Wild Minds Podcast Episode 15

The Wild Minds Podcast
Season 2, Episode 15:
Regenerative Agriculture and Approaches

Guest: Deborah Barker

Lily Horseman

Deborah Barker brings 25 years’ experience of working in the rural economy, and creative arts in the public, private and voluntary sectors.

In this conversation, we discuss holistic ways of thinking about our ecosystem, the importance of soil, farming, and sheep and how the carbon cycles are intricately linked to the water and nutrient cycles.

In this episode Marina and Deborah talk about: 

  • The link between our extractive mind sets and climate change.
  • The importance of soil, farming, and sheep!
  • How we can begin to rethink our relationship to clothes.
  • Agro-ecology
  • Examples of healthy functioning natural cycles
  • Developing an understanding of reciprocity
  • How we need to respect planetary boundaries and how local networking can contribute to carbon solutions.

Deborah Barker

As Director of Field and Folk and co-founder/director of Southeast England Fibreshed Deborah brings 25 years’ experience of working in the rural economy and creative arts in the public, private and voluntary sectors. 

She thrives on challenges and brings lateral thinking to build connections across art forms and sectors, particularly farmers and academics to create new possibilities for collaboration, partnership and engagement. 

Deborah is particularly interested in exploring the meeting point between the urban and rural and agriculture and fashion. She is currently engaged in a contract for Pasture for Life to set up and manage a farmer mentoring programme and running the events programme for the The High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

In 2017 Deborah set up a natural dye studio and consultancy to initiate and produce exhibitions, events and workshops which explore the intersection of AgriCulture, Craft and Creativity with a focus on natural dyeing, soil to soil textiles and the climate crisis.


Pasture and Profit in Protected Landscapes, South East England Programme: https://www.pastureforlife.org/webinars/pastureandprofit/pastureandprofit-southeast/

Fibershed US website: https://fibershed.org/ 

South East England Fibreshed website: https://fibershed.org/affiliate/southeast-england-fibreshed/

Farmers Footprint UK: https://farmersfootprint.org.uk/

The Biodynamic Association: https://www.biodynamic.org.uk/

The Soil Association: https://www.soilassociation.org/

Deborah's instagram: @field_folk

South East England Fibreshed instagram: @southeastenglandfibreshed 

Walter Jehne, Water Cycle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TsX7ffouxQ

Kate Raworth, Donut Economics: https://www.kateraworth.com/ and https://doughnuteconomics.org/

The Water Cycle


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Transcribed by AI – sorry for any errors!

Deborah Barker  

Small steps. I think part of the whole regenerative culture that we need to move towards is being generous both to others and to ourselves and not to give yourself a hard time about what you've done in the past or what you can't do, but just to make those small, incremental changes.

Marina Robb  

Hello, and welcome to The Wild Minds Podcast for people interested in health, nature based therapy and learning. We explore cutting edge approaches that help us improve our relationship with ourselves, others and the natural world. My name is Marina Rob, I'm an author, entrepreneur, Forest School outdoor learning and nature-based trainer and consultant, and pioneer in developing green programmes for the health service in the UK. 

You're listening to Episode 15, Regenerative Agriculture and Approaches. My guest today is Deborah Barker, who has pioneered the ‘fibre shed’ movement in the south east of England, where farmers, producers, textile workers, designers, distributors, and many others work together to responsibly manage the full lifecycle of clothing. Deborah helps us to understand how we could move away from an extractive supply chain to local supply chains and work within planetary boundaries. In this conversation, we discuss holistic ways of thinking about our ecosystem. 

We discussed the importance of soil, farming and sheep, and how the carbon cycles are intricately linked to the water and nutrient cycles. I found it really disturbing to learn about the pollution from chemicals that are used in dyeing of our clothes. But also hopeful that there are people out there like Deborah showing us ways in which we can change things for the better. Welcome to the wild minds podcast, I'm really excited to have you here Deborah to talk to me today. 

And before we dive in, I wonder if it would be okay just to share some gratitude with each other. Sounds wonderful. So I know we're going to be talking about soil a bit today. So when I take a moment to tonne of drop in, I want to say that I'm grateful to soil to mud, to what I understand is the soil having all these millions of microbes and bacteria that, for me, continues to blow my mind, my lack of understanding of what's going on in this little bit of soil that I might want to get out from under my nails, you know, and not wanting to have it there and yet, just gratitude to soil and what we're learning about it. So that's my gratitude. How about you?

