Originally published on Medium, this piece by Gay Browne explores what she learnt from HRH Prince Charles and what inspired her at the Harmony in Food and Farming conference.
While it has taken me over five decades to learn this, I can tell you with positive assurance that once you find the path in life on which you are meant to be, if you keep an open heart to new opportunities and people, things that you never thought possible will magically present themselves. That’s what happened when I was in London visiting my dear friend India and found out that two of my other dearest friends Bill and Laurie Benenson, were headed to Llandovery College to attend the Harmony in Food and Farming conference organized by the Sustainable Food Trust whose mission is “to accelerate the transition to more sustainable food and farming systems.” As an environmentalist and organic foodie, it did not take me long to hire a car and drive on “`the wrong side of the road” from London to join them. With great thanks to the kind nimbleness of Erica Davies and Adele Jones, I was able to secure a place at the conference within hours of my request, which given security and British formalities was a miracle!
Patrick Holden who is the founder of the Sustainable Food Trust chose the theme of the conference from the book, Harmony — A New Way Of Looking At The World, written by HRH Prince Charles with Tony Juniper and Ian Skelly. Patrick’s idea was to have a 2-day conversation based around applying these principles to food and farming which turned out to be only the tip of the iceberg because when you put great people together who are passionate about what they do magic happens!
We can’t separate who we are from what we do
HRH Prince Charles was the keynote speaker who opened the conference. His stories and remarks were much more authentic, charming and funny than any media has portrayed him. In his heartfelt speech he talked about how many had misinterpreted the principles of his book to mean that he was advocating turning back the clock to before the Industrial Revolution, when his real intention was to remind us of how interconnected we all are, what he referred to as the “systemic web of life we call nature.”
HRH Prince Charles advocated putting back in as much as we take out to restore harmony and discussed how this can be achieved through sustainable farming and re-establishing the connection between the food producer and the food consumer. He warned of the dangers of forgetting that “we cannot separate who we are from what we do” if we want to address the ecological and climate issues we are now facing and restore the earth’s nature balance. The way in which HRH expressed this concept is really brilliant because it is in fact precisely why and how things work in nature, in harmony with each other. His words set the tone for the rest of the conference.
A linear economy is not sustainable
The economy may not seem to be a likely topic at a conference on food sustainability but it made perfect sense when you heard the message delivered from Dame Ellen MacArthur, the founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. As she explained it, our modern economy has been based on a linear model, dependent on finite resources that we have been burning through, which is clearly not sustainable. The only way out of this spiral is to transition to a circular economy that is both restorative and regenerative. As HRH Prince Charles had said earlier, “There is no reason food cannot be produced in ways that enhance biodiversity instead of destroying it.”
There’s a “crisis of perception”
I was particularly struck when Tony Juniper, campaigner, writer, sustainability advisor and leading British environmentalist, talked about the “crisis of perception” that fosters seeing ourselves as existing outside of nature instead of part of it. He encouraged us to remember that what is good for our food is also good for our people and the planet.
There’s a disconnect between consumption and production that must end
Right along the theme of harmony and interconnectivity was the talk by Gunhild Stordalen of the EAT Forum in Sweden who believes food is the main issue and the biggest driver of climate change. She advocated healthy diets from newly created sustainable food systems.
Food is responsibility
I’ve long believed that food is medicine, so I found it interesting when Dr. Angelika Ploeger spoke on the health of eating, also pointing out that how the world eats shows its values. Her message was to remind us that how we eat affects not just us but the planet and that more importantly our emotional reaction to food can act either in harmony or not in harmony which ultimately affects our physical health.
Sustainable farming produces delicious food and delicious conversation!
In between all the engaging plenary sessions, the conference attendees were served yummy meals prepared with local farm produce by Barny Houghton of the Square Food Foundation and the kind volunteers at Llandovery College. I ate and talked beyond what I thought was possible!
Some of the other green hearted people I connected with were Tracy Worcester who produced a film exposing the illegal practices in the UK pig industry, Dr. Aruni Bhatnagar who along with Christy and Owlsey Brown II, Regina Blake and Claude Stevens are part of the group behind the Green Heart Coalition which is studying how pollution affects heart disease, obesity and diabetes and how adding more trees to neighborhoods can improve health, Rob Appleby who invests capital in sustainable farming and other socially responsible companies and fellow Californians, Sheila and Marc Andrus who is the Bishop of California.
I had never felt more in harmony and at peace with myself and the planet as when I left the magical land of Wales with a heart full of the new friends I made who share my philosophy on personal environmental health and are prepared to do something about it. I do believe that people who live with green hearts have green angels or green faeries as my friend Bill McDonough says, who help us find each other and do the things we need to do to restore the planet to one of harmony.
Photograph: Richard Weaver
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