a catch. Doesn’t the four years it takes to turn good compost into humus soil make it too expensive for large-scale use? Eisenbach anticipates demand for (expensive) mature humus soil from small-scale urban growers who can cultivate vegetables in rooftop soil bags. But he hopes that conventional organic farmers in his network will buy it as affordable “ripe compost” and ripen it on their land. While letting it mature into humus soil, they can grow vegetables in it, so land is not wasted.

Can he convince farmers to store it for four years? “We have to persuade them,” smiles Eisenbach. He considers biocyclic humus soil a kind of open source software, and hopes farmers will test it. He’s convinced it can be produced beyond Greece – using other plant materials – as well. “At the moment we are producing agricultural products looking at nature as our enemy,” he says. “We try to fight to get fertiliser into the soil. We just have to understand that nature is in favour of us. We will not be perfect because there is nothing more perfect than nature, but we have to imitate nature as closely as possible.”

Axel Anders

BNS Biocyclic Network Services 

Berlin Office

Biocyclic Vegan International 

Philipp-Franck-Weg 21

14109 Berlin


+49 30 805 83838

+49 151 26 14 35 74



The Grow Where You Are Collective

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Eugene Cooke began working in the urban agriculture movement in Southern California.  He was baptized in urban gardening with a full immersion mentorship with Adonijah Miyamura El in Los Angeles developing Food Forestry at Crenshaw High school.

This project was the transformation of an abandoned ¾ acre agriculture center into a subtropical food forest and learning oasis. The 4 years of this apprenticeship deepened Eugene’s awareness to the vital need to restore the soil and encourage tree and vegetable growth in urban areas. Working multiple public and private Food Forestry projects opened opportunities for entrepreneurship, non profit service and meeting motivated community members.  Eugene met Rashid Nuri in Los Angeles and after two years of planning they both came to Atlanta in 2006 to begin Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture. Since then, Eugene continued to hone his craft and his love of growing by traveling nationally and internationally to learn from exemplary organizations encouraging local food systems. Eugene has worked in Jamaica with One Love Learning Foundation, in Haiti with League of Hope and traveled to Kenya twice to absorb the richness of possibilities of what small scale, intensive local food systems can be.

At this time  the agro-ecological principles of Pierre Rabhi deeply influence his work in urban and suburban areas. 

Eugene Cooke

JoVonna Johnson-Cooke is owner and co-founder of MaituFoods, LLC, a vegan meal delivery service and vegan nutrition education hub. Through MaituFoods, she is working to develop culturally appropriate and accessible educational materials that highlight the benefit of healthy nutrition through a vegan diet. The MaituFoods’ Mother’s Meal Program works to provide women, especially those in modest means households, with the knowledge and guidance to achieve a healthy pregnancy and optimal postpartum recovery through a vegan meal and nutrition program.

The overall mission of MaituFoods is to honor the art of food rituals, and to serve humanity in a way that promotes the least harm and the most good for people, animals, and the environment. As co-founder of Grow Where You Are, she works with a dynamic team of people committed to local food sovereignty by assisting individuals and communities in creating sustainable plant-based local food systems.

Nicole Bluh has approached Urban Agriculture through the lens of years of studying about nature, earth-skills, the wilderness, and holistic healthcare with teachers all across the US. After years of volunteering with Truly Living Well, Nicole became the Operations Coordinator.  Her responsibilities included coordinating the training program, seed saving, harvest and greenhouse management. In 2011, she co-developed and ran the first Urban Farm Summer Camp at TLW.  In 2012 she developed an agriculture program for Elementary School-age students at the Inspire Cooperative School in Midtown which ran through 2014.  In addition to being the Operations Coordinator for Grow Where You Are LLC, she was the Farmer-In-Residence at the East Lake Community Urban Farm for the 2014 season.  This residency included running and fulfilling a CSA for a local school, designing and implementing crop rotation and coordinating events. 

Nicole’s passion for Natural Health has been a potent driving force in developing her own eco-entrepreneurial endeavor. ThirdMoon Botanica was created in 2013 where she educates people about the powerful and necessary nutrition available in the wild plants and how to harvest  

Overcoming plant disease in the Shumei Natural Agriculture system of cultivation

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I have practised Shumei Natural Agriculture for 16 years.

The principle of Shumei Natural Agriculture is an overriding respect and concern for Nature. Nature can teach us everything.

Shumei Natural Agriculture does not use chemicals, pesticides, fertilisers or animal manures. It focuses on saving seeds from the crops grown. I produce about 40 varieties of vegetables and have succeeded in saving more than 80%of their seeds. Although many people worry about adding nutrients to the soil, we believe that soil has the ability constantly to enrich and revitalise itself. Therefore, I have not applied anything at all to the soil at my farm in Wiltshire for 9 years since I moved here and yet vegetables are growing very well year after year.

Why is it that insects and diseases come to vegetables?

Mokichi Okada, the founder of Natural Agriculture, who lived in Japan in the early 20th century, found that if soil and seeds are contaminated by the addition of fertilisers, then insects and diseases would come to the plants and would purify them.

In my view, insects are not our enemies but are in fact our friends. After their work, plants become stronger and if you save the seeds from these plants, you will get purer seeds than before because seeds have‘memories’ of the particular insects and diseases. Our own collected seeds are of course the children of the parent plants that overcame the diseases, and will consequently have inherent resistance in the future when grown out as plants themselves.

We think if soil and seeds are pure enough, plants become strong and have the power to prevent insects and diseases. Our soil and seeds get purer each successive year.

Let me share one of my experiences.

This year I planted 800 kales, which is in the 9th year of growing this kale variety on the same plot of land, a practice known as continuous cropping. In July they all suffered from a disease and their leaves started withering and turning yellow. A week later, not only the disease but also insects came and started eating the kales. Some farmers said the kales would die. However I did not think so and I had a very positive feeling because I knew that this disease and these insects came to purify the kales. I was sure that after this process, the kales would become stronger and purer. Some organic farmers might use organic spray, but I did not use it.

Instead I spoke to the kales and the soil, and to the disease and the insects. I said to the kales and soil,“Kales, thank you very much for growing, now please produce healthy kale leaves to heal people”, and“Soil, please help the kales”.Then I said to the disease and insects, “Disease, thank you very much for coming to purify the kales”, “Insects,thank you very much for coming, you are welcome here and please do stay as long as you like”.

I spoke to them for one minute every day. Around two weeks later, the disease stopped and the insects disappeared. All the kales started producing new beautiful leaves and became much stronger plants.

I really appreciated both the diseases and the insects coming and purifying the kales and the soil.

If you are interested in Natural Agriculture, please feel free to visit our organic stock free farm (veganic farm).


Natural Agriculture learning courses and open farm days take place every year. Please visit our website at http://shumei.eu/yatesbury.

Email :yatesbury@shumei.eu


Shinya Imahashi