Deborah Barker  

I think I'd like to build on that. And gratitude to all the sort of insects and incredible earthworms and nematodes, and it's just such a rich teaming universe in which we have really so little idea. And, yes, gratitude to that huge interconnected web of life under the soil, just building on what you're saying that you know, alongside those microbes and fungi. There are all these insects, and without them, there would be no soil life and no life above the soil. So we're completely dependent upon them for the food. So gratitude for all the food that between them, the insects and the microbes in the fungi help us to, to grow and cultivate and all the wild foods.

Marina Robb  

Yes. So I'd really like to start our conversation in thinking about how, how do we build systems that don't harm the Earth, the soil, don't harm people? And that is obviously a massive question. But I know that's what we're both interested in one way or another. And I'm delighted to have you here because there's so much talk about climate change and anxiety about climate change and focusing on how we can reduce carbon emissions and things like that. And I would just like you to tell us a little bit about is that is that the focus? Is that a good focus to, to be beginning with when we think about climate change?

Deborah Barker  

It's a really interesting question. And it's one I've been pondering a lot, particularly since I became involved with pasture for life, which is a an organisation that works with farmers. It's a farmer led organisation, which supports farmers to move towards 100%, pasture fed animals. And if you've got 100%, pasture fed animals, you've got to make sure you've got pasture all year round. And our current farming system really doesn't support that, you know, we tend to over graze in set stocks. So the animals, we take all the grass in the field in the winter, sorry, in the summer. 

And then, you know, there, the fields will grow over the winter, and then there'll be eaten back right down again in the summer. And what it's really got me thinking about, and this is largely thanks to the farmers I'm working about, is thinking much more in terms of ecosystems. So rather than this kind of this sort of siloed thinking, where we think about the carbon or we think about water, or we think about biodiversity, and they tend to get sort of siloed off trying to get back to a more holistic way of thinking about entire ecosystems. 

And we really, we've got the water, nutrient and carbon cycles, and they are happening all the time anyway, but we've compromised them. And we are part of those and we are in our own body, we have nutrients, we have cardboard and real water. And I I almost think we need like a sort of paradigm shift that stops us being other to the systems and says this is implicit and part of those systems. And what works for us also works for the planet in itself, it is a very recent reciprocal relationship. And so I think in a way, the first point of reference or I'm taking a long time to come,

Marina Robb  

it's a big question. It's a really big question.

Deborah Barker  

I think the first point of reference is to is the mindset that we bring like a paradigm. And for me, it's a sort of paradigm shift from a fix it mentality, to a paradigm shift to seeing ourselves as, as we are, I mean, there's no denying it part of these cycles, there's water cycles, there's carbon cycles is nutrient cycles, because we're totally interdependent, and they are all interdependent on each other for their functioning. And at the moment, there's a big push towards sort of carbon. I mean, there's been a lot of projects have been described as credited, and quite rightly so I think around carbon financing. But the very nature of that sort of siloing, in terms of looking how to fix to me is problematic, because as soon as you divorce carbon from water, you have a problem. 

So it's, it's how do we get people to think about the hole. And then once we have started thinking about the hole and seeing us as part of the hole, then the solutions in a way become easier to find. Well, let me let

Marina Robb  

me ask you a question then, because I, I'm thinking back to my education and where I might have begun to learn a little bit about these cycles. And I certainly first of all, never learned about the curb carbon cycle. And I remember doing a little picture of the water cycle, you know, like the oceans heating, you know, precipitation god, I can't even imagine that I remember these things, you know, and this cycle going into the mountains and then the rivers and things like that. 

But actually, I think it would be helpful if you wouldn't mind just sharing a little bit about these cycles like and how they work a little bit and then how they work together and I'd love to your reference to saying well, we've got them in our body because I know someone like yourself. You know, you've thought about this for years you've been immersed in these ways of thinking and I think for a lot of people they do stay are still abstract don't really understand what they are. So I'd Yeah, I'd really value just talking to us a little bit educating us a little bit about the cycles and how they interrelate.

Deborah Barker  

Yeah. Gosh, I mean, that's a tall order. And I'm certainly not an expert. I think it's what I would suggest such as anybody that's interested, it's actually easier to look at a graphic. Because when you look at a graphic, you can see all three cycles interacting with this in a way, once you start talking about it, you're separating them, because you're talking about them individually. And there are some really good graphics out there. And it is, I mean, it's something that indigenous people have known always. It's, it's not new. And I think, perhaps to go back to your gratitude at the beginning of the series, you know, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to indigenous people who have kept these cycles healthy in the areas where they've been on disturbed for millennia. 

