Seeds are the beginning of every idea and every plant. One of the most important ways we can insure a healthy future for our world is by saving seeds. Victoria Whelan of Seed Festival had a seed planted when she was younger that has grown into a variety of ideas taking her on a journey across continents. She has gained knowledge and experience in environmental sustainability from the tiniest source. Seed Festival is a celebration and education of the important role seeds play in our life.
The festival fuses workshops, speakers, music and art into an educational experience about the food we eat and the plants on which we depend. It inspires people to get involved by learning about the importance of saving seeds, healthy soil, organic food, sharing information about gardening, and reconnecting with nature.
What inspired you to become active in seed conservation? To me the idea of ‘seed’ is so multi-layered and has roots or connections across a wide demographic of our society.
First you have a literal seed, the tiny kernel of possibility that you plant in soil, add water and watch grow. I can have passionate conversations with an ‘old boy’ farmer who loves collecting his seeds and plants generation after generation of them, proudly providing food for his children and children’s children. Equally inspiring is watching nursery children plant their first food seeds in playgroup. They can’t quite manage the concept of time or patience, but as the months roll by they go back to water their seed, now a plant and eventually have great joy in this feeling of empowerment of eating food from the seed they planted.
Regarding the bigger seed issue on GMO seeds vs. the work spearheaded by Dr Vandana Shiva – Seed Freedom, we have to defend our natural seeds. Open pollinated seeds to be precise; these clean seeds are what nature intended and are one of many gifts nature relentlessly provides. I fact, when you reflect on the endless bounty and generosity of nature, you realise that our natural state is to thrive. So not only is the GMO seed, a corruption of nature by big business, holding the farmer to ransom, who have to keep continually buying GMO seeds and not use the seed from the last years crops; but also invades this core relationship we have with nature, putting now a price of what was nature’s generosity. Eroding our core relationship with nature.
Secondly, the word ‘seed’ has so much power, even though there is a simple humility about it. As a noun ‘seed’ it is simply profound, being the starting place of forests, fields of food and gardens of joy. Yet as a verb the word ‘seed’ gets even more attention, it seems to have muscle. To seed an idea for a project, to seed connections between networks of people, everyday parents, teachers and others plant seed of knowledge and experience in our children, planting fields of the future humanity.
Finally as a metaphor, ‘seed’ is like a quiet secret, yet a profound power, patiently growing into the fabric of our lives. It shows us that we are interconnected, we need sun, water, soil and seed. That could be seen as love, tears, home and child, or even money, connections, project and staff. It is humbly happening everywhere, in commerce, in gardens, in playgrounds and in our hearts. It asks us to own, honour and respect the cycle of life, not because we have made a lifestyle choice to be ‘alternative’ but simply because we are human living on this abundant planet. Its humility inspires us to get off our righteous, egotistic high “human” horse and see our true place in the scheme of things. It’s actually a great place to be, a place where we don’t have to prove ourselves to others and be competitive, a place where we can relax and co-create with nature and each other, a place for all to flourish.
What steps did you take to start this particular journey? Without going back too far I feel to acknowledge some other projects briefly to give context.
Post acting school I did a couple of one-woman shows in my twenties that were the start of this questioning of our relationship with the world around us. Beauty is the Beast and Wild work-Mother Earth the Housewife. Then went on to collaborate with a school’s contemporary music project Rock Your Role, or as a new decade arrive in 1990 The Coming in Age, Space Opera – a fun but poignant reflection of humans being observed.
I then toured the length and breath of Australia in a band, which was half aboriginal, called Under the Spell of the Trees. We had national airplay and I always got a kick out of the fact the radio station had to say the band name on air.
Lust in the Forest cards, were to inspire a more intimate personal even sexy connection with nature, so people would feel passionate to defend nature like a loved one. Even on my last album Too Late to Pray, though all the songs have different ways of getting you in, they all ask you somehow to look at this relationship with nature. “If I were to melt, how would you hold me” is this about the polar caps or a lover.
Making it personal has always touched me, and I see how it touches others too.
So while I was waiting for a new type of wind turbine to develop, based on sails not blades (see below www.tradewindturbines.com) I applied and got the role of producing the Tagore Festival with Satish Kumar (Resurgence & Ecologist Editor in Chief and Founder/Director of Schumacher College). The Tagore Festival ran from 1st to the 7thMay 2011 Dartington Hall, it was a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of the great Indian poet where more than 100 artists, performers, poets and speakers participated. It was a weeklong celebration of the arts and imagination as well as humanity and our relationship with Mother Earth.
When I started the project it was called “Gitanjali” Tagore’s Nobel Prize winning book of poems, but no-one could, spell, pronoun or knew what it meant. And even though we ended up calling it simply the Tagore Festival, to help me understand the project more I ran a branding session in the hope of replacing the name of festival from Gitanjali”. It was in this session, inspired but who was coming and what they were offering – Deepak Chopra, Jane Goodal, Vandana Shiva, Jonathon Porritt, Tony Juniper, and more; I came up with the word “seed’. And even though we didn’t use it then, it stayed with me, so much so I bought the website, and just like a quiet seed waited and the time came 18 months later. A colleague of mine from Dartington Hall in Devon, Alicia Carey, now Principal of Hawkwood College in Stroud invited me to do the Seed Festival at Hawkwood, who underwrote it and also provided much needed infrastructure, amazing staff all in a glorious inspiring setting.
