#85: New use for abandoned farmland, London growing community & potato art

#85: New use for abandoned farmland, London growing community & potato art 870 1094 Farmerama Radio
Image Source: GoGrowWithLove Website

This month we travel to Ibiza to hear from Jess Dunlop, a farmer and organiser who manages the The Land Bank or Banc De Terres D’Eivissa created by the Organic Producers Association. By matching new entrant and diversifying farmers with abandoned farmland, the project enables farmers to adopt an agroecological approach and grow more organic food on the Island. 

Next, we head to Tottenham to talk with Sandra Salazar D’eca about her CIC company GoGrowWithLove. Centred around a plot of land in Haringey called The Love Garden, it teaches children & families in the local community to produce food and care for the land. GoGrowWithLove runs a six-week food-growing programme for melanin-rich women called Women Leading With the Land. The course teaches and celebrates African & Caribbean ancestral knowledge, inviting participants to become Soil Sistars. You can also find Sandra teaching horticulture at Wolves Lane Horticulture Centre in Tottenham.

To finish, we delve into the world of the potato with multi-disciplinary artist Iman Datoo. Iman’s practice invokes storytelling to imagine different ways of mapping knowledge about the world from the perspective of other beings. Her latest project Kinnomic Botany sets out a vision of a parallel botanical world by exploring what has long been lost from the potato’s history, and offering new pathways to connect with the plant world through personal and tacit experience.

This episode of Farmerama was made by Jo Barratt, Abby Rose and Dora Taylor. 

Big thanks to the rest of the Farmerama team Olivia Oldham, Katie Revell, Fran Bailey, Annie Landless, Eliza Jenkins and Lucy Fisher. Our theme music is by Owen Barratt.

Thank you to everyone on our Patreon. Your support helps us in bringing you the stories of regenerative farming around the world, each month. We appreciate it. If you’d like to join, please visit patreon.com/farmerama where you can choose your level of support.

Full Episode Transcript:
Jo: Hello and welcome to Farmerama. This month we begin in Ibiza where we learn about a project matching new and diversifying farmers with abandoned farmland to grow more organic produce on the island. We hear from a food growing project in London that teaches to produce food and care for the land and has a foundation in traditional African philosophy. And we dive deep into the world of potatoes, looking at them in a fascinating new light.
Abby: Jessica Dunlop, is a farmer and organiser in Ibiza where she manages The Land Bank or Banc De Terres D’Eivissa created by the Organic Producers Association. The Land Bank enables new entrant and diversifying farmers to take on abandoned farmland using an agroecological approach. 
Jess: We have a really diverse mix of farmers in the land bank and applying for land. That can look like a local farmer from the island who’s diversifying their production, or a new entrant farmer and they tend to be women a lot of the time. Women in their mid forties with a higher level of education and normally in organic. I mean, the land bank is always agroecological, but most of the new farmers coming into the sector are focusing on agroecology or regenerative farming. And then we have some young farmers too, and they would be local or from anywhere: Argentina, Italy, England. We’ve got a very diverse mix of farmers within the Land Bank and more coming in. 
The land that comes into the land bank is seeded by landowners who would like to see their land back in production. And they might seed the land for various reasons. There’s a cost involved to them to maintain that land as farmland and prevent it becoming forest or becoming classified in a different way. And in very recent history that land was farmed, so normally within their lifetime it’s been farmed, and most people feel a custodial responsibility towards farmland that it should be in use. They are very happy to have that responsibility taken from them and also to be supporting farmers with land.
Ibiza is quite a unique case because 60 years ago it was completely self-sufficient. Small holdings that probably were around a hundred hectares, producing everything they needed within that. And from pig, sheep, chickens, oats, barley, wheat, lentils, chickpeas, peas, vegetables, everything was produced at home. And then they didn’t manage to make the transition to commercial farming, because they were priced out and because of the topography. So it’s very small. The topography here only allows for very small-scale farming. So it never made the transition and there was a progressive abandonment to farming and farmland in the next 50 years in favor of tourism. So you have a situation which is quite unique, where there is a lot of farmland that is not being used, and very few farmers. So the model of the land bank is specifically adapted to this unique environment. And actually all access to land. Our models are unique to the sociocultural historical relationship to land in that area. So this is a model where there’s lots of land, there’s very few farmers, and so we are able to promote these relationships, this sort of stewardship really. I wouldn’t really call it tenant farming in the same sense. The situation in Ibiza at the moment is 4% of what we consume is produced locally and only 16% of farmland is in use. So we have a total of 50,000 hectares of available farmland and 9,000 of that is in use and about 1,369 hectares of that is organic. And what we are seeing and why the land bank is so necessary and works is that organic production is increasing year on year as conventional farmers retire. So we are seeing about 10% increase, 10 to 11% increase a year and that’s also reflected in land use as well. So more and more land is being taken on for organic and most of those organic producers are agroecological transitioning towards regenerative farming.
