In May 2022, Rotterdamse Munt presented the film Head, Heart and Hands and I was asked to introduce the film. My introduction tells about the importance of storytelling and you can read it below…
Tonight, we are travelling to Spain with the film Head, Heart and Hands: a story of AlVelAl – a farming association based in South-eastern Spain
I shared this film with Rotterdamse Munt to present as I am deeply inspired by the work of AlVelAl and their farmers. I collaborate on projects together with AlVelAl through the organization I work for Commonland – an enabler of large-scale, holistic landscape restoration.
And earlier this month, I travelled through the AlVelAl territory, meeting the people part of the movement and visiting the regenerative farms that contribute to the co-creation of a healthy landscape.
I wish I could transport you to one of these farms now. As you walk between almond and olive trees, you brush your feet in the wildflower meadow, you hear the insects humming between aromatic plants like rosemary, thyme and lavender. You see cornbuntings, larks, sparrows, gold and bullfinches flitting between the trees – signing a symphony – while vultures circle high above. You feel the rich earth beneath your feet. And if you stay for lunch, you taste the landscape in the vegetables, the herbs, the meat, the olive oil and the wine.
Farms that create life and provide biodiversity habitat are crucial. Because we need to start giving biodiversity more space in our landscapes and our lives – especially in how we farm.
During the last 50 years, human activity has wiped out 60% of the planet’s biodiversity. The main cause for this is agriculture. Food production. Farming. So for some of you here tonight, during your lifetime we have lost more than half of the bees, butterflies, birds, amphibians, mammals, plant, soil and aquatic life that make our world beautiful – and just because of what we’ve been eating.
In the AlVelAl Territory– like across most of the world – the mainstream way of producing food destroys fertile soil while pumping threatened water supplies from underground aquifers. Lettuces are watered during month-long droughts, only to be exported for 1 euro apiece. Monoculture almond plantations – devoid of life, empty of commonplace birds like sparrows and finches – stretch as far as you can see. While rural depopulation is rife as people leave the countryside – the villages and towns of their birth – to find work and a life worth living in cities.
How could we let this happen?
Well, I believe that it is down to the stories that we tell ourselves. Because stories are powerful. They challenge and change perspectives. Stories build our understanding of the world. Kings and Queens used to fear poets for the power of their stories. Stories guide how we think and they shape who we are. Stories weave the narrative of reality together and the stories we tell ourselves create the future.
The problem is, we have forgotten when we are being told a story.
We are told the story that industrial agriculture will feed the world. Chemical fertilizers increase yields. Farming needs more space. That diverse, integrated food production should be replaced by farms that look like factories. Because food should be cheap. Profits should be big. Productivity is paramount. And exporting dairy is critical to the Dutch economy. This is all business as usual.
The world in which we now live is a manifestation of these stories. A world in which biodiversity numbers plummet. Where most of Europe’s waterways – lakes and rivers – are polluted. Where, globally, 75% of livable land is degraded. A world in which cheap food costs the Earth. Where the agriculture that is supposed to feed us, destroys the very ground under our feet.
So, what future would we create if we started to tell different stories? Stories of hope, revival, community collaboration, connection to nature and the possibilities of regenerating, degraded and infertile landscapes.
Head, Heart and Hands is a film that tells such a story. It tells the story of bringing dignity back to rural life. Of regenerative agriculture – a way of farming that regenerates soil rather than degrading it, that promotes biodiversity and ecological complexity instead of replacing it, that gives people hope, purpose and the opportunity to create a future, healthy landscape where their children can live, grow, work and start a family.
The AlVelAl movement is contagious. And that’s largely due to the people involved in it and the inspiration that catches them. Because people want to be part of a story of regeneration, revival and hope. Because it feels good to contribute to a greener, flourishing landscape – to a world we want to live in.
We are all part of this world. We are all part of the puzzle. And everyone has a role to play. Whether that means deciding to buy local products from farms and gardens that promote life, planting flowers on your balcony, or spending your vacation at an Ecosystem Restoration Camp. You can all find a place in the story of an agriculture that values and promotes biodiversity while producing healthy, nutritious food.
All around us we hear stories of crisis. You open the news and you want to close it. But just as you will see in the film tonight, these are not the only stories we should be listening to. Because if we want to see different things, we have to start doing things differently. And that begins with stories.
Before we watch the film, I’d like to finish in the words of Amanda Gorman, poet and activist –
“There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to be it.”