Living for Living

Building Connections in the Lammas Ecovillage

In 2009 the Lammas Ecovillage in West Wales became the first legal low-impact settlement in the United Kingdom. The people involved in the project moved to land that had been predominantly pasture, and started to re-shape the landscape into productive land that was able to meet most of their basic living needs.

In post-industrialised times, where we are apparently disconnected from the origins of the things we consume, and how they and our actions impact the environment, people in Lammas are building meaningful connections with their surroundings while producing food and building shelter.

Using photography, soundscape recording and interviews, this work aims to represent the relationships people are creating with the environment, buildings, animals, market and people around them as they optimistically build an ecological way of being in response to the socio-material conditions of climate change.

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JAQUI: It is a good depiction of how the starting point is.

TOM: That is a blank canvas, all right. I find it a real privilege, really. It is a big, intimidating process, yes. But I'm pretty sure I’m going to love it.

JAQUI: I think you have to be the type of person who really savours this process to do this. You can't be, like, goal orientated.

TOM: Well, and yet you need a vision, otherwise you will just dally around like some people who really don't get too much done.

JAQUI: A balance.

TOM: I am a practical man, quite pragmatic, logical about some things even though, yes, I have elements of the hippy about me and I know I can appreciate that. But I have always wanted to do this. This always has been my dream and ultimately, I am pitching my life towards the future of peace and love, yes. Absolutely. But in the meantime, realistically, today I need to be skilled and practical and realistic to get stuff done. This funky approach to things, everything curved and nice looking does equate to lower performance rating overall of the item sometimes, often in fact. For the sake of a bit of dreaming and expression you are actually going to make a lot of hard work for yourself one way or another. And exhaust resources as well, more importantly. Which is counter to this eco-ethic, isn't it?

JAQUI: And having said that we definitely dream about possibilities and explore things that may seem impossible and then discover that actually they fit in just great.

TOM: I go to sleep every night thinking about what it’s going to look like. But it is based on... sure I would love to live in a cave behind the waterfall surrounded by mangos, but I don´t, you know. You are talking about your dreams, you do need to rein it in, it has got to be grounded. So when I picture this dream house, it is in that field and it is based on the design drawn and I am thinking about the plants that are possible to grow in my garden. And that equips you with a better set of tools to deal with things than would just unrestrained dream, fantasy.


JASMINE: When this field was empty I was always thinking: oh! How would I make it? So I would like to get myself in a dreaming state and then picture walking through and trying to hear sounds in my head like chickens or this or that and then picture how you would walk through there. I did a lot of that and a lot of drawings.

SIMON: It looks like it is us in our world. Very often I just go out to look and I am amazed. Even though I am here every day, it is always changing, growing. I am amazed how fast nature works compared to even us when we are working full power with machines and other people. Nature is still growing things faster.

JASMINE: I find it very odd. I don’t really have a clear perception of it. All I can remember when we moved in, is that it felt really exposed and I thought: shit! We have to get it covered as quickly as possible! And I just went for loads of things that grow really fast. So I can remember that feeling of outer exposure. But the final point is probably a good one, isn’t it? There is much more wildlife here, I do have more sense of that. It is hard to remember the big emptiness, or before the kitchen was done, or this or that. But there are all the birds and insects and I am always remembering. Now we have a fox that comes every day and poops on everything every night.


MARIANNE: Looking at the picture I see: oh, plastic, a car and a little house! When you were taking the photo I was thinking, should I move the car? Should I move the car? Maybe the car is not going to show up in the picture, I don`t know. It is part of part of our lives, a huge part of our lives.

AYRES: I was talking with my father today about using the car, if it is hypocrisy or what. And yeah, it is a fact of life for us. We are making that choice. So where is the line? When do we stop using cars to use horse and carts, or something like that? I don´t know if that is the case at all. We are trying to have less of a carbon footprint or impact on the planet than the average. I was saying to my dad (who came to visit from the United States) that his carbon footprint of his holiday is probably our carbon footprint for the year: flying back, driving from northern to southern California to Seattle and then to Arizona. It is tremendous. So relative to our contemporaries in western society, our carbon footprint is nothing; it is so little, really. And sometimes for me that is not good enough.

