Thought for the Week – Food for the Ecozoic

Deborah Colvin, Church Warden and Eco Team member, talks about St James’s new growing project ‘Food for the Ecozoic’.

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Food for the Ecozoic

This week we launch a new growing project on the sunny, south-facing side of the church next to Bulbous’ flower stall. Previously in this series of projects, Daily Bread explored the role of wheat in human history and culture, and Aftermath engaged with the 42 species of plants that sprang up in the bombed nave of the church in 1940.

The word Ecozoic was coined by Thomas Berry last century. Berry, who described himself as a ‘geologian’, lived a deeply earthed Christianity, calling for a unified sense of the sacred community of life. The word Ecozoic literally means ‘a home for life’ (all life) and Berry envisioned a new geological era characterised by a transition away from our current destructive industrial civilisation towards a mutually life-giving human presence for planet earth.

A quick dive into Deep Time shows why we need to hold a planet-sized perspective and think in geological time:

Complex life on earth really got going about 540 million years ago with an explosion of ‘forms most wondrous’. We know this era as the Palaeozoic (‘ancient life’), and it came to an abrupt end 252 million years ago with a huge extinction event – the ‘Great Dying’ – in which 95% of all life on earth disappeared. This was probably caused by massive volcanism and ejection of carbon dioxide into the air, creating conditions similar to those we are beginning to experience today. So began the Mesozoic (‘middle life’) era which lasted 200 million years or so – until an asteroid strike wiped out 50% of all life, including the dinosaurs, all over again. And so the Cenozoic (’new life’) era was ushered in, and life quite literally bloomed  as flowering plants thrived and diversified, ultimately leading to human agriculture.

See Geology In website for this evocative graphic and more information.

In the 21st century CE, scientists warn that the next huge global extinction event is well underway, this time caused by the activity of some humans. A new era is beginning and we as a species have choices and agency in making it an Ecozoic era, where planet earth again becomes home for all our kindred species.

How we feed ourselves is a crucial part of a just transition to this new era.  Food for the Ecozoic will tune in to the wisdom of indigenous peoples, and the long traditions of these islands, learning from those who celebrate the sacredness of the Earth and the kinship of all beings, and exposing how agricultural colonisation has excluded people from their lands and disrupted the web of life. And rooted in our own traditions, we’ll need new ways to grapple with Scripture in the Ecozoic, and new theologies of God incarnate and divine immanence.

Expect to see the Three Sisters – corn, beans and squash – scrambling up the railings in the Summer. Together, the sisters provide carbohydrate, protein, and vitamins/minerals. They have been grown by American First Nations for millennia, and many other cultures grow a version of this staple food combination. Tomatoes and sunflowers will also make an appearance because of their ability to shout ‘here we are!’ to the good folks passing along Jermyn St. This sort of companion planting is ecologically revolutionary, with the capacity to change climate and ecosystems – on a very small scale in Jermyn St – but who knows what those passers-by might learn – and the project will host events, build partnerships and develop online materials.

The Grow Box, formerly home to the Daily Bread wheat crop and a profusion of AFTERMATH ‘weeds’, becomes a perennial polyculture, where plants providing different benefits are grown together at the same time. Perennial plants grown in-situ for many years help build a regenerative ecosystem. This is much closer to the way the more-than-human world does things than the extractive monocultures which produce much of our food today. This style of planting enhances soil health and biodiversity, stabilizes microclimates, makes efficient use of space, builds in nutritional diversity and ensures there is something to eat year-round with no ‘hungry gap’. We are experimenting with wild and cultivated plants that have a long history in Britain such as Sea Buckthorn, Celtic bean, barley, wild garlic, and flax – because who knows, we might be making our own fibres and fabrics again in the future. As we face up to a hotter, drier, less predictable future in SE England, we’ll grow grains of the semi-arid tropics such as millet, and cardoon, the Mediterranean ancestor of the Globe artichoke.

Come along on Sunday 19th March straight after the service to take a step into the Ecozoic. Receive some Three Sisters seeds to grow at home (if you can’t be there in person, send us a stamped addressed envelope and we will send you some). Becoming Ecozoic is going to take all of us and all our creative energies, our arts and sciences, poetry and gardening and cooking, conversing and educating and networking – contact us on to join in.