Growing Together: How We Build Community in Nature
Guest blog by Sylvia Law, Cyrenians Farm Trainee
We are currently living in in a time of vast dynamic change, with a growing global focus on both building community and looking at our social responsibility towards environmental sustainability. In today’s society, our expansive revolution of technology and fast paced lifestyles, have risen widely in the past decade, and it has now become common that we spend more time engaging on our mobile phones and watching TV, rather than spending time outdoors and socialising with people in the local community.
From a time, when our lives would have taken shape around the natural daily cycles of the year, which would have had directly impacted our everyday activities and tasks, we have at present become massively out of balance with the natural environment that keeps us alive and sustains us every day. I feel that we are currently living in a society that is slowly losing its connection to the natural rhythms and cycles of nature.
The outcome of this disconnection, has not only impacted our relationship with Nature, but also to our overall sense of community. It was not so very long ago, that as part of our daily rituals and traditions, we would come and all sit together and eat a meal together around a table, not only as one generation, but as many. Here we would have the chance to share our stories, build connection around the fire and food, and spend time together as a growing community.
With our current modern day homes, no longer being built with a dining table in mind, and with homes becoming more compact, and being designed for singular living rather than holding an entire family, we are beginning to live in much smaller households that are being designed towards a much more isolated way of living. I heard this topic being discussed recently over a radio programme, which presented new research and current studies looking at contemporary Scottish family culture. They had discovered that on average, a family spends around 7 hours a week of quality time together, and included as part of this, a large percentage of this time took place gathered around a TV. It appears that in the modern world, technology has slowly begun to replace the sense of hearth in our daily homes. The hearth was the place of shared living, it was the place we would all gather together and build a space for community and connection between our family & friends. My question is, how is this technological representation going to sustain us in the future? And how is it affecting our society at present?
With mental health issues on the rise, and with the topic becoming a high profile subject in the cultural arena and in social awareness, with open discussions of receiving mental health training in the work place, it appears that it is more vital than ever before to open and facilitate a space for local communities. It appears that as a society we are reaching out for a space where we can learn and grow together, as a way to get back to our social roots and being out and spending time in Nature. There is more and more evidence that is being discovered, with recent scientific studies revealing a wide series of benefits from being in connection with nature and the direct impact of working and learning outdoors. Around the World, scientists are now proving evidence that show educational lessons that take place outdoors in Nature, have a direct positive effect on young people who are being exposed to trees and wildlife, and that this can produce benefits such as physical wellbeing, stress reduction, increased motivation and rejuvenated attention.
All of these are very positive results, and I feel that this clearly shows us how important it is to build a space for this connection and for being out in Nature. By having an interaction with the natural world and environment that we live in on a daily basis, it can create a space where we can all belong and spend time as a community. Nature is a space that is a common ground, which is widely accessible and inclusive to everyone. By spending time immersed outdoors, we can create experiences that are not only having an impact on our physical wellbeing, but also on our mental and emotional wellbeing, and produce an overall sense of belonging.
Nature gifts us the space to slow down, and realise that things can and do take time. This is something that I feel we need to remember in our present society, which is very accelerated and active orientated, focusing on success rather than process. I feel it is important that we take time out for ourselves, and to realise that we too have a natural rhythm and we too are part of the natural cycle and a part of the World around us. We are like the Trees, the Water, and all the species that inhabit the natural environments and that live by us every day.
In the past, it would have been custom to spend every day, from sunrise to sundown, working out on the fields, sowing and overseeing the cycles of our crops, and coming together to celebrate the good seasonal harvest as a community. Nowadays, this connection has become more rare and it is more common these days that we recognise the logos of famous brands, rather than knowing the diverse species of the wildlife and environment around us. This is a big change to our day to day lives and I feel has had a big effect and impacted society as a whole. It feels like we are living in a World that is slowly losing its connection to the cycles of life and to the natural processes, which hold us on a daily basis.
