Bioregionalism is an ancient, somewhat accidental philosophy which for the longest time had no name as it was, simply, living. In a globalised world it is easy to push aside old ideas, approaches and beliefs as antiquated; to assume progress forcibly forgets past wisdom as restrictive of modern invention, fearful of technology or ungrateful for modern medicine.
My understanding of bioregionalism as a holistic lifeway is that it eludes present tendencies toward polarisation. It tends toward a simple and gentle longing for connection to the place that we, wherever we may be, call home. In our present deracinated culture (ie modernity) struggling for meaning, for relationship and for awe, what could be more prescient than a path toward profound belonging? A path whose gate has no lock, no fee and no need for prior knowledge?
A bio-region is a fairly complex concept. It is an area, a place and an experience defined by a combination of geological and biological features, bordered by environmental shifts and inhabited by a particular culture of people, plants and animals. The features may be watershed, mountain, meadow, building material or ocean. The shifts may be the woodland borders, M25, coast, more-or-less urbanisation, known name, the dialect, accent or language spoken. Even after some understanding of bioregional definition, agreement on its edges are likely fluid, fertile, alive. A bioregion breathes and its skin is the place of melding. Hidden in many modern names are clues to bioregional maps that may include river names, valley or estuary or castle or a long forgotten charcoal copse. Bioregion hears, sees and relates to the character of place. The ‘ism’ tells us that hidden in place is the opportunity to not only live there in a sense of sitting on the surface but to live with and within place; entwined, entangled and enmeshed in the fabric of that particular place in that particular time. It is sensual, relational, meaningful. To belong somewhere is to be part of place.
Rilke reminds us that living a beautiful life is not so much about knowing the answer to manifold questions but more in the forming and inhabiting of quality questions. Bioregionalism, despite its wordy entice, is an ongoing embodiment, a becoming. For me, in my place and time, the questions Rilke refers to are something we deeply lack and the questions by which we do live are predominantly given to us by the wider culture of schooling, (social) media, political and economic dogma. In other (bio)regions the questions/answers are largely predetermined by religious worldviews. To be a bioregionalist one must develop a mind that frees itself of limiting beliefs of progress, of value and of purpose. It cannot, by definition, become dogmatic as the experience of living the questions will be vitally distinct in each bioregion, each valley and plain and hillside and city and coastal stretch. The answers are not so much spoken as experienced as questions. It is impossible for me to say or to measure how it feels or the societal outcomes of cooking dinner for the ones who grow my food, or of knowing the names and stories of the tree that I see from my window. My personal sense is that this is a journey toward belonging that works. My shoeless feet have sprouted roots.
Over the summer I undertook a 2-month bioregional journey to deepen my roots and to engage in a dialogue with an intuitive knowing; I can belong, and my yearning for connection is a question to live.
My rules were simple: all my food and drink must have grown from within 8-miles of my doorstep, as must its food (as far as I can know where a pigeon had her dinner). I have only £1 per day (the above rule applies) and no stored food. I can barter (but the above rules still apply).
What unfolded was a discovery of some beautiful initiatives in my area, immense generosity, an abundance of some foods and a deep lack of others and the realisation that fats are hard to come by. I ate mackerel, pigeon (but not much), handfuls of mushrooms (some 10 species) and bowls full of fruit and greens (some 40 species). I harvested and cooked down my own sea salt and made pepper from the seeds of the Alexander (Smyrnium olusatrum). I ate eggs from the ducks that live on the land with me. I helped raise a barn roof for local ecological honey (a bucketful). It was a beautiful and a profound experience and took me some way down this path toward ecological belonging, toward a melding of my edges with the edges of these rocks, rivers and ravines. My foraging skills improved quickly and I feel confident I can get the vast majority of my health needs from the landscape for much of the year. I struggled to hunt and fish, both physically and ethically. I have not been raised with the skill it takes and my respect for this skill is simply another invitation. I also live in the UK, a landscape notoriously denuded of wild animals and taking from this depleted stock felt difficult, perhaps unnecessary.
The development and deepening of relationships with my local farms and farmers was life changing. I’ve invested my savings in the local farm cooperative which brings me further into an expanded ecological self, highlighting the health of my farm and the health of these lands with my own health. Conversations on food provenance were largely welcomed and the effort of many highlighted this desire to relate to our food and other consumables. My friends bent over backward to share in my local food efforts cooking up garden grown storms and home brew.
My daily £1 went largely on potatoes. Filling my belly was hard! But the discovery of local lambs liver added to the shopping list and filled out some of my meals. After the time was up my budget bounced back to (my) more typical food spend (around £5 daily). I’d lost about 8% of my body weight on an average of 800kcal per day so this was clearly unsustainable, yet easy enough to remedy. People asked what I missed and the answer was easy; olive oil and/or butter. This would be the first product I would add to this bioregional diet. Ideally locally produced, organic, unpasteurised regenerative butter. A local sheep farmer recently won the BBC award for Best Food Producer with their stunning, France worthy cheeses. She lives in the next valley to me and is working on a Ewes milk kefir. I'll also add lentils to the mix. What I learnt was that this adventure in bioregional living sprouted many more questions and some revelatory answers. Living simply is a profound act and following bioregionalism as an embodied philosophy, as a life way, is life enhancing in ways I cannot explain here.
Here are questions that I am now living into…
How can we encourage foragable landscapes to thrive amongst city and farm-scapes? How can we encourage more producers to grow in the ways of my friends in North Wales (Henbant, Tyddyn Teg, Moelyci); regenerative growers producing food that regenerates healthy natural systems and feeds local people deeply nourishing and connective food (#savetheNHS). When will the wild animals return to these lands? In what ways can we invite them? When will simply grown real foods become cheaper and more abundantly available than chemically laden, nutrient deficient foods we have come to accept? How does one build community?
The wider questions of bioregional, ecological living were in my periphery. This will inevitably be an experiment whose questions I will inhabit in due time: where do my clothes come from and how are they made? What about my house? My tech?
The journey continues, as they say.