Alicia and I had a great working relationship at Dartington, and she was so helpful to me in this new setting, knowing everyone and how things worked she just opened the door for me and together with Satish, we created a wonderful event. She like many of my women friends and collaborators put the heart of the project first, with no secret agendas just generous enthusiasm. This combined fantastic skills, powerful networks and a ‘making it happen’ work ethic; together we made a formidable team for this next project.
So we start dreaming up the Seed Festival –planting big idea! We bring in a couple of local collaborators, like the amazing Trish Dickinson who is friends with my hero Earth Lawyer Polly Higgins, and also the director of the Aluna Movie, Alan Eriera. We add these to our own list of Satish Kumar, Embercombe’s Tim Mac McCartney, Soil Association’s Helen Browning, and eco music legends Seize The Day and we had the basis of a wonderful event, and it grew from there.
What was or are the hardest obstacle(s) to overcome in getting your message to the masses? For any project like this it is a grind; you advertise, network and creatively and at times strategically programme which in turn creates an inclusive lively dynamic within the project, the national eco sector and at grass roots within the local community.
HawkwoodCollege is known and loved within Stroud, as well as regionally and nationally, for its course offerings and Seed Festival expanded on Hawkwood’s core offering to embrace the rigorous eco community locally.
Between Alicia and myself, we had great networks within the eco sector and this first time event partnered with Resurgence & Ecologist, Soil Association, Seed Freedom – International, Schumacher College, Schumacher Society, Transition Stroud, Gloucester Wildlife, Biodynamic Association, Food from the Sky, Seed Freedom Bank, London, Embercombe, Open Pollinated Seeds, Bee Happy Plants, Create Gloucester, Eradicating Ecocide, Treesisters, Seed Idea and Rathbones Greenbank Investment who donated £1000.
We advertised in all the right places like Permaculture, Positive News, Resurgence and also the Big Green Week Programme which was on in Bristol (45 mins away) only a fortnight before. We engaged the local community both by including them in our programme and using their networks.
It’s all hard graft but what fuels it all is that it is an inspiring idea. So when myself or any of the Hawkwood Team spoke to anyone about it, we were inspired and that was and is infectious. People want this, they naturally want this connection with nature, and even a business executive loves spending time in their garden. We are simply facilitating a space in which people can reconnect or affirm this core relationship to life. You can do this overtly by going to Ecopsychology workshop or learn about bees or maybe whilst listening to Polly Higgins speak, as she asks us all to stand up and invites us to step forward “daring to be great”. You can even reconnect to nature passively just sitting in the beautiful gardens, watching the butterflies dance between flowers.
What is your proudest accomplishment so far in relation to your work? Seed Festival – planting big ideas on the 6th July at HawkwoodCollege, had 500 people attending, with national and local exposure in over 200,000 circulations, over 20 partners and it nearly made money in it’s first year – all round a great success.
I have produced and/or programmed seven festivals in the last three years, with a total footfall of 13,000 people and before that ten albums, (three as Daughters of Gaia) plus many other multimedia projects, yet all had some trigger or door for me to go deeper into this relationship with nature for myself.
Out of this comes an emerging integrity or substance, something I call “warm steel’ that supports an inspiring idea to grow. Even if it’s in a new sector for me, I lean into the knowledge of what I do know to give me the courage to move into the unknown. For example I am amazed that I am a founder of Tradewind Turbines. This small wind turbine produces more power over a wider windband. It is based on sails not blades, and therefore moves at windspeed, which is safe to wildlife. Also the canvas or the sail gives you the opportunity to “Blend or Brand” the sail. As it could blend into the environment or have the advertising pays for the turbine.
This is so inspiring, a complete win-win with nature and business. So as an artist with good organization skills who got inspired, yet knew nothing about business or how to develop an invention, I just got ‘stuck in’. This turbine is so inspirational as an idea, it planted a seed in me which grew, and I design the brand, networked and personally secured fundraising of £100,000 for this project. It’s now in development awaiting certification before it comes to market.
I probably get the most excited about business engaging with nature, particular big companies like Virgin, as they have so much power to create trends to make green groovy. For business to acknowledge nature’s generosity like in Tony Junipers new book What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?: How Money Really Does Grow On Trees.
We still have so much to do to acknowledge this relationship with nature in the mainstream, but I hope we are more than half way, and the future generations take it as a given,
How can people get involved either through your work or in their own communities? Practically regarding real seeds; look at where you get your seeds from. Are they organic or open pollinated, do bees like them? Start seed sharing locally and join the seed freedom international movement and learn more. http://seedfreedom.in
Because without seeds, bees, food we have nothing – humanity will no longer exist. So get serious about this – our future is not for sale!
Regarding seeding a project – quite simply if they can get inspired by an idea then just act to plant that idea into the world. If they don’t know how to do it, find someone who does know. I suggest you relax around boundaries of ownership of the idea as that may restrict its growth, but also don’t abandon it either. Take care of your seed, support it, feed it, share it and if necessary hand it on to a more appropriate gardener, if you haven’t the time, energy or skills to make it flourish. Be generous, network, trust each other and grow.
I would like to leave you with the Seed festival Song
Today I plant a seed of hope in my heart, I feel encouraged
Today I plant a seed of hope in my mind, it gives me time
Today I plant a seed of hope in the palm of my hand
I’m making a stand for what I truly am
Cause Today I’m a seed of hope of the World
Today I’m a seed of hope of the World
Listen to the song on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqL2ikA4C_I
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This interview is from a book that includes 10 other amazing people who are creating positive change. You can read the full book and buy a copy for your school at Bookemon.com. Buy the e-book for 99 Cents on Amazon.com.