And they are our example of healthy functioning ecosystems. But, I mean, I guess I could just say briefly that, for example, with the carbon cycle, there is it. Now I'm going to talk about the water cycles. So with the water cycle, there's flow. And I think that's what's key to all of them. And that's what they are all interdependent, and what they all need to be interdependent is flow. So what you have is what's problematic is when the carbon gets stuck in the atmosphere, and it's not being brought back down into the ground. 

What's problematic with the water is when it's a stays in the sea, or it stays in the forest, and it doesn't come over the prairie. What's problematic with the nutrient cycle, wouldn't, it's all leached into the river, and it's not going back into the land for the soil. So what we're always looking for with these cycles is flow and a flow that's healthy, and supports life. So there's, there's still flow at the moment. But it often stagnates in one place, or, you know, we release too much of water or we lose too many nutrients, or we release too much carbon into the wrong place. 

So it's about finding a sort of equitable flow. And I think that's so interesting, because it also, that's what we're missing in society at the moment is, you know, we've got this huge growing gap between sort of people who have a lot of power and a lot of wealth and people who have very little power and very little wealth, and we need to bring flow back into the whole system.

Marina Robb  

I guess, I guess what I still am struggling to understand. And I And it's worth saying that in the show notes, we can perhaps put a link to a graphic, you know, you're absolutely right, it's very hard to and these are the you know, these are having been studying some biology GCSE with my daughter, I recognise even at that level, it's quite complex. When you look into the chemistry and everything else, but I'm still, I'm still struggling to understand just briefly, in terms of climate change, why we want to also be focusing on the water. I do hear that you're saying there's a flow, and I really appreciate that. And I'd like to explore that more. But again, I guess I'm so fixed on carbon, carbon, carbon is the issue, you know, so could you just speak a little bit to the water and then yeah, that'd be okay. Yes, I

Deborah Barker  

think probably what would make it easy to speak about would be to ground it in an agricultural environment. Brilliant. So, for example, in the high Weald, here, we have this very clay soils which have potential to hold water but also to dry out and crack. So where you have a healthy water cycle This soil is full of, of microbes and funky. And there's a sort of reciprocal relationship between the plants and the soil microbes, which means that you get lots of deep rooting plants. And those roots will help create aggregation in the soil so you get lots of essentially lots of holes in the soil. 

So if you were to visualise it, you see the soil looking like a jar of marbles. That's a healthy soil and lots of air and lots of fungi and lots of bacteria and lots of nodules on the roots and hair on roots. And they're going quite deep down into the soil and breaking that soil up. So when you get a big rainfall, the rain comes and there's loads of holes, it's like a big sponge, it can hold lots of water. If you have a poor soil, it's very compacted the roots of the plant will be very short. There won't be much soil life in there. 

And we've seen what happens you know in a garden law and if it suddenly rains very, very hard, have short roots, compacted soil that's been worked on. The rain will just go floating off somewhere else. Okay, so in a healthy, healthy water cycle, the water will be held in the soil have deep in the with the diet down in the, the roots of the plants or who can access that water as well. And then on a hot day, that soil will literally perspire. So in the same way that we can cool ourselves through sweating, the soil can do the same. And I think one of the most striking things is during the drought that we had last summer, there were farmers who were putting pictures where they were measuring the soil on bare ground, on short grass and long grass. 

And there was literally 10 degrees difference between the bare soil and the long grass. And the long grass will not only protect and shade more tender grass at the bottom of the sward so that you know it can keep growing. But it will have long deep roots that will keep breaking up the soil and letting the water go in when it when it actually comes. And so then you get a healthy water cycle because you're holding the water in the soil. And it's also cleaning it you know, when it's when it's going deep down like that, it's then also can refill aquifers, ultimately. And it will be part of a cycle. But what we've got at the moment is a lot of rain that just falls onto the land gets washed away. And as it washes away, it takes nutrients with it. So it's taking carbon because it's taking the topsoil is taking nutrients, because the nutrients are often in that topsoil, often into the rivers. 

And the rivers are then overflowing and then flooding. And then going back out to see us instead of this sort of, you know, this lovely cycle where you've got the water then going back up into the atmosphere, it's just being washed away. So we're literally sort of throwing our water away. And there are now particularly in the areas of outstanding natural beauty of Kent, Surrey and Sussex mazing group of farmers who are working really hard to try and understand the role of water, in agriculture and on their land and how to work with their land.

