I want to take you on a little adventure with us. Imagine a verdant green valley of wildflowers and grasses, intermingling with free grazing sheep, slivers of forest, and small organic farm plots.
The valley and the hills which surround it are alive with the subtle hum of human activity, as they have been for many thousands of years. Kings and queens held home in this valley from the Victorian era back to the Iron Age some 2,000 years ago, and there is evidence of human history stretching back as far as the Neolithic period.
This is the Falkland Estate in Fife, Scotland, home to the Centre for Stewardship, where we held the latest in what has recently become an international series of Final Straw “workshop and screening” events.
“What does it mean to be a steward of the land?” Ninian Stuart, co-founder of the Centre for Stewardship and current caretaker of the estate poses this open ended question to us when we first meet him. It’s a profound question, especially given his situation. Ninian is the hereditary steward of the Falkland Estate. Coming from a long line of stewards — he points out to us that his surname literally means steward, or guardian of the hall — his question is about far more than his own role as the steward of Falkland. It asks collectively, what is the role of each of us who must live by and with the land underneath our feet, and indeed, can we even say that we stand on the land, or must we instead see ourselves as standing with it?
As Ninian shares his views on the true meaning of stewardship, we begin to see just how closely this man and his actions are tied into nature — and the vastness of what we might learn from him on the subject.
Ninian and the Centre for Stewardship have helped Falkland Estate undergo a tremendous change, from its former life as a royal hunting ground and private gardens, to what is now a vibrant, sustainable, community-oriented landscape that feels as much a part of the people as the people are a part of it. With a hand from Ninian, Scotland’s first organic farm cafe, Pillars of Hercules, opened its doors here three decades ago. More recently, just down the road he helped bring New Farmers to life, ushering in a new band of young biodynamic farmers to regenerate land and find new ways to weave good seasonal food into the culture and economy. There are a host of other activities taking place here: local food workshops, a seed bank, woodworking programs that are inspiring a new generation of young craftspeople, forest explorations for schoolchildren, and far too many more things to mention in this space.
You can understand our excitement then, when we were given a chance to work with Ninian and the Centre for Stewardship here in Falkland.
Our Final Straw event took place this past weekend, and began with a meditative “sensing walk” through the field and into the forest, where we were all able to slow down a bit and really dig into our sense of place and being.
After this, the paintbrushes and handmade recycled paper came out and we turned Falkland Estate into a different kind of hunting ground, as participants hunted quietly and calmly for color among the flowers, grasses, stones, and soils. Rubbing stones and plants, and sticking their paintbrushes into the soil, our participants find some amazingly rich palettes of color within nature!
The workshop ended with a potluck. All was delicious, but I want to call out one of the attendants named Marek, a man who epitomizes how places like Falkland Estate can become such special hubs of community and well being. Marek works more than full time each week in his day job, and when he is not there, much of his free time is spent right here at Falkland Estate as a volunteer. Working with his hands and learning new skills, he tends to the fields, orchards, tans hides, and all other sorts of jobs that help keep this place humming. Doing all of this within nature especially seems to energize him, and in a way, he also does the same for nature.
Marek came out to join our workshop, where he found some of the most breathtaking stone colors we’ve ever seen, and then he took out a huge pan to share a desert he made. We’re talking about foraged blueberries that he hand picked from the mountain, and made into a giant cake fit for a king.
These are the kinds of things that put days like this over the top… delicious and heart warming at the same time.
Also in attendance was local farmer Bryde. We met Bryde and her partner Nat on our first visit to Falkland. These two young and energetic members of the Falkland New Farmers program started the Falkland Kitchen Farm just a few years ago. They run a 5-acre plot where they are focused on “farming with nature instead of against it.” During that first meeting, the two were so happy to meet us that they gave us a quick tour of their beautifully wild-looking farm, and gifted us with wee bags of new potatoes fresh from the earth.
We were thrilled to see the beginnings of Nat and Bryde’s efforts as they both move towards a way of growing food that enriches the earth and the people around it, and we were happy to have them support the event!
The day ended with a screening of Final Straw: Food, Earth, Happiness, and a truly thought provoking conversation with those in attendance about where we can go from here.
One of our favorite notions from the audience was that we all have the chance to change the food system even if we’re not farmers, and we can do it simply by building real, personal relationships with the people who farm, fish, or otherwise produce our food. This by itself, can open up the door to a completely new world for us as consumers, and a completely new way of knowing, exploring, and enjoying our food. Get to know your farmers, your butchers, and fish mongers! We wholeheartedly agree!
All of this is thanks in big part to the Robert Callender International Residency and its director Liz Ogilvie, who graciously invited us to spend the month here in Scotland, and gave us the space, resources, and connections to develop our art and social practice — we’ll share more on the other things we’ve been up to here later.
It was so meaningful for us to have met Liz, Ninian, our participants, and to have met the land here in Falkland, which a host of amazing people are stewards of. It’s been another one of these experiences where we see the glimmers of light that are igniting new ways of thinking about life and how we might live it well, and new ways of bringing humanity forward into a truly sustainable way of living and being.
We hope the workshop, the film, and our conversations had an impact here, and if anything, that they added to the glimmers of light which are already shining brightly in Falkland.