The contracts are based on a typical mayoral contract or tenant farmer. But there’s no housing involved. So it’s just a field and that normally looks like five hectares around that size. And, the field normally needs quite a lot of work to get back into production. And normally no money exchanges. It’s a peppercorn rent. There might be a little share of produce, but normally it’s a stewardship agreement around land use.
At the end of 2020, a field came up in the Land Bank and nobody was looking for extensive cropland at that time and I really wanted to see if I could grow some perennial hay. Most of the dry forage here is oats, and it does very well in wet years, and it does very poorly in dry years. And I wanted to see whether I could grow some hay that was climate adapted, so using some drought resistant grasses and meadow plants and see if I could put that field back into production. All the hay is imported at a very high price and there’s a real need for organic dry forage, in this climate because, you know, four months of the year, the sheep are eating very poor forage actually. And there’s plenty of horses. And I thought perhaps I could start a small business growing hay but that didn’t go very well. Nothing much grew in my field. That’s still an ongoing experiment. I’m trying again this year. Well actually, I’m going to grow some annual forage, some diverse species forage, and some green manure and try to improve that particular field. So in the meantime, when I was waiting for the forage to grow, I planted some wheat. So I started talking to neighbors and taking on more fields and that’s going really well. And as a new entrant farmer, it’s really supported the development of the Land Bank because I really understand what the needs of new entrant farmers are, and I’m able to then put programs and projects in place within that to support them in the right way.
I’ve also brought some seeds over from the mainland, from Catalonia, a local variety wheat for pasta ‘forment’, and that’s quite a rare local variety that’s been recovered over there. And also some ‘corason’ wheat, which is the star of the show. I love it. It’s really beautiful. It’s really drought resistant and hardy and has a beautiful black beard. I mean, it can be quite challenging on the island. The weather is really unpredictable. I’m sure it’s the same in England and everywhere. Every year is different and I mean, right now it’s rained for a month and it shouldn’t have rained and the wheat is going black with mold. And there’s infrastructure challenges on the island because we haven’t really had much farming here for the last five years, so there’s a real lack of infrastructure. So at times it can feel a little daunting. And the other day I went into the administration and the director of agriculture, he asked me about the wheat and how it was doing this year. And I said, well some of it’s looking quite good. And had he seen it and he said, follow me. And he took me into his office. And on the table there, there was a little bunch of sheaves from all the different varieties from my fields. And, yeah. Well that put a big smile on my face and, yeah, it is moments like that that, you know, that really help because, well, I mean, we’re averaging about 1.2 tons a hectare, so there’s not much money in it.
And so this year I tried planting legumes. So bird’s-foot trefoil and clovers and burmedic and all sorts of things with wheat. I heard John Letts talk at the Oxford Real Farming Conference, was it two years ago? And I was like, well, that’s a brilliant idea. So, I thought I’d try it with some wild cultivars hoping that they might be drought resistant because white clover just needs too much rain. So I did various different mixes and really tried to mimic what I was seeing growing in nature. So quite often here I’ll see a wild barley growing alongside bird’s-foot trefoil, burmedic, rose clover and plantain. So that’s a natural companion. So I figured that these must be good and healthy companions. So I did that and actually nothing worked this year. So I’m gonna try again in the autumn. I don’t have a direct drill. I hope to have one this autumn. And I think that will make the whole process a lot easier because I can establish the legumes, before (after the first rains), and then plant the wheat. Straight into it.