Marina Robb  

Now this, thank you so much for that, because I actually did need to understand more, you know, because I think often I might read something and in some ways it is abstract, but you have grounded it for me. So that's really helpful. So then I'm also excited to see these wonderful group of farmers because I'm almost thinking that often, like teachers, or nurses or farmers, it's kind of miss understood what they're doing, or it's taken for granted, you know, the service that these people are offering to society. And how they're often, yeah, misunderstood, not, not valued. And I know that you have spent, you spend lots of your time and you've spent many, many years exploring the relationship between things, for example, like our clothes, and where were the fibres of our clothes are grown and looking at whole cycles, because you've been talking about water cycles and soil cycles and nutrient cycles. 

But actually, you're also interested in clothes cycles, and you know, what's happening with our waist and actually looking at these systemic cycles. And would you talk to us a little bit about what are these farmers doing? Like, let them bring us back? It sounds like back to basics, but I can honestly think that we don't learn this, you know, we don't know where things come from. So, could you walk me through what some of these farmers are doing that you've been working with? And then, you know, the cycle, the cycle of what they're doing? And when it works? What does it look like?

Deborah Barker  

Um, yeah, no, it's all connected. And certainly my work with pastor for life came out of my work with the fibre shed, which so the fibre shed just give you a little bit of background began in 2011 with an American called Rebecca Burgess, who had just come back from a study trip, where she was looking at indigenous dyeing practices for cloth dyeing, and realised she was sitting in this chair made from fossil fuels dressed in clothes from fossil fuels and was about to get on an aeroplane and she's, what am I doing? 

She went home and she set herself a challenge to create a wardrobe within 130 miles of her home using all natural fibres and it became you Yeah, it's inspired so many people, it actually became a movement. So it's now a grassroots movement around the world, with affiliates, and it's the best kind of organisation, it's very devolved. There's a lot of support, there's a lot of inspiration. There's also a lot of freedom. And there's a lot of integrity. So I set up an affiliate in 2019, with gala from claw hatch farm. And HARRIET MILLER, who's an international knitwear designer, because again, we saw this sort of clothing cycle was being sold,

Deborah Barker  

I don't even know what the word is, it was just completely in chaos. And we had basically, we've basically moved to using fossil fuels in our clothing. And meanwhile, the wool that comes from sheep, who are in our landscape that could be providing clothing and textiles was being burned. I mean, literally burned, farmers were doing it as a protest, because they can use it for composting, because they were so furious at the lack of value. And I think I'm not sure that we've ever valued farmers to be honest, I think, you know, probably there. I don't know if it's in every country, but I suspect it is. But there is this sort of the hand and head divide. 

And farmers are seen very much as people who work the land. And I think a lot of people in the city and the more people that are in the city, the more people think like this, look at farmers and think it's just a case of giving a sheep some water and putting a seed in the soil. And it's so challenging in these times of climate crisis. So, Harriet and Gala and I wanted to do something with this wall that we were seeing was being wasted. And so we set up a fibre shed within the southeast and included London in that so that we had access to designers and journalists. 

And also London has a way of sort of taking something and I do like the fibre shed and taking all the air out. Because they've got access to the media and we really wanted to send to the farmers. And that's been a bit of a struggle is it it's been a bit of a tussle there. But I can't say no, this is as farmers are centred in this. So it's also about equity about finding a more equitable relationship between farmers designers, the processes actually are in a place where they do service both designers and farmers. 

But we don't have enough of them. So like the spinners and the weavers and the scarers, who clean the wall, we basically are at the moment in the process of identifying farmers who are working, tend not to use the word regenerative because I think since the likes of Nestle have started using it, it's a bit discredited, and it doesn't have any legal meaning and people start to assume it does. So we tend to use the word agro ecological, which means that people are farming in a way that supports these cycles that we've talked about the nutrient cycle, the water cycle and the carbon cycle. And the farmers that we might work with might not necessarily be using that terminology. But there's another interesting point, I think, and this comes up a lot in discussion is how we monitor when farmers are doing the right thing by their land, and by the sort of wider ecosystems on their land. And actually, you can feel it and they can feel it.

So they often don't need to know this stuff intellectually in the same way that indigenous people don't need to be, don't need to be shown a graphic or what they're doing because they have an embodied relationship with their land. And that was quite a challenge because people like certifications, and they like to know, you know, how we've proved or evidence something. But actually, we disagree at the moment, the way we're working is by visiting people. And that is the value of it being a small area, you know, within the southeast, we can visit and we know the farmers and farmers are very well networked themselves. 

So you'll soon hear if somebody was doing something that they were trying to get away with something that didn't fit with what was what I have to say farmers I work with. The opposite is true. They will give their time and their energy to supporting initiatives like fibre shed if they're behind it.

Marina Robb  

yeah, so what is what is the initiative then?