Creating spaces, where communities can come together, grow together and sustain a healthy lifestyle has become more vital than ever. This has led to a surge of environmental organisations, cultural hubs, community gardens, organic farms and ecological spaces, having opened and been created in response to this time. Self-sustainability and environmental awareness has become more focal than ever before, and with the ambition to create a more carbon friendly footprint by 2050, with 80% less emissions, we have big way to go and important changes to achieve in order to make this happen and become more balanced with the Natural World around us.
Cyrenians is a local charity organisation that supports people from all walks of life towards growing together and building a sense of wellbeing in the community. Their overall vision is to support an inclusive society where people can experience valued and fulfilling lives, and feel integrated and part of the whole. It is a space where we are encouraged, motivated and supported on our unique life journeys, no matter how long that might take. I feel this is a key part of building spaces for growth, the very nature of time, as Nature shows us each and every day, through the many processes within the yearly cycle, that growth takes time, and this is truly how things come to grow. The seed goes into the ground, and it may take a whole winter for it to reach the surface, this is part of the process. Nature in some ways is our greatest source of learning and teacher. There is no better way to remember this, than spending time and being out in Nature. This was in a way, is what inspired me to work outdoors again. After spending time working in local community settings, I felt that the missing part was my daily connection to Nature.
I feel there is something so vitally important about being immersed in the cycles and feeling part of them. This can involve eating seasonally, or celebrating seasonal festivals like Lammas, or even Midsummer’s Day, which is also known as Summer Solstice. To remember that we ourselves are part of Nature is a very important part of life, and to celebrate these cycles together is what builds a sense of community. The earth is our foundation, without the land we would have no home to be grounded on. Without the wind, the trees would grow no roots, and without the sea there would be no sea life, or the many sources of food and animals which we eat every day. This is part of the beautiful ecology of life; we are all interconnected. Somehow, when we receive food in plastic bags, it appears more disconnected from the origin of where it came from, and it becomes harder to appreciate the hard work of Nature, and all that grows in order for us to survive.
Working on a Farm, this all becomes very clear. Everything takes time and is part of a cycle. When a crop is grown, it is time for celebration. We know all the plants, and we watch them grow over time. On the Farm, we have a nursery, which is a lovely concept. We can see the interrelation between the growth of plants and our own growth from childhood into adulthood. Here seeds become plants, and are looked after carefully, to then be sown into the ground. The seasons determine whether we work outdoors, or indoors. In this way there is no sense of separation. I feel that it has been very therapeutic to reconnect to the seasons once more and to work outdoors, and to see the daily cycles and the process of growth as the species bloom, share their fruits, and return to the earth again. This reflects the nature of our own life cycle and reveals the importance of sharing this cycle together as a way of celebrating life.
I decided to work on the Farm to regain this sense of connection and to learn from Nature and see how it grows not only the plants and species around us, but also us, as people, and can bring us together in community. In Nature, there is so much space and time for learning together, it is all about building a connection, and integrating our growth on a daily basis, this is what creates the cycle. Nature is a space that holds us through this, and creates a space for social inclusion where we can all come back to our roots. It is a place we can all feel a part of. And of course this is shared. As a community, we learn and grow together, and through this we can support each other on our individual life journeys. Being in Nature, helps us to take the time to take care of each other, and of all the elements and the natural environment that supports us. This goes hand in hand.
The Community Farm is a social enterprise that supports people to access good and local food, with the ambition to improve their health and overall well-being. It is a space to share and to develop new skills, and is a common ground where people from all walks of life, diverse cultural backgrounds and learning skills can come together and share, and be part of a community. It is open all year round and invites local community groups, schools, volunteers and organisations to take part. If there is one thing that I admire, is that the Farm is open to all and there are so many people you can meet, all from different age groups, life experiences and backgrounds who put their all into making this an inspiring place to come to and to share our growth. Together, we dig where we stand, as a way of remembering the connection that we are part of daily, and which helps us to sustain relationships with the whole environment as we learn and grow together. Nature is our communal home, and is open and welcome to everyone, so my advice would be get back outside and come and spend a day here, and see what you discover.
Come and visit us on the farm! J
Sylvia Law, Farm Trainee, Cyrenians Farm