I think knowledge sharing is really important, but that’s also about sharing what doesn’t work as well as what works. And I’ve shared quite a lot about what hasn’t worked in this interview, and I would really like to hear more from farmers about what isn’t working, so we don’t have to make the same mistakes. I don’t think we have much time to make mistakes and really to get the technical details about what is working.
Jo: Sandra Salazar D’eca runs GoGrowWithLove, a community interest company that started with her journey as a mum wanting to be a role model to her son. Centering around a plot of land in Haringey called The Love Garden, it teaches children & families in the local community to produce food and care for the land.
GoGrowWithLove run a six-week food-growing programme for melanin-rich women, called Women Leading With the Land. The course teaches and celebrates African & Caribbean ancestral knowledge, inviting participants to become Soil Sistars. Sandra is also teaching horticulture at Wolves Lane Horticulture Centre, in Tottenham. 
Sandra: GoGrowWithLove is a community interest company. We focus on teaching and sharing land cultivation, food growing, and enterprise to children, families and women. We have a particular focus on teaching women of African and Caribbean heritage, the way of the land. We are building a collective of melanin rich women from Africa and the Caribbean to support diversity and return to the land here in the UK. 
Aside from teaching women and children and families how to grow foods, we welcome people to learn how to use food to better themselves and to be the best versions of themselves. That’s why we put on the courses that we do or the programs that we do on the land. It’s not just about food growing, it’s about bringing people together for a just cause and to allow the food growing aspect to be the platform that leads on healing, on coming together, on learning how to have conversations with each other. And allowing the food that you’re growing to support your natural system so that you can be a better person every day, and then you can pass down that information to other people. So food growing is not just food. Growing is so much more than that. It helps to build communities and it helps to build nations. And our dream is that everybody should be growing foods. And we grow particular cultural foods because we have a different makeup. Although, you know, we are used to different sets of foods and how to cook our foods or how not to cook our foods, but when you are on the land and you are learning about the food growing aspect of it. You will learn the science behind the food growing aspect. You learn the science of the soil and you will learn that everything that’s below is also above. Whatever makes the soil also makes you, and whatever makes you also makes the stars. So we are a whole environment and food growing and the land opens these conversations so that we can create a better today, a better tomorrow, and a better forever really. 
That’s one aspect of growing food. But there’s also the aspect of land care. Land care really ultimately means caring for yourselves. Caring, you as a being and the soil. We go for milestones, we go for land care as the beginning, because every story has the beginning, middle and end. So we go through the beginning, the land care, meaning let’s look how we can look after ourselves. What is it that you want to get from it? What is it that you are lacking or what is it that you need more of to make you better today, to make you a better version of yourself? And then we go through the food growing. Okay, so I’m lacking this, so I need to be growing this food so it supports this thing in my body and at the same time it supports the lung this way. And then the end stage is that, okay, I have my food. Now I want to share it with others as well. And I want to tell them of my journey and how I got here.
Jo: Last month we spoke with Natasha Pencil from the Black Farmers Market. Sandra brought some of the Soil Sistars to the Market to sell the food they’ve been growing. For her, this was a really good example of how that third phase can work. 
Sandra: It was just so radiant, so much people coming through. We were at the front of the market. So we really got, it was the first point of entrance to the market and the engagement was just surreal. We sold out within two hours. All our produce, we’ve never seen so many Black people apart from carnival in one space at one time, at once. And we just didn’t want it to end. The vibes, the energy, the colors, the music. It was just fabulous. It was fabulous. I’m really looking forward to the next one. 
I was selling vegetables, health and wellbeing products like incense. Teas, natural teas, herbal teas. What else? T-shirts. There was a variety of food, natural food products, grown with love of course, and natural herbs and incense and oh, rosewater as well. We had some rosewater, so yeah, it was really good. And we sold out within two hours, like I said. We didn’t plan that it would be that good, but that’s how great it was. And after that, we were just vibing and wishing that we had brought more. But it was good. It was a good starter. 
We just went home with the massive pumpkin, mama Selma’s pumpkin cause that wasn’t for sale. That was to be shared between the sisters, the soil sistars. But we had a raffle. So people guessed the weight and that was so much fun because it was a big, massive pumpkin but you weren’t allowed to touch it. So you had to kind of guess the weight. Everyone that came through the market because we were right at the front, the first thing that they saw actually was our smiles and this big, major, super big pumpkin. So everyone was really like, wow. 
