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Plants for a Future by Harry Mather, Vegan Views 70 (Autumn 1995)

PLANTS FOR A FUTURE, (an article about them appeared in VV 55 of Winter 1991/92) is now over 4 years old and what started as an experiment along the lines of vegan self-sufficiency and permaculture is proving a success. Ken and Addy took over a 28 acre barley field in Cornwall and, with some volunteer help, planted hedgerows and thousands of trees, which are now growing, thriving and fruiting.

They first spent years researching plants suitable for vegans, to further increase the variety of the diet by using long neglected trees and plants and those used in countries outside Britain; and not only edible plants but also those that would help the vegan lifestyle for clothing, lubricants, oils, paints, waterproofing, ropes and wood preservatives, also medicines.

They also want to maintain the diversity of plants and counter the trend towards relying on ever fewer species that could lead to disaster if ever one species failed due to world climate changes, for instance. They are already growing hundreds of different species of edible plants from temperate and sub-tropical zones around the world and would like to selectively breed some of them to improve their usefulness or taste (e.g. reduce bitterness). Yams, Oca and quinoa are part of their diet. They grow many herbs with medicinal properties, including some common ones: Thyme maintains the vigour of body cells, Sage is good for mouth ulcers and sore throats, Camomile for children's stomach upsets, and garlic acts against Candida. They wish more research would go into plant-based remedies as an alternative to drugs.

Flax is the well-known fibre plant for producing cloth (the oil from its seeds is also beneficial) but stinging nettles, hop stems and lime tree bark are some of a number of plants that yield fibres for cloth, rope or paper making. Indian Hemp (not the Marijuana variety) also produces very strong fibres and hemp clothing was recently an expensive fashion item.

Amongst many interesting uses for plants that they have come across are: a bulb that, dried and grated, is used for soap flakes, a dandelion that yields high quality rubber, a tree whose sap makes an excellent varnish, a fruit with a waxy coating that makes aromatic candles, a plant that makes a pot scourer and a bulb that yields a strong adhesive for paper.

Plants for a Future are forming a basis for a vegan future, cruelty-free, environmentally sound, without exploiting other countries and using renewable resources - agriculture avoiding large fields that can only be sustained through artificial fertilisers, pesticides, etc. They have also replaced open fields with trees that are the lungs of the planet, maintain soil fertility and stabilise the climate. Trees not only provide renewable fuel and construction material but provide food, oils and often medicine.

Ken and Addy had to overcome the initial disappointment of not being allowed to live in the large hut that was on the site, but, as they were about to be evicted from it, a rented house became available in the nearby village. Local people were at first not friendly to these eccentric-seeming intruders but have not failed to be impressed by the results. A recent Open Day attracted many visitors. Two people in the village have turned vegan and several vegans have moved in to nearby houses - so the dream of a local vegan community is taking shape.

They have even appeared briefly on TV. The presenter, who was doing a programme on food, said this was all very praiseworthy but he could not give up meat (a familiar excuse) and spent the rest of the programme exploring Cornish fishing villages and their produce.

Plants for a Future is a non-profit making organisation. A centre supplying information on useful plants and, where possible, supplying the plants themselves. All plants are grown without the use of artificial fertilisers, sprays or animal products (vegan organic).

They have a number of leaflets on various plants and subjects and a catalogue is available of plants they have on offer.

They are grateful for any donations, investments or legacies, large or small.

Visitors are welcome, but please be sure to make an appointment before coming.

Plants For A Future, The Field, Penpol, Lostwithiel, Cornwall PL22 0NG. Tel. Bodmin (01208) 873554 or 872963. Website: www.pfaf.org

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Recently, a farmer who farms organically with dairy cattle said he was struggling to maintain his family on 60 acres (admittedly he had 7 children).

In Plants For a Future they have 28 acres and Ken intends to leave half of this as a nature reserve - for the non-human animals, as he puts it. On the remaining 14 acres he claims he could maintain 30 people, who, when the project is fully established, would only have to work 2 or 3 hours a day, leaving plenty of time for leisure and crafts.

If dairy farmers were to change over to production of vegan foods, it seems as though they would make a financial gain.

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Cross-reference: Growing Fruit & Veg