Rolling into the tiny village of Brook, (pop. 310) it’s easy to find the Rebel Farmer when you’re looking for a 21ft tipi on a farm, next to a primary school. Running round the Kent countryside, I hadn’t realised just how uplifting the sound of school children playing had been till it was taken away for so long by covid-19 and then returned with the volume turned up to 11, this Spring. Of course, it’s probably no louder than before, just no longer taken for granted. Like the merger of two boosts to your performance – running in a pack and a great song – when you hear that kind of freedom, it frees you too. I’m reminded of a quote from Joe Strummer: “Without people, you’re nothing.”
I find Ed sporting a ZZ Top t-shirt and accompanying beard, (surely a standard pairing?); picking edible flower petals into compostable containers for Kent restaurateurs who’ve been drawn to Rebel Farmer’s edible kingdom, like bees to nectar. Mogwai, the impressive Maine Coon looks well pleased with the warm weather he’s been waiting for.
I’m at Rebel Farmer HQ working for the charity Rural Kent, (est. 1923) British Red Cross and NAVCA on a mission to discover paradigm busters who not only helped get food out to people through alternative forms and unusual methods when supermarket shelves emptied last year, but also considered the nutritional value of food as medicine as they did so.
On first impressions you could be forgiven for assuming that Ed’s project reaches few beyond Kent’s well-heeled farmer’s markets. But flower petals to restaurants is merely a pretty means to an end. That being to promote local, regional, national and ultimately a global return to chemical and pesticide free regenerative farming. Year-round seasonal nutrition that doesn’t cost the earth. Alongside a philosophy that can be applied to all aspects of life. And it starts on your windowsill.
The world has been facing a global obesity epidemic driven by modern lifestyles for decades and the obvious answer, (even before it was recognised that being overweight heightened your chances of a bad outcome from covid-19) is lifestyle change. As Joel Fuhrman declares:
“We have landed on the moon already! And by that I mean we already know how to save millions of lives, win the war on cancer, and protect our population from heart attacks and strokes – the leading causes of death. The answer is vegetables. People don’t like that answer. They are still seeking a magic pill they can take so they can still eat pizza, hot dogs, doughnuts and bagels and not get cancer. Life is not a fairy tale. In the real world, we are formed from what we ate in our lives, and we have the full rights and responsibility to destroy our health with unhealthy foods or protect it with nutritious, healthy plant foods.” – Joel Fuhrman, M.D Foreword to The Sprout Book. Tap into the Power of the Planet’s Most Nutritious Food, by Doug Evans, (2020).
People really don’t like that answer. Many will argue that the poorest in society are either priced out or locked out of the vegetable market because they live in a food desert, where’s there’s plenty of food, but none of it healthy. A problem exacerbated by low-income families tending to not have access to transportation. A legitimate conundrum to which few have found an answer.
Enter Rebel Farmer: “During the covid crisis, everyone suddenly starting thinking about food security. We did here too! Our usual outlets – pubs and restaurants closed; so, we had to think about getting our food out there in other ways. Using things such as Kent Food Hubs, (KFH) – a Community Interest Company bringing together lots of local food producers. We started selling fruit and vegetable plants through KFH online and it proved very popular, (as did cut flowers!) because basically it started to appear that there wasn’t much food around. And of course, people wanted to make sure they secured enough good stuff for their families. This led to our microgreen business concept, where we started trying to get nutrient dense food out to consumers cheaper while educating people on how to grow their own for hardly any cost, through demos and grow kits.”
As we enter an outbuilding containing what looks to me like thousands of raving tiny green plants, heads on storks reaching for the lights; Ed explains, they look so fresh and full of life because “they’re bursting with nutrition and healing compounds.” Levels far exceeding their fully grown cousins looking washed up and resigned on the supermarket shelves having been through the mill of chemical abuse and unseasonal travel. If we’re eating abused and tired food, how are we supposed to feel after consuming it?
The immense nutritional value of these microgreens, (just one of the Back to the Future food systems advocated at Rebel Farmer) makes them tiny powerhouses in the fight against not only hunger, but disease too. They are both inexpensive and unexpansive, requiring little financial investment and no more space than a windowsill to get started.
While Ed is happy selling produce to restaurateurs and foodie destinations as all great food producing social entrepreneurs should be, (a friendly buyer from Macknades Fine Foods drops by as we speak); it’s clear Ed’s real passion and that of his team, including ‘WWOOFers’ – volunteers exchanging labour for knowledge through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms programme – lies in educating communities about a return to nature as the only viable way to secure the future of our own health and that of our planet. A basic truth obscured to the point of oblivion by an industrial food system resulting in a majority of people being overfed and under-nourished. And while we’re under-nourished, we’re susceptible to diseases of the body and a feeling of dis-ease in the mind.
In light of the covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent impact on mental health as well as the more obvious physical tolls, it feels as though Rebel Farmer’s message needs to be heard now, more than ever. And this time, people undoubtedly want to hear. The groundswell of interest in Rebel Farmer since covid-19 forced many of us to stare upon those bleak supermarket shelves and realise there must be a better way, has been palpable and business is booming. That, alongside almost sold-out tipi glamping and chemical free growing educational experiences means that it feels as though Rebel Farmer is capturing the zeitgeist of a post covid age.
Yet, it’s what these income generators may be able to facilitate alongside grant investment that most interests us. By reaching out to the community, (at no cost to those who cannot afford to pay) inspiring people to learn what can be grown without the use of any chemicals while encouraging biodiversity and the sequestration of carbon at the same time as creating nutritious food; Rebel Farmer holds the priceless prize of optimal health for those who listen, learn and adapt as well as a message of hope for the planet.
As an educator determined to demystify the perceived complexity of growing your own nutrient dense food, Ed, according to current WWOOFer Jenny, (who found Rebel Farmer through the Permaculture Association) is “a great teacher – we learn quite literally from the ground up, here. It’s knowledge that I can take on easily and take into the future. Especially as it’s not as much effort as gardening and breaking your back.”
Rebel Farmer clearly has the capability to teach and inspire. It takes no more than half a day to learn the basics of Ed’s concept, which can change, even save the lives of those who take it on. The sustainably potential of this project, both in terms of ecology and finance, is clear. This is an enterprise that will make money to be reinvested in Rebel Farmer’s crystal clear social mission. In the meantime – to government agencies and grant funders looking for Britain to bounce back from covid-19 full of vitality and health – this Rebel needs to be heard.
Turn it up to 11.
– Carl Adams
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