It’s important to have a market for solo black traders because we get to showcase who we are and what we do. We don’t really get the opportunity to do that. Uh, in a wider spectrum. So having a trades market for African Caribbean, melanin rich black people, allows us to be ourselves. They allow us to trade our goods. They allow us to supply the goods to our people because our people come out just to buy our goods. And it creates a just a fair economy as well, for our people because a lot of our people like to buy, they like to support and they want to support our markets, our goods, our economy. So they also allow us to grow a black economy, which is really important because it is a cultural economy. It allows us to be ourselves. So that was the stage that made way for that to happen, hence why we sold out so quickly. It was surreal. It was so good. And people came to spend. So it also allows us to advertise what we do, not just around the food growing aspect of things, but the teaching, and to network and maybe even possibly to collaborate in various opportunities. That’s why it is important to have a market solely of black people. 
Abby: Iman Datoo is an artist who has been using storytelling to imagine different ways of mapping knowledge about the world from the perspective of other beings such as the potato. From 2020-2022 she created Kinnomic Botany which sets out a vision of a parallel botanical world through the ‘eyes’ of a potato.
Iman: So the potato is subject to a typical hero story. It was a reward reaped by conquistadors on exhibitions to Peru for their search for gold. But instead they came back with a potato and the result was a spread of potatoes emerging from a narrow genetic bottleneck and a new nomenclature or naming system to represent this new order over territories and both human and non-human bodies. So if we go into UK supermarkets, for example, we are faced with the Marist Piper or the Duke of York, maybe of about 14 or 15 different varieties of potatoes. But beyond this, there are so many other species. There are so many other textures, colors, shapes, and sizes. And so I became really interested in what knowledge has been lost along the way about different potatoes and their cultivation methods. And also how we can know them beyond their tuba, but also for their seeds, their flowers, their fruits and their roots.
Early on in the project I was trying to, I guess, articulate, what the non-human actually means and who that relates to. And often we think of the non-human as relating to other species like plants and animals, but often certain humans in history were also rendered inert or inagent as well, through the colonial project. And so in a way, the potato becomes a way to understand and relate to the movements of lots of different beings around the world, whether that’s through forced displacement, or also through choice sometimes. And the ways in which we all try to find and make a home and find a place to belong. And often we get caught up within, or I’ve seen in science discussions around like nativeness versus non nativeness, for example. And you can only plant native species here and there’s been this debate going on about, what it means to plant native only and also what does native actually mean given that plants and people move around the world all the time. I read a text by, I think it was actually in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s first chapter of her book Braiding Sweetgrass, where she talks about the meaning of indigeneity as being not necessarily your point of origin, but actually what your relationship with what you give and take from a place or a land. And the potato for me is a specimen that has moved around the world and become part of all of our respective cultures and found a home in our recipes and histories and stories.
You know, whenever I speak to someone about this project, they always have a story about the potato from their culture, which I really love. And it shows that they found their home despite coming from a very particular region in South America, from Peru and Bolivia. They’ve made their home in our, in all of our different cultures. And so I found that really inspiring, really to think about how we can make a place and find new ways of observing and interacting with our immediate landscape and environment around us even if we’re not originally from that place. 
I come from a background in architecture and art, not botany. And so I was kind of entering this space of, you know, thinking about plants and new ways from the perspective of an artist, maybe rather than the perspective of a botanist. But also in that process, learning about the history of botany as a science. So, And I think maybe coming at it from the perspective of a non-expert and also with a sense of naivety, it kind of allowed me to ask those, I guess, naive or silly questions about the potato because, you know, this is a world that is completely new to me. So for example, one of the questions I asked was, who are the potato’s friends? And that was because I was looking and researching into the family Tree of Life, which is often used in botany as a classification tool and ordering tool to match plants with the same anatomical features. So, for example, potatoes and aubergine and tomato are all in the same family because they have similar shaped berries and flowers and also roots and leaf shapes. But if you were to plant them together, they would fight for nutrients and spread disease. And often in Linnaean gardens you would see these plants planted together, to teach that Linnaean system of categorization and ordering. But for me, I found that to be one of the first moments where I started questioning, you know, why we plant in particular ways, why we order in particular ways. I was more interested in learning how to plant potatoes with species that they got along with that would repel certain insects that would contaminate them, for example. So I started using these questions as a way to create maps about potatoes and really reorient myself around them to think about kinship ties and relationships from their perspective. 