Deborah Barker  

The initiative is to work with farmers to find wool from farms where there's agro ecological processes, and then connect those farmers with designers so that the design miners can buy the wool direct, and also to try and educate designers in the value of British wool because we have this awful position where once Merino came in from Australia, Merino is actually a brand. People didn't know that they thought it was just the sheep. And there was a sheep covering, it was also a brand called Merino. 

And they literally brainwashed British people into thinking that Merino was the only world that one should use. And Merino is gorgeous, and it's lovely next to your skin. But there are lots of other ways to use wool. In furnishings I just as my, with under my natural dye studio, filled in folk, I just made a huge curtain with Flynn. And it's brilliant for a curtain because it's quite sturdy and strong. But then we do have really lovely soft fleeces like the Southdown and the Romney, which you might not want to use them for underwear, but you could certainly use them as a for a cardigan next to your skin.

Marina Robb  

So these are all different types of sheep. Are they these? Forget? Because you're right.

Deborah Barker  

Yeah, Romney is one of our local breeds, actually, which came, you know, as bred on Romney Marsh. So we have this strawberry thing in the UK, where we've got over 60, individual breeds of sheep, which are all uniquely suited to a particular environment. And so if you went to the Lake District, and you've got a herd work, it's brilliant for outerwear, because those sheep have to create a fleece, which can survive in all weathers. And if you come down here, where it's warmer, and it's more gentle, you get this lovely, soft, lustrous, long Romney because it's a kind of slightly damper, but, you know, more temperate weather. 

So yes, it's, we have a unique system here. And it is, you know, tragic to me that we don't make more of our sheep breeds. But at university, most designers aren't taught about the sheep breeds, even if they do knit where, but what's very exciting at the moment, and we were in the very earliest stages of our fibre shed, we set up just before COVID. So that wasn't ideal. But we've had a lot of support. We've had financial support from various trusts who are very interested in developing this work. So at the moment, we're actually developing a toolkit for designers and farmers to help them understand the challenges that each face and the technical needs of working together. And with processes that will be launched in January 2024.  

We've got the mapping project that we're doing, where I'm working with some colleague, Isabella, who's helping me to look at where we can find agro ecological produced wool. And in tandem with that, me in particular, and also Harriet are involved in the sort of wider design world, and making connections with universities, involved in quite a lot of certainly quite odd postdoctoral research projects, which are looking at how can we re-establish these local networks. So moving away from the idea of sort of extractive supply chains, global supply chains, where you're looking abroad to bring in natural fibres or working with fossil fuels? Which, you know, I think we all pretty aware now of the issues with micro plastics, to looking more towards our local region, and what how we can close ourselves.

Marina Robb  

So first of all, hopefully, we can put some of these links, again, on the show notes, so people can look further and find out more about it, because it sounds very, very important. But take me take me back to the idea of the farmer. You know, first there's a there's a kind of, you're describing a cycle that that looks after the earth, that looks after the people that looks after livelihoods. But I would like to hear that, but I also want to, because when I did some reading, I was shocked, as I often am with so many of these systems that really don't do that. 

You know, like you mentioned, you just talked about the global manufacturer of closed and how that works. I don't think many of us out there will know, actually what's happening. So could you just first say let's talk about the cycle as you see it working. And I know there's going to be challenges. We're at the beginning where, you know, we're reimagining systems, aren't we absolutely at a time where we need to reimagine systems and we need people that have this imagination needs support, to make these things more viable. And I understand that could you just give me a mini tour of the cycle working? And then let's just drop into well, that's not how it is. But there are there was hope, you know,

Deborah Barker  

talk about a project we did with a designer called Phoebe English. She's based in London, and has incredible integrity is really committed to reducing the impact of the fashion industry and works on a small scale, and was prepared to take a risk of working with us. She was actually part of a British Fashion Council programme, she got some funding, and Cambridge University and London College of Fashion were involved. 

So it was also being evidenced, which was helpful. And what she did is she came to us and she said, how can we create a jumper or some knitwear that puts back more than it takes from the land and the community. And we knew that in one project, that wasn't going to be possible, but we wanted to test a few steps. So first of all, it's about sourcing the wool. And we knew that it had to be within the local fibre shed. And poor hatch wool, where I mentioned garlic earlier, is the shepherd produces some beautiful yarn that's produced within an organic system. 

And not only is it within organic within an organic system, but the farm itself is a community owned farm. So that it's a cooperative that the local community owns shares in non-profit making shares. And it's a land trust. And then within that context, there's a profit-making business of which Garner is one of the directors, but all the profits go back into the farm. 

