From 22-24th August 2014 Reclaim the Fields Scotland hosted a UK gathering at Monimail in Fife.
Monimail is a small community living in a beautiful walled garden and orchard set around a medieval tower. Those living at Monimail grow all their own fresh produce, as was evident by the huge vegetables, manage a small wood for fuel and wildlife and look after the walls and the tower. Monimail is an environmental charity which offers opportunities for people to learn about organic gardening and low-impact, sustainable, communal living. They also host WWOOFers. Monimail was a great venue for the gathering, having inside and outside spaces so that we could hold several workshops simultaneously, a covered outside kitchen space and we set up a mini cinema. We ate well all weekend from the Monimail garden and other produce people had brought along.
The gathering was self-organised. This meant that everything happened through our collective involvement. So there was a board to write up when and where someone would like to host a workshop, one for cooking/washing up and a donations box so that we could meet costs communally. Each morning we got together to discuss plans for the day and people could chip in with what they would like to do. We think that this worked well, everyone chipped in with cooking and washing up etc. making it run like a well-oiled machine. Still, this is an area to work on and make gatherings more self-organised.
We got plenty of sunshine over the weekend so we crammed in some lounging around and volley ball, then finished off the days with outside films and a fire.
We had so many workshops! Here’s a quick run-down of what went on.
Energy, independence and land reform – discussing the realities of our energy use, impact on climate change and the potential for a low-carbon future. Lead by folks from Biofuel Watch.
The Land Question – an introduction to land ownership and the problems it causes.
Garden tour – a tour of the Monimail garden and discussion about growing.
Intro to La via Campesina and Land Workers Alliance – which lead to a discussion
Bee keeping – how to harvest wild comb
Free software – in introduction and discussion on free software
Mushroom growing basics – Monimail resident showed us how to grow oyster mushrooms.
Scything – created several expert scythers.
Herbal medicine – an introduction on how to prepare herbal remedies and a walk round the garden to discuss different plants.
Sustaining resistance – a quick intro to looking after ourselves in activism.
Seed sovereignty – a detailed introduction by a Crofting Federation member.
Connecting children with nature – an intro to the theory and practice of play and child-led learning
T-shirt printing – giving us all a great RTF t-shirt
Communal living – a photo tour and conversation on communal living in the UK by Diggers and Dreamers.
Rhythms of resistance – the protest drumming group got everyone to the beat
Connecting with the elements – tools for returning to what we stand for and remembering our individual and collective vision of what is possible
We also had a facilitated discussion session to bring out the issues people attending the gathering felt were important for the movement which includes RTF. The first session was a discussion split into groups covering the topics of ‘where are we now?’ ‘what do we want to do?’ and ‘what is the RTF context?’ We split into three groups in the second session to discuss the main points from the first, falling broadly into three categories:
Networking (RTF and wider) – what’s there and how to improve our networks
Community – organising, ownership and action
Direct action – land squat possibilities
Here are the outcomes of the networking discussion:
- The RTF Scotland email list needs more clarity on how people can post to this list and we also need to bring new people to the list.
- RTF UK website needs more regular posts. We plan to get contributions from groups in the RTF network, make the website more visible and post something on the gathering.
- To contribute and promote the EU bulletin, write something up for this on the gathering.
- Create a map of places and projects currently happening in Scotland for the website.
- We need more clarity on what we want RTF Scotland to be. This will come by getting feedback from those on the list and groups/places in Scotland who are connected in some way to RTF
- Link RTF up with other networks in Scotland, we drew up a list of networks.
- In general we need to energise the network, bring new people and be more involved in the wider EU network.
Sustainable Community Organising
The group talked about:
This is a system of tenure/small-scale food production unique to Scotland. A crofter is usually a tenant but some have purchased their crofts. Rent is paid only for the land, improvements are provided by the cofter. Crofting is characterised by its common working communities, or ‘townships’. Individual crofts are established on the better land, and poorer hill ground is shared. In this way, the model promotes individual and collective responsibilities. The Scottish Crofting Federation is the largest association of small scale food producers in the UK.
Food sovereignty/community food production
We discussed the Fife Diet movement and the challenges they are currently experiencing establishing a community food coop: www.fifediet.co.uk/fife-food-coop
We discussed the benefits of linking up/supporting smaller producers to increase viability/sustainability, e.g. Skye and Lochalsh Food Link Van.
Grass roots community organising
We discussed some of the challenges faced by groups/practitioners/activists in building sustainable communities and agreed that sustainable solutions must come from communities themselves and be based on existing needs/strengths/challenges.
The community garden project in Glespin (RTF project in South Lanarkshire) has been a positive example of engaging the local community.
Young people were identified as potentially playing an important role in helping to generate energy and resources for community projects.
Example given of ACORN, which supports low-income community struggles/movements in the UK: http://www.acornbristol.org.uk/
This discussion poses the question of what role RTF Scotland could play in supporting communities to organise sustainably? Where and how should our energies be directed, and to what end?
We also talked about non-ownership, new energy to support existing groups/struggles and practical food growing.
We had a zine stall set up for the weekend with RTF bulletins, the Scottish RTF zine and heaps of other zines and information people attending the gathering brought along. The info stall was a great point for people to distribute their writings and let people know about the RTF network in Europe. We have some zines left to take to the next gathering. The tea urn was also there so it naturally became a hang-out.
Feedback from the gathering in general has been that it was great overall. The atmosphere was very social and relaxed. There was a good mix of thinking and doing workshops and nice social element in the evening. It was great to get together to share in issues that are close to our hearts and learn a few more skills and bits and pieces of information.
The venue was great. This made things pretty easy in that we had good spaces for several workshops at the same time and a good cooking space, plus fresh veg from the garden. The weather was decent which helped, meaning that we could do outside activities with no bother, including volleyball! We got a load of outcomes from the main discussion session, which is useful to take RTF Scotland forward.
We didn’t have loads of people, but a pretty good number (about 40) to make it work well. There were old and new faces, we linked up RTF folks from around the UK (plus Belgium) and made some good connections with like minded people across Scotland. It would be good to draw in more people next time, including those which aren’t from the usual crowd. To do this we need to build up the RTF network and presence, so that people are aware of RTF and what the network does. The website worked well, but we need to work on social media.
Organising was by a small number of people, but we managed to keep work pretty minimal, particularly due to the venue. People took part during the weekend, although it could be more ‘self-organising.’ Need to work on involving people in the process and making them feel like it is a gathering run by everyone.
Thoughts for future gatherings are that it would be good to have a more focussed gathering concentrating on one issue and with an explicit aim. Suggestions also include: building infrastructure that would be useful in a land squat; focussing the gathering around doing work for the venue.
So thanks to everyone who came along to the gathering. We all met some new people which is the best thing about these events. Let’ss get on with strengthening the network!
With love from RTF Scotland.