I just got back from Camden Town where I gave a presentation on Lacto-Fermentation at the London Permaculture Festival.  The event was full of energy, optimism, strong awareness of problems and clear focus on solutions. I met loads of impressive and motivated people. Here’s a review of my talk and a little bit about other interesting features of the day, including a workshop on cultural diversity, a meeting on community gardening in London, and a quite staggering talk on the perfidy of Biomass as renewable (ha!) energy…

On the weekend I went to London to give a talk on lacto-fermentation at the London Permaculture Festival. I knew I’d have only an hour and therefore devised an approach different from my usual one of talk,taste, demonstrate,participant hands-on. This was going to just have to be, basically, talk, taste, show.

When I arrived in the space I was struck by how many people had shown up– maybe 60? 70? — a representation of how much genuine interest there is in learning about/ mastering this ancient/modern/traditional culinary art/skill. There’s always so very much to say, an hour felt too brief, and I certainly didn’t have enough hand-outs, which were a review/ aide-memoire of what I’d planned to say.

I’d organised the talk around David Holmgren’s Permaculture Principles. These principles are certainly not mutually exclusive but proved a fun way to organise discussion of ways that I think about Lacto-Fermentation as a great Permacultural approach to preserving…

Why Ferment?

“Catch and Store Energy”: from the abundance of gardens, foraging, skips, reduced foods, serendipity in all forms…

“Obtain a Yield”: You get wonderful things to eat, something to show for your time and effort.

“Produce No Waste”: using what is available; can cook, puree, and be resourceful with ferments if texture goes wrong

“Apply Self-Regulation”: looking at illnesses in our bodies from processed foods, medicines, antibiotics, modern foods; need for self healing, human evolution and microbes together…

How to Ferment?

“Design from Pattern to Details”:


for cabbage, which when salted, water by osmosis, one spoon salt per head

for chunky veg, semi-salty brine for vegetables, salty between tears and seawater,

keep veg under water/ surface of brine; anaerobic

Details: spices, herbs, combinations, purees, sauces, regional variations in how to cut.

“Small and Slow Solutions”: traditional methods, low-tech, low-fossil fuel, therefore more nutritious as well

“Value Renewable Resources and Services” : imagining microorganisms like yeast and bacteria as a resource, fermentation as an alchemical service to harness as a natural process

What Do you Get?

“Use Edges and the Marginal”: Sandor Katz on the boundary between preserved and rotting, fresh and rotten– place of interesting flavour and nutrition

“Use and Value Diversity:  of  flavours, textures, colours, ingredients, seasonality, microbes, raw/cooked, sour, bitter


Talking through these points I hope proved a good introduction, then we sampled various fermented foods I’d brought from home, and lots of people had lots of questions.  Was a good session with adjectives of praise afterwards….  Had promised to post this so there, I’ve done it!

It should help to remind you what we covered if you were there; if the abbreviation seems obtuse, if you weren’t there, then ask me anything in the comments.  🙂


Other things I did at the London Permaculture Festival:

Community Food Growers Network Open Session

I knew this would have a London focus but I was really interested in just to sit in, even though I arrived quite late.  There was discussion about how people could join the anti TTIP day of action on 12 July (This is a good piece that I’ve seen since I wrote my own more summary piece); interest in folks making livelihoods around food growing and permaculture; discussion of reaching out and being reached out to, implications of the concept of “outreach”; and more.  I was so impressed by people’s committment to growing food and sharing food, knowledge, and gardens in spaces throughout the huge metropolis.  Here is their website for info about the interesting things this network of people get up to.

Listening to Others: The Fertile Ground of Social Diversity

In this session we investigated our own relationships to an understanding of commonality and difference, feeling inside and outside a group.  The workshop leaders helped to make a Permaculture point that the place of conflict can be nurtured as an Edge, and understood as fruitful and fascinating and a place of growth.  And that in dealing with difference this way, “negative” aspects could come to the surface and be “composted” back into a group process to make for fertile understandings.  They applied horticultural analogies to group (often inter-ethnic) dynamics.  Our time was very short but I think they would be great people to bring in to any groups in which “difference,” however celebrated, might have hidden implications that would benefit from some attention.  There’s a kind of group process/ psychological bent to their work which I like indeed. Very stimulating– we all wanted more!

Moving Beyond Burning: A Close Look at BioMass

I knew very little about Biomass, the large scale industrial approach to agricultural renewable energy that is touted to convert coal stations like Drax in the UK to “renewables.”  But the system is full of lies, often creates more carbon than it saves (efficiencies are very low) and is very polluting around power stations. Genetically modified trees may be part of the picture too. Biomass utilities burn huge amounts of forest materials, sometimes virgin forests, that are often transported between countries and continents.  Biofuels Watch is an organisation doing very important work to educate people as this industry revs up; all of us who are concerned about forests, actual emission limitation, human health, true renewable energy and efficiency and scale-down, climate change and land rights need to learn about this.  I intend to write more soon but if your interest is already stimulated right now, please visit that link.

All in all it was a very good day, would have liked to have gone to many more of the sessions, and big thanks to the organisers for creating such a nourishing and positive festival — all about solutions and looking forward.