And it's an open farm. So there was lots to commend it not just from the point of view, that the wool is produced organically, but they're striving to create an equitable system within the farm itself. So Phoebe came and she got the wool from the farm. And the whole thing about wool is that sheep are growing the wool anyway. So they're eating grass, and they're growing wool. So essentially, they're sequestering carbon when they're making that wool. And it's held in that wall until the end of the jumper or whatever. However, whatever was made from its life. So the wool was then dyed with wells that was grown in the southeast as well. And then it went to a local knitter, Phoebe was the designer made a design work with local knitters and had it knitted in London. 

And then it was actually shown at the British Fashion Council exhibition at the British Library, in 2021, I think it was showing the processes and how it worked. And the most important thing is that in that journey, it's local labour, local fibres, local dyes, and local processing and making. And then at the end of its useful life, there have been no chemical inputs into that jumper, it can go back into the soil, and become compost and feed the next cycle of microbes and fungi that will sort of break it down and then nourish the plants that will then feed the sheep that then grow the, the fleece, and you get this lovely cycle. So that's the idea. So the it's very much an idea of soil to soil textiles. 

But as soon as you start introducing chemicals into that, or things that you can't recycle or break down, then you can't put that clothing back into the soil. And then consequently, we have all this huge amounts of second-hand clothing that's being dumped in Central America, in countries in Africa, where we've literally just decimated their environment. And you know, it's so it's horrendous, what's happening.

Marina Robb  

Yeah, and I mean, again, when I did a bit of research, before speaking to you readings, some of your articles and listen to some of your other podcasts. Yeah, very shocked to realise not only the livelihoods of the people that are making the growing the cotton that are putting all the fertilisers on the land, which you which, I'm sure means that they have to buy more fertilisers to put the nutrients back into the land to then what's happening to their life and then then the dyes these chemicals that are being put in to presumably dye the fibre that to make our clothes whether that's natural or A polyester, isn't it? So there's, so there's this huge and then as you say, then we buy it all. And then we probably discard most of it. And then that goes to another country and then goes back into the system again. Is that is that? I mean, there's probably even more going on there. But it's another shocking cycle.

Deborah Barker  

Yeah, I mean, the pollution from dyes. I mean, there's over 1000 different chemicals and dyes. And they go right next to our skin, which is the biggest organ as well, that we have. And yet, the testing of dyes and what can go on the skin is way less stringent than what we can put inside our mouth. And yet, we know we absorbed through the skin, because we have all these sort of patches through, you know, medicine, us now to feed chemicals into our skin. 

So the people that are working with them, actually with their hands, I mean it, there's terrible health problems for the communities where those industries are based. And I think the one of the biggest shifts that we have to make, I mean, it's coming back to this idea that, yes, things need to be changed. But actually, it's what we how we think that really is the starting point, how we think about things because we've never paid the true price for textiles. And if we think back to Victorian England, we had children in the mills, and we have pregnant women and people are working, you know, sort of 15 hour days and being paid very badly. And then at the point where we became unionised here and people rights meant that that was no longer a possibility. 

All the Tech Stars were offshored to countries that didn't have such strong protections. And, you know, continued essentially our colonial project or slave trade. Yeah. And the people that have been enslaved previously, you know, they're now being enslaved in a different way through these industries that are producing our clothes at insanely low prices that don't anywhere near give them a proper living, and at the same time, pollute their planet and extract their resources from their land. 

So I think we really have to move away from this extractive mindset, sort of colonial mindset and look at working within planetary boundaries for all our sakes. And that does mean rethinking our relationship with clothes as well. It means rethinking how often we change them, how we upcycle how we reuse them. And people will often say to me, when I'm working in a project, like I did with Phoebe will, nobody would be able to afford any clothes. And my question is, well, is it the responsibility of somebody in the global south to close, you clothe you at their own expense, you know, to work 15 hours a day, and to have no health care and leave their children alone at home and had their rivers polluted? 

I mean, I really have to, I really think that we have to rethink our entitlement. And there is also real clothing poverty in the country right now, because of the social inequity. It's actually inequality that we have here. So it's not a case of either or either. You know, it's a much more nuanced discussion. And I think the answer to people being able to afford clothes here is for us to check to really look at our own economic system as well, you know, the clothing, those of us who are trying to make changes in the clothing industry and make clothing, the production of clothing more equitable, can't be held responsible for the wider economic system. We know we can put pressure on that. But yeah, is I think the answer to be able to close everybody in close where the people who produce and make and grow the clothes are paid properly, is to rethink the whole economic system. So I mean, it's interesting, we were talking about cycles, as always, everything's interconnected. You know, you can't.