And this picture in a way includes everything that I love and despise. It is shown on the computer, which I both love and despise, it has this black plastic which I love and despise, this trailer which actually I quite love, this car which I love and despise, and this house!

Anytime we talk about ‘the environment’ - that word just speaks of a separation, which is part of the problem. And this idea of sustainability has to be with some kind of future. For me it is just an intuitive, emotional experience that is happening now, all the time, now, now, now. And then there is no separation and there is no future. There is no past, either. It is just now, now, now, now, now. So in a moment when I am making a decision about something or pouring something down the sink, it is that experience of how that is feeding or perhaps just drowning the ecosystem. I can’t see ‘an ecosystem’ or ‘an environment’, because those are ideas, but I can go and see all the creatures that are eating always, all the time. Whether it’s our poo, or whether it’s our food waste, I can go and visit those creatures. I can visit them and see them at their work and I can check on their health. All the time.

MARIANNE: What we are doing here is just one example, it is just one way of being. It is not like this is the only way to do it. It is one way to do it. And what I hope is that we can show people that this is one way. There are many ways in which you can live in a way that is more environmentally sound, and this is one of them. It's got its advantages and it has got its disadvantages.  


TAO: We are building a new infrastructure. We are taking a degrading ecology landscape and we are changing it into a very rich mosaic of different habitats and infrastructure patterns. So it is full of complexity and meeting many, many means at the same time. Because before, the land here was so degraded humans couldn't really live here whereas now, we are still setting it up, still in the earliest stages of building, but already you can see how much food we are producing. All the patterns, all the different terraces, all the different areas, all will have a role.

The logic started with: this is the poorest part of the field, so this is where we are going to put the house because there is the least soil, so it is the worst for growing. Also it means we can overlook the rest, plus we can build the farm on the hillside over there and we are screened by the trees so the farm can blend into the landscape. So if our buildings are clustered here, we need access. So we designed a track so it can catch the water. Where the track runs it catches the water and channels the water into specific places. And then we put the garden in the best growing area: south-facing, the best soil.

It all comes together, piece by piece. The pond needs to be below the buildings to catch the rainwater, and it needs to be above the poly tunnel. It is intelligent design. Permaculturists say it is eighty percent design and twenty percent ongoing inputs. The thinking is that if you design the systems right, they will look after themselves. So when it rains we don`t have to do anything. The rain just naturally channels into that pond and when we water into the poly tunnel, we just turn on the tap. The system requires little or no maintenance at all and self-regulates. And in the meantime we get carp, we get a whole lot of pond life, we get mulch in the pond and a beautiful place to sit.

HOPPI: We are starting to feel the work is diminishing now. It is huge, huge inputs, huge energy initially, but now we are starting to feel the benefits of it. We are starting to feel that we can ‘be’ a lot more than ‘do’. We’ve done the hell out of ‘doing’, putting the eighty percent of infrastructure on place (in the permaculture basis), and then the balance shifts. Now it is a lot less work. It is incredible.

TAO: To build the poly tunnel we required loads and loads of diggers, money, resources, expenses. And putting on the frame, straightening the plastic, building up the healthy soil, and building the pond. Huge amount of work. But now, the poly tunnel takes twenty minutes a day and produces a huge amount of food. It is a huge amount of energy in re-shaping the landscape, we are designing the landscape. In some way we are creating a Garden of Eden and that takes time and energy, care and creativity.

It always surprises me how much more satisfying it really is. Because you can kind of imagine so much in your head. But when you are actually there and you see an unusual bee or some new flower just coming that you have never seen before... Or you can smell it or you can hear it, you can feel it. The natural world is always much richer, it is so much more sumptuous.


MELISSA: It feels... It is amazing. It is lovely to have other people coming to visit because they see everything I have done. Instead, I look around and I see what I haven't done. So my day to day is often like oh my goodness, I haven't managed to pot that on, or that needs weeding … I cannot see as well as they can see. But when I do see, it is fantastic, it is an amazing opportunity and it is a real blessing to be able to be given a completely blank canvas where there was nothing before.

