top of page

Collaborative Agroecologies

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

Collaborative Agroecologies (Part 1) : An exploration into the importance of collaboration in the work of cultural and food systems regeneration - why we need both collaboration and agroecology now and how deep collaboration can be a cathartic decolonial practice.

There’s nothing new, unique or groundbreaking (being no-dig!) about what we’re doing at Middle Ground Growers – providing local food for local people, in a way that doesn't cost the Earth. It is very much a return movement, a homecoming, as much as it is an appropriate response to the current context of food systems fragility & ecological collapse. This project and the wider land movements success relies on the coming together of two sides of the same coin: Collaboration and Agroecology. The two cannot exist without each other, for the very basis of agroecology is relationships: reciprocal, collaborative relationships to earth, to biology, to growers and to community.

However, agroecology and regenerative farming are too often talked of without the heart of deep cooperation which is necessary for their healthy functioning in the long term, both at interpersonal, localised and systemic scales. There is a very real danger that regenerative practices become co-opted by the mainstream, dominant cultural norms and the 'agroecological solutions' of today become the mistakes of tomorrow, if toxic patterns of colonialism, patriarchy, individualism and rationalism dominate their landscape. When regenerative practices are presented as 'one white man saving America' on modern documentaries, regardless of the great work that this one chap may be doing, it is reinforcing patterns/stories of an individualised, masculine and colonial solution. This will not ultimately solve, or get to the root of our issues heavily rooted in an individualised, masculine and colonial cosmology.

As Audre Lorde beautifully depicts: "the masters tools will never dismantle the masters house." The other side to this coin is Buckminster Fullers philosophy of prefiguration; that we will not transform reality (or dismantle the house) using the weapons of pure opposition or "the same mindsets that created the problem" (to paraphrase Einstein). Instead Fuller suggests we must "build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Bringing these threads together, we do need to dismantle the house, with not the masters tools but the earth people's tools of collaboration and courageously active hope, whilst simultaneously building the new models based on the values of reciprocity not exploitation.

The deeply collaborative transformation of our land-people relationships and thus our food systems is at the core of this complex geodesic Fullerene of a problem(!). ‘Agroecology’, labelled under various guises, is as old as human time, an ancient practice that listens, observes, then acts to produce value for all from a place of understanding and reciprocity. This ancient philosophy is reawakening in the blink of modern time due to the failings of todays catastrophic 'business as usual'. Organic growing, agroecology, community farming and permaculture are often seen as the alternative movements in farming - the marginal communities on the edge of the mainstream that are mad enough to go against the grain (amidst a monocultural grain production system!). In reality, and from the lens of deeper time - thinking more like a perennial tree than an annual grain- from this lens of the ancient oak, the opposite can be true and the agroecological paradigm is actually our very prima materia. It is a short historical blip that has led us down the self-destructing paths of industrial monoculture (one species e.g. soy) production, factory farming and exploitation of land. These harmful practices are temporary ‘alternatives’ to the norm of natural rhythms which have maintained life on Earth for millenia. From this lens, the 'alternative' farming movement is really just a homecoming and a call from our ancestors to return.

Farming never used to and should never have to require significant non-sustainable inputs, and modern farming is riddled with them: high fossil fuel energy use, fertilisers, chemical sprays and artificial GM seed, all reliant on fragile global systems of exploitative trade, speculative markets and unaccounted externalities (such as epidemic biodiversity loss). This form of 'farming' is inherently individualistic (often one man and tractor on thousands of acres, built to profit a small minority of individual shareholders), consumeristic (food as commodity) and colonial (reliant on exploitation of human life). This modern industrial paradigm is the exception not the norm when taking the long view of human evolution and natural patterns. Its a low point and a dark night in our adolescent phase as a human species, a painful learning curve for human consciousness, this impactful blip in history where we humans thought we could take more than we give back, and take shortcuts of greed and extraction for the financial benefit of a small minority. There are so many threads of this food system that need dismantling and rebuilding, but one pivotal way we can counter and create is through Collaborative Agroecologies.

Agroecology is not, and cannot be, an individual pursuit.

Collaborative agroecology can be defined by what it is not: it cannot be extractive from communities or land, it cannot repeat colonial patterns, or reinforce individualised stories, it cannot use the masters tools of exploitation/violence, it cannot simply oppose but must also create and prefigure. It cannot utilise the same mindsets that led to our converging crises, choosing instead to intentionally relinquish these colonial residues like autumn leaves composting into the earth and being transformed into the rich, alive soil of complex co-operation. Collaborative agroecology is about restoring common land to common people, stewards, farmers and communities. This might seem threatening to private farm owners, who are not the enemy or the target here at all – in reality many of these farmers can be at the heart of the solutions. There is so much to learn from these stewards who understand their land well and yet have been caught up in the economic drivers towards industrial debt driven farming upon which they now cling, forced into impossible decisions and trade-offs on their farms they love. Furthermore these larger scale farmers rarely have autonomy over their farm or farm business due to the pressures of both nature and production expectations/costs not matching up. So this return movement is an invitation to these people especially, to reclaim their sovereignty over food and land care. Collaborative Agroecology requires a leap of faith and a willingness to grapple with the space beyond our comfort zones and conditioned individualised humans. Instead we step into the role of community land custodians and citizens of the earth - there is huge potential in this identity shift from consumer to custodian to actually shape the reality of how we live, act and interact with each other and land.

Bringing this back to the local/personal level grounded in action: deep collaboration takes so many forms in our daily work on the farm and in the emergent organisation/organism that is Middle Ground Growers. We have realised through these early years that co-operation is the root of personal, relational and organisational thriving. We learnt through some difficult failings of collaboration, through dark nights (akin to the adolescent phase that humanity is in), and we allow ourselves to sit with this discomfort of widening our selves beyond the individualised comfort zone. Weaving into the web of life takes time, and requires difficult lessons, and this is the invitation for all of us in not just entering collaborative agroecologies but entering reciprocal relationships, moving beyond both subtle and overt extraction, be it through a colonially trained mindset or an unconscious food habit that exploits indirectly. Every scale of action, thought and intention is crucial, sacred and worthy of our love (beyond judgement or shame). This years cycles of the seasons at MGG has helped me realise that all of this work happens for one reason: Love. It is our love for each other that sustains us through the challenging complexities of real-life relationships, and our love for the land that drives us into the active hope of regeneration amidst such destruction around us in the world. Its our love for our team and community that gets us out of bed in winter to harvest and wash leeks at 6am! This is what sustains collaboration and this is perhaps the distinguishing factor in our important discernment of colonial agroecologies and collaborative agroecologies. This discernment and ability to recognise love in action is perhaps the greatest gift to cultivate in the 21st century, for there are many of tomorrows problems masquerading as todays solutions, and many distractions that lead us from the path of true reconciliation, regeneration and reciprocity.

Part 2 of Collaborative Agroecologies (release date 1s Dec) will explore further some tools and models which are already displacing the old obsolete systems of exploitation, whilst part 3 (release date 1st Jan 2023) weaves in the different levels of collaboration from the interpersonal to the regional level regeneration and systemic food systems change. Let us know your thoughts on @middlegroundgrowers instagram or Facebook

69 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page