Marina Robb  

Yeah, like, I guess I often, I mean, I feel fortunate that I feel like I've been in and out while in probably for 30 years, these sorts of ways of thinking, which means that I even now hearing it, I do feel overwhelmed. I think like, oh, how on earth are we going to, you know, change these systems that we've inherited, that are so sick in so many ways, but with that, I have an understanding because of the amount of time I've thought about these things that actually, you know, we need to look at what we can do what we can do what? Leverage of leverages, we have within our family within our careers within, you know, and do something. 

And, and I think that's where it starts. Because I think it's very easy to disconnect go well, how, you know, it's just too big, I can't engage with that. But, but even from this conversation, I feel, you know, I can invest, I can invest in thinking about the clothes that I might buy, even if it's a shift. Like I think, as you, my son will say, it's just turning the dial just a little bit turning the dial. And I, although I want to turn the dial massively, I can just turn a dial a little bit, and that will that will help. 

And I'm also thinking, actually, because you spoke about indigenous communities, and it's not that long ago, is it that and it happens now that there are communities of people living closer to the land, who, who do presumably grow fibres and make their clothes and deal with that fantastic, beautiful design and weaving. And I imagine it's less common now. But it's presumably it's it was it has been the way we all lived and clothed ourselves. Is that right?

Deborah Barker  

Yes, I mean, it's extraordinarily recent, it was only in the 1850s that synthetic dyes were invented. Although I caveat there is that some of the industrial natural dyeing with plant dyeing, use some heavy metals that we would not want to use now, a pre mediaeval period, certainly dies, why just based on plant dies and plant mordants, which you need to make the colours colorfast it's really only since the 1990s, that we've had this incredible rise in consumption of clothing and fast fashion has really built up to the point that it is now where I think there's something like, three or four wares of a garment, and then it's discarded.

Marina Robb  

Right. Okay. So I'm thinking about education. I'm thinking about what you said about hand head divide, that that it often exists in so many of the ways we think in the ways we work, and I'm wondering about what we could do differently. Within education, it could be education of, you know, the university students learning textiles, or it could be primary school children. Would that be anything that you would suggest some steps that could just turn that dial? Or make us a little bit more aware? Make us feel a little bit more part of this cycle? So that we belong? You know, was there anything you would like to say about that, Deborah? Well,

Deborah Barker  

what I, one of the things I'm already doing is bringing university students on to farms with farmers. Because if you try and sit stand in a lecture room and talk to people about soil microbes, to be honest, you can see them glaze over. And I would too if you take the students into a field, and they can see the diversity of leaves, and you can get this feeling of vibrancy, and good health from the soil, and you can see all the insects buzzing around and the birds, and then you start talking about this living world beneath the soil, it starts to make sense. And a very good example of that is in sheep’s wool - not all sheep's wool is produced in a way that is helpful to the soil. If they worming the sheep on a regular basis, it will kill not only that all the microbes in the sheep's gut, but what's in the soil. So it's a sort of thing you can talk about standing in a field of sheep that really sinks in, you know that you're compromising this beautiful landscape. 

So that's one thing and then, you know, helping those students see the preciousness of those materials, because when you see a plant growing, and then they die, something with that plant, and then you see the wall and you realise how long it's taken to grow. And you see the farmer and the care they put in. It really does make people think differently. And I've had some really powerful experiences of people who've been in tears and said, You know, I really didn't value materials until I had this experience. And I think with younger children than I see with my own grandchildren, they have a natural affinity with being outside and soil and the trees and the grass. And it's just It's just what's the word supporting them in that affinity? I think. I mean, I guess my children, my grandchildren do live on a farm. 

So perhaps for children who come from the city, they need a bit more encouragement. But it's, it's there, I see it in young children. So I think it's that embodied experiential time in nature. And then just helping them to observe those cycles we talked about, you know, spending time outside in the rain, so they can see where the rain goes into a flowerpot. And that plant actually gets a really good drink, or the flowerpot that you haven't looked after the plants so well, and the soil is compacted and all the rain runs off. Right there, you've got an example of the water cycle. So it's

Marina Robb  

Yeah, I feel very strongly that when we can actually embody our ideas, like taking it from the head, and actually seeing, exploring, being in the body and feeling it come it, it stays with us in a different way, than an abstract way of learning from a book, let's say I think it is different, but it's not exclusive. As we've said, there's many ways to learn. So I'm what is a fellow? We've touched on so many things from even the idea of what is equitable? 