When we first moved in, I felt like every step I was taking was like a thread and I was actually sowing my footsteps into the ground and sowing myself into the land. There’s still that feeling of being, of embedding myself into this piece of land and into this garden. And there is the responsibility of it. It is possibly not as strong now or maybe it is just more ingrained.

There is wanting to be part of that activism state; of being part of something bigger than myself. I think that is very important to me, rather than living a life where I am involved in some kind of personal accumulation, personal status, you know, I am not interested in that. But being involved in something that is bigger than myself, that has impact. That is important to me.  

Soundscape: Shaping the Landscape

By shaping the landscape, residents are changing the sounds of their environment.

It is highly recommended to listen with headphones.

SIMON: We’ve been building our own house for a long time. And we’ve been doing that in a lot of aspects of our life. If we bought something, there are stages and processing and manufacturing of that thing which I don’t see. That’s one thing I like a lot about doing all the little details about life by myself: it’s knowing what is going into everything. I know I am not causing trouble, causing damage somewhere.

JASMINE: It kind of relieves some of the guilt about consumption. If you have to go and buy veg or buy wood, you will have to worry about where the wood comes from.

SIMON: I find it very satisfying, but also I am so used to it that it is hard to imagine not doing it like that. I would be disturbed by things… having loads of things around me or living in a space where I don’t know what was going on. I spend a lot of time working out which piece of wood goes in which way around, trying to make the most of them.  

Soundscape: Animal Connection

An intimate exploration about the relationship between residents and the animals.

It is highly recommended to listen with headphones.

TAO: To me, it is a kind of gift. It is a kind of exchange. Sophie gives me the milk and she knows she is giving it to me, she is quite intelligent. I look after her, so she appreciates it. She gets food and water, and pasture. Sometimes it gets a bit frustrating because she wants a better pasture. When she wants something, she will tell me. So, when the water runs out from the field, she will tell me, or if there is something wrong, she will tell me, or if she wants to go to a different field, she will tell me. So we kind of really communicate with each other. It is partly obvious. She will come and stand by the gates and call me. But it is also intuitive, we are just kind of connected.

Her favourite thing in the world is peace and quiet because in a cow’s world, when they make a noise there is something, not necessarily something wrong, but they only make noise if there is a real reason. I love the whole kind of cow energy. It's earth, love and patience. For me, everyday milking is like a meditation. About 40 minutes a day, sometimes an hour, just coming and hanging out with Sophie and she gives me her milk.

What is often forgotten in today’s farming is that it is an important exchange. It is a gift and we have to balance that gift with care, the duty of care if you like. It is not just about milk, it is the opportunity for a mutual and caring relationship, which brings another whole dimension to food. Becomes a kind of wonderful and magical exchange. It is just amazing, she makes it from grass. She just eats grass, and turns this kind of low nutritional vegetation into this amazing, amazing substance full of fat, full of protein, full of life.

Hopefully Sophie is pregnant, so hopefully in eight months she will have a calf. If it is a girl cow, I will raise her up being a milking cow and sell her to another small-holder. But if it is a boy calf, I will raise him up until he is nine months or a year old, and then he is going to move on in a way: I will kill him and we will eat him and share the meat with our neighbours. But I will make sure that he has a really good life, a happy life and when I come to kill him, it will be in love and in respect and in a really sacred way. And I can totally understand why people become vegan, especially with the mainstream milk and meat industry which is becoming increasingly political and immoral. That is why for me it is so important, so valuable, to return to this human scale form. Because this level is more scaled. It can have meaning, it can have wonder and love. It is an amazing thing, it is an amazing exchange and relationship and it is beautiful in all its aspects.

TOM: There we are. There are a couple of pictures of me on my own there that I confess was me. I went to get tobacco and I got some peaches. But yeah, that is so fucking ridiculous. I mean, I have no words for that. Not a single thing in that picture has been made or grown in Britain, you can appreciate that. Not even the wood that the bloody stand is made from. That could have been grown in Sweden, tanalised in Germany, I don't know... painted and sent over here. Those flowers, none of those are British, certainly. Literally, I doubt a single thing in there is British.

JAQUI: Possibly the onions were.

