• Alex Toogood

A New Bubble

Updated: Jul 18, 2021

Weclome back to a new Bubble blog. It's been a long while - the seasons roll round, and around, and life at the Bubble somehow manages to continue independent of the internet. Since Sophia's last post 4 years ago a lot has changed, with only one resident from that time living here now. Departures have included Pedro and Charlie, and horses Jim and Charlie moving to North Devon to set up Little Valley Veg, and the death of Mike Zair, resident of 25 years, who is now buried on the land. The freshness (and lack of experience) of the group of us now, including new horses Shandy and Wiggy, make this feel like an exciting time to be here.

The community in April 2021.

Back row: Charlie, Pedro, Alex, Laura, Phil, Bobby, Meg, Scruffy, Greg

Seated: Tinks, Isaac, Kirsty, Abigale

Front row: Eve, Verity

In the last couple of months I've particularly enjoyed a couple of community outings to the land-based projects of Sagaravajra's East Devon Forest Garden, and Plotgate CSA. It's been inspiring to see such diverse ways of working the land, and to wonder what the Bubble's place within this wider community is. Because of the change in personnel here, and changes in horses, and the year-long absence of our steam engine, some of the established patterns here have been disrupted. This has inspired Phil to look at alternative ways of generating power, and many of us to find our way in to different modes of land work as we each find our personal balance of no-dig and permaculture-inspired gardening alongside the more traditional horse-gardening. Not that anything is changing drastically - our prefereneces are all secondary to the demands of the seasons, and June has been busy as the weeds stage their first major onslaught of the summer, the gardens are tilled and planted out, and the first hay cut is made. But this week feels like a gentling and an arrival into the ripening of summer - I've eaten my first redcurrents, and the gardens are beginning to feel abundant as potatoes are lifted, caugettes picked, and plums start their swelling.

Living on the land brings and odd cocktail of frenetic trying (and failing!) to keep up with a vast and ever-renewing job list, alongside the impeturbable trundling of the seasons, which will carry on regardless of our readiness. Somewhere in the midst of this is our human humbling, as we are forced to relinquish our ideas of progress, completion, and control, and instead learn to dwell within this carcophany of life. At this time of the year, and perhaps purpetually, each of our gardens (and many of our buildings) are somewhere on the slide towards green chaos, which in the polytunnel I care for takes the form of a ground-swell of Calendula flowers amidst the bee-loved Borage trees and improbable sunflowers, all doing their part to cheer on the crop of tomatos.

Visiting Plotgate and Sagaravajra has helped me see some of the impicit assumptions that we bring with us into land work. Plotgate, as a CSA (community supported agriculture) achieves vast amounts of gowing with a lot of volunteer help and tonnes of manure from local farmers, and so expands the edge of community out beyond their own hedges. Being 'self sufficient' has been a catch-phrase in the off-grid world for decades, but a project like plotgate offers so much more by being in relationship with the wider world. Instead of self sufficiency, cultivating a beautiful dependancy with our wider community feels exciting to me. Perhaps this has been made most clear by the need to repair our steam engine, which has taken us beyond the limits of our techincal and financial means, and so opens up new questions for us.

In a completely different approach, Sagaravajra's forest garden allows him to live within an ecosystem, rather than imposing his management upon the land. Exploring his project gave a very different feel for what abundance and food security could look like. Even living somewhere as alternative as the Bubble, we bring with us culturally-conditioned images of what food production looks like, centred around rows of annual crops. This approach necessitates a relatively high energy imput throughout the seasonal cycles of turning the ground, propagating, weeding, watering, harvesting, and storing. Built into these cycles are effects that we don't see the full scale of, including top-soil loss and imbalances within the soil ecosystem.

Perhaps even more limiting, and harder to see, is the perpetuation of the images of human dominion - here we are, making the land do what we want it to do. This attitude is doomed to fail in many aspects of Bubble life, but the expectation of control still permeates our approach to food production. I have no idea what it could look like to live consistantly as a participant-with-life, rather than as a seperate controller-over. It is perhaps this inquiry that brings me to live at the margins of our societal structrues. In this change of attitude there is the promise of a different kind of belonging, of a homecoming as we take our place within the more-that-human world.

To Look at Any Thing by John Moffitt To look at any thing, If you would know that thing, You must look at it long: To look at this green and say, “I have seen spring in these Woods,” will not do—you must Be the thing you see: You must be the dark snakes of Stems and ferny plumes of leaves, You must enter in To the small silences between The leaves, You must take your time And touch the very peace They issue from.

With love, Alex.