What is fair justice, you know, thinking about living systems, and how we can work together in a way that is mutually beneficial and supportive. I just want to talk, as we come to a close, I guess, just thinking about you mentioned in something that I read you were talking about, we need to move away from supply chains to supply networks. And I could you just speak a little bit about that, and how that might, in a way reflect a bit about this new paradigm, this new system that we are moving towards infant, if it's little by little, you know, could you does that? Is there a relationship between those words and the new paradigm?

Deborah Barker  

I think so. Absolutely. Because the what we need to move away from it is kind of linear models, which is what the supply chain is. So in a supply chain, you would have somebody producing something, say in the Global South, that is then exported by a middle person, to somewhere in Europe, where it might be packaged and marketed. And then a designer might say if we're talking about clothing, you know, it'd be a dresses made and shipped to the UK and then marketed and there's no relationship between all the people who have been involved with that production of say that dress from global south to when it's sold in London, in a supply network. 

All the people involved in the process have a connection. And there because within the fibre shed, what we're looking at is small scale, replicable models, rather than trying to create a big centralised system, there isn't the same protectionism. So people aren't so anxious about sharing where they got their wool from or where the farmer was or in fact, those things give provenance to the garment or to the product. 

So you for example, I can give an example with Phoebe she came down to meet Gala. And to meet her at the sort of the farm, where the people on the farm where the wool was being produced. And she we met with the person who was well I was doing the dyeing. So we they came down and we looked at the dyes together and I knew the person who was doing the knitting for them. So rather than having this kind of linear chain, you've basically got a network of people within a region who are all supporting each other. 

And I think we'd like to think that moving forward, we also move to a place where we're sharing the risk because when for example, as a farmer in the area, who is growing field of weld for me, and Wells is a dye plant for the colour yellow that can be used and produced without harm to the soil or to the sort of water system and part of that group robbing has been to bring together a whole network of farmers who were interested in growing wells with another farmer who's had experience. So it's not sort of one farmer doing research on their own in a corner looking for someone to sell it to at the highest price and stopping anybody else from doing what they're doing. And I think I probably described in the article that you read, you know, I sort of see ultimately, it's almost more like the mycorrhizal network that we have underground that connects all these different threads that connect people. And the thing that we've really learned from nature is that there is resilience in diversity. And that's what we want to replicate within our economic and social systems.

Marina Robb  

I think that's a very nice place to end, I feel like as, as happens many times, to me, this excitement and enthusiasm to speak for longer and longer and learn more and more, but I love that image of the mycorrhizal networks and how we can all support each other rather than feel threatened by each other. 

And I and I know how that works emotionally, you know, I can feel when I feel like there isn't enough, or someone's going to take something from me or, you know, it, there's a psychological aspect to the way the system has been set up as well, that needs navigating but, but I think it's incredibly helpful to imagine and see other ways of working, which are beneficial, and to see how we can not only support ourselves, our families, our communities, but but also the wider community. So yeah, thanks again, so much, Deborah, for for imparting some of your wisdom, and I look forward to adding some stuff to the show notes. And yeah, is there anything else you want to say just before we end?

Deborah Barker  

I didn't think so. I'm sorry, I've wandered all over the place, that anybody listening can make sense of what I said. But I'd be very happy to put some of the references to the people who have mentioned Walter Janay, particularly in relation to the water cycle. And donut economics, I think, is another great way of exploring how we work within planetary boundaries. And but then also, just to reiterate what you said, I guess, which is that small steps, I think part of the whole regenerative culture that we need to move towards is being generous both to others and to ourselves, and not to give yourself a hard time about what you've done in the past or what you can't do. 

But just to make those small, incremental changes, and just to have discussions, do talk with people, and this is a journey I've been on for 30 years, you know, it's taken me a long time, and I'm nowhere near where I would like to be if I lived in a perfect world as a perfect person. And I think embracing our imperfections and our crankiness is all part of that sort of, you know, embracing a regenerative way of being and there's always another thing.

Marina Robb  

Well, I look forward to embracing our crankiness together sometime. And thank you again. Thanks, Marina. Thanks for speaking to me, Deborah. Join me next week for episode 16 The last episode in Season Two, I'll be sharing with you my exciting Do It Yourself kit water filter, looking at the amazing life enhancing properties of biochar, and thinking more generally, about water. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of The Wild minds podcast. If you enjoyed it and want to help support this podcast, please subscribe, share and leave a rating and review wherever you get your podcasts. Your review will help others find the show. To stay updated with the wild minds podcast and get all the behind-the-scenes content. You can visit theoutdoorteacher.com or follow me on Facebook at the outdoorteacherUK and LinkedIn. Marina Robb, the music was written and performed by Geoff Robb. See you next week. Same time, same place