TOM: Potentially. And potentially the carrots too. Aubergine: this photo was from the summer so probably would have come from Spain. Lettuces from Spain as well.

JAQUI: It is representing a natural garden. Real wood. And for some reason, people buy it. Tesco make themselves extremely convenient.

TOM: I don´t like this kind of extremist absolutist attitude. It is an extreme situation and I can understand the place for an extreme response. But realistically, now and then, I am going to go and buy a bottle of whiskey from Tesco. And I am comfortable with that.

JAQUI: What I guess will happen is that our needs will be more and more accounted for through the way we have chosen. And without being extreme about it, we will naturally move away from going to places to buy the things we now feel the need to buy.

MELISSA: We need to engage with our community, we need our children to be part of the broader world as well, ‘cause it's not a guarantee or a given that they will step into my footsteps and become gardeners. I mean, chances are that they won’t. They look at how hard I work and think: Why would I do that?

HOPPI: I think exchange and trade is really, really important. It is not that we want to be completely cut off. It is just that we want to be self-reliant. We don't want to be only consumers anymore. We want balance between consuming and producing.  

MELISSA: My poly tunnel is a hundred times more productive than outside. Every square foot of soil in the tunnel is worth like 15 square meters outside. It is able to produce large amounts on a very lovely scale. And you control the water. Yeah, it is brilliant, it is amazing. I mean, one of the best things about being in Lammas is just having that ability to go into my garden and pick my lunch, pick my dinner. There is such a vitality in that. You can buy organic food in the supermarket or in a farmer's market or whatever but there is kind of a vitality and energy that is lost almost instantly when you pick something. But when you pick it and then you take it inside and chop it up and put it in your mouth, you are having the opportunity to eat that energy, and I just love it.

There is the whole process, of course, from early in the spring when you are taking tiny little seeds and putting them in the soil and the next thing you've got bean plants that reach up to the ceilings. So there is the whole kind of magic of the growing process and then there is the nurturing and the caring and I have to handle water in the tunnel without having a watering system. And with all of that going on there is a direct and intimate connection with the plants. They are like my children, they are like my babies, you know. And then after tending them all summer they get to that stage when you can harvest them and eat them. It is just fantastic. 

Potting is one of the things I love doing, I love getting my hands in the soil. These plants here that I potted on are looking so happy for it now, they are really responding. It is a sense of, I suppose, care and tuning in, tuning into the plant instead of thinking: ok, I can see that plant has run out of space in the pot. It is being aware of the kind of relationship that you are having, that that plant needs your attention. It is intuitive as well. I know when I am needed by my plants.

TAO: It is all about meditation, that is what it is. So when I am weeding or cutting the grass, or milking, I treat it like yoga. It is like a chance to stretch and use my body and meditate and find a kind of inner peace. Sometimes I do sit and do formal meditation but I say meditation is kind of everywhere. And it is also about the energy with which I go into that garden. I am trying to cultivate certain energy. So I don't use trimmers or any petrol engines in there. Mostly it is there to remind me that it is all about meditation, it is about joy, it is not about work.  

SIMON: To me climate change is not something that is going to happen in the future, or something that we can do anything to stop. It is something that is happening with other changes from the modern world. So, because we can’t stop it, it means that it is happening now. It is not something that is going to happen in the future. So because it’s happening now, I know that I can change the quality of now, here, for myself and maybe for other people. So I have a power to make things better. So that overcomes despair. Every action means something. Even if it just makes our evening for the three of us nicer, that meant something. And that is as much as we can handle. We don’t feel depressed about it because it is about actively engaging it. Change is happening now, or has already happened, as much as being in the future. So, we don’t have to hope for a change because we are living the change now.

MELISSA: And is it all too little too late? It’s that question as well. We are hurtling towards the edge of the cliff pretty fast, I mean with climate change and whatever, the permafrost in Siberia melting and all these tipping points and all that kind of stuff. Yet I am doing what I am doing because I love it. I enjoy doing it. It feels good to me and it feels like it is the right thing to be doing. It feels like I am doing something that is contributing towards a more sustainable and more caring way of being on the earth. But whether it is enough or not enough, I have no idea.

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