And I mean, it also links back to what I was saying earlier about this kind of narrow genetic bottleneck of potatoes, because we could say that that applies also to our knowledge making systems as well. Like if we have a narrow genetic bottleneck in knowledge, that means less diversity in voices and stories and histories. So, you know, me asking this question is just bringing one more perspective, but that’s also just one perspective and it’s really important to understand these perspectives relative to each other as well. So I think like, yes, a diversity in voices, a diversity in stories and histories is really important.
So in the research phase of this project, I was looking at the relationship between potato planting and the constellation Pleiades. So in Andean culture, they plant potatoes according to the sighting of the constellation Pleiades. And that’s a way to predict when next season’s rainfall is and therefore when to plant to get the best yield. And for me that was a way into kind of understanding relationships to the natural world and nature. That for me, I didn’t know I had lost within my own culture. So I’ve been looking recently into the history of, early Islamic agriculture and the use of navigational tools in the form of Astronomical calendars, I guess, as a way to understand the relationship between the moon and also the different textures, colors, tastes, that plants give based on when they’re planted and in relationship to the sighting of certain stars. And the orientation and the positionings of certain stars. And so I think it’s really interesting when we, going back to this idea of a diverse diversity and knowledge systems, the way we can kind of learn from each other as well. 
Abby: Iman’s work has recently been shown in a couple of exhibitions including the Supernatural Exhibition at the Eden Project. 
The video work is titled Economic Botany and it is this parallel generative archive about the potato and entered through this ceramic pot. And it makes visual, a system of mapping about what has long been lost from the potato’s history, whilst also offering new experiences for connecting with new knowledge and generating new knowledge around the potato through the process of map making as a tool. And alongside the film, there was also an installation piece. 
And the audio piece was a naming exercise, inviting participants in the space to rename the potatoes in front of them through a guided tour or observational exercise where they interacted with the potatoes, considered the color of their skin, the color of their eyes, and a texture of the skin and the animal that that skin reminded them of. 
And for me that was a way to create this alternative potato taxonomy. And so far, around 2000 names have been collected of different observations that people have made in the space using their senses. And so it was another way into understanding the potato for more than their tuba, but also finding a way to interact with them that goes beyond, I guess, the conventional ways, like goes beyond allowing nature to define those relationships for us or to name those relationships for us, but also think about how we can rename and take agency and understand them in new ways through that sensory interaction as a tool.
So at the moment I’m doing a residency with the University of Exeter’s Environmental and Sustainability Institute and the Eden Project titled Making Kin with Soil. I’m having a series of conversations and interviews with scientists who range from microbiologists to soil scientists to social scientists as well.
And it’s been a really interesting cross-disciplinary exchange. And also, and also I guess like really challenging as well, because there have been all of these language barriers between our respective very different ways of knowing, so I’ve been trying to also figure out my role in that as an artist, maybe sometimes as a translator, sometimes as a mediator of these conversations, trying to bring these different voices to together and so it’s been really interesting for me as well, just to start to understand the soil in new lenses and new lights, and figure out a way to bring all of this knowledge together and find ways for it to cross pollinate as well, and ask new questions in the same way that I was doing so with the project on the potato.
And so if anyone who’s listening to this also wants to get in touch, I’d be really happy to have a conversation and take it from there as well.
Abby: I’ve found my conversations with Imam incredibly fruitful. She asks questions that I just haven’t thought about before, about plants and the soil, and the relationship between the plants and it really made me think differently about how I perceive my interaction with plants. She continues to inspire and have me think in new ways about farming. I really appreciate that and I really encourage those that are interested to get in touch with her.
This episode of Farmerama was made by me, Abby Rose, Jo Barratt and Dora Taylor. Big thanks to the rest of the farmerama team Katie Revell, Olivia Oldham, Fran Bailey, Annie Landless, Eliza Jenkins and Lucy Fisher. Our theme music is by Owen Barratt
Jo: We’re very grateful to those of you that support us and allow us to bring you these stories every month. Even the smallest contribution makes a big difference to us. So if you’d like to become a supporter, you can visit patreon.com/farmerama.