Holly Owen – artist in residence

Artists close up-1

Holly Owen, environmental artist, came to live at the Centre for Alternative Technology seven months ago as our artist in residence. Holly’s time here has been inspiring, not just for her artistic practise, but for all the staff that have been a part of her continuing journey into low impact art.

“Playing with materials bound to the earth lifts us out of the commonplace and into a world re-imagined. Art has the ability to re-enchant our consciousness with the world when the facts and figures of climate change leave us numb.”

Holly Owen, 2016

Bees

Holly’s art and climate change journey started eight years ago, when she began to explore natural, low impact materials and processes in her artistic practice.

Experimenting with golden-yellow Dartmoor beeswax, Holly began to unravel the ecological mysteries surrounding the decline of the honeybee during her residency at Buckfast Abbey. This was the first step in an ongoing journey, exploring local and global environmental issues that affect humanity in both subtle and devastating ways.

“In the first week of my residency at the Centre for Alternative Technology, I realised how surface level my knowledge was about global climate change. This was going to be a sharp learning curve from the ground up.
Thankfully my residency was connected with CAT’s education department, so alongside many groups of school kids I spent my first few months eagerly absorbing the wealth of knowledge that this enthusiastic team have to share,” said Holly.

Holly joined CAT in the summer of 2015, in months before COP21 in Paris. It was then that she realised the significance of the timing of her residency.

“Two years prior to my CAT journey I began working with digital artist Kristina Pulejkova on a multi-media project entitled Switching Heads-sound mapping the Arctic.
The project took us to a community deep within the Arctic Circle where we worked alongside local people to collect the sights, sounds and stories from one of the most endangered environments on earth.
We were invited to take the resulting film to the art and culture festival ArtCOP21 that ran in conjunction with COP21 in Paris.
As our anticipation of this important global event grew, so did the atmosphere at CAT. Embracing the opportunity to delve into the political world that CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain programme resides in, and encouraged by the active work of groups such as Reclaim the Power, Kristina and I hurtled towards COP21 fully fuelled with knowledge and a sense of people power.
I feel proud and humbled to have had the opportunity to play an active role in the events surrounding COP21, made even more poignant by the timing of my connection to CAT.”

Switching Heads (Llwyngwern slate)
Switching Heads (Llwyngwern slate)

Inspired by this life changing foray into international climate talks and activism, Holly’s piece Switching Heads (Llwyngwern slate) looks out through the withered leaves of the sparse winter beds of CAT’s central polytunnel. A life-sized head, formed from slither-thin shards of CAT quarry slate, blends organically into its surroundings.

In April, Holly will be making a welcome return to CAT, with fellow artist Kristina to record a second film for their on-going series Switching Heads – sound mapping the […] – exploring climate change through the voices of people who live and work in places of environmental significance.
Their current films – and the adventures they had making them – can be seen here.

Allotment, by Holly Owen, 2015

Holly’s piece Allotment uses the Fibonacci sequence to showcase seeds collected from CAT head gardener Roger McLennan’s historic seed bank. Using a pattern that appears regularly in natural forms – think sunflower seed heads, trees branches, an artichoke flower, an unfurling fern – this piece shows the seeds oscillating out from the center of a disc painted in Llwyngwern slate pigment.
Allotment spans a UK food-growing year challenging food production, food miles and waste and encouraging locally grown, organic, seasonal produce that can give extra enjoyment to the food we eat and share.

My Earth, 2015

explores CAT through the infinite colours, tones and textures under our feet. Thirty two different postcard sized swatches were painted with mud pigments map the site, each accompanied by an individual story of discovery. It is a snapshot of Holly’s seven months at CAT, her journey and the re-enchantment of finding beauty in the mundane and overlooked.
Accompanying this work, stories from CAT’s passionate, skilled and creative community are shared, demonstrating why CAT is so important to them. These stories create a colourful, unique and positive patchwork of individual journeys that collectively form a community like no other.

As this phase of Holly’s work comes to a close, and she is set to embark on another adventure curating art for a festival in the Severn valley, Holly reflects.
“The months that I have spent living and working in this reclaimed Welsh slate quarry amongst the ancient history, the realised dreams and the shared futures has focused my creativity in ways unimagined. As my art and climate change journey continues, it has been enriched with a deeper focus for an alternative way of life, imagined through the arts and made possible by all of us.”

Thank you for helping us here at CAT appreciate what we have under our feet, Holly. We are looking forward to sharing a Welsh Spring with you when you return.

Allotment, Holly Owen, 2015
Allotment, Holly Owen, 2015

New Skills in 2014: Grow your own Food

We have a host of exciting new short courses taking place at CAT in the new year – if you fancy learning something new in 2014, then how about techniques for growing your own food? This is a day course that starts in the morning of the 5th of April.  So why is it important to grow your own vegetables and what can we learn?

Freshly picked lettuce

This course is suitable for both beginners and experienced gardeners, to learn about organic gardening techniques. You will visit the various gardens and polytunnels on site, with orchards boasting over 30 types of apples. Students learn how to sow seeds and prepare the land for cultivation on diverse plots, such as in the forest garden and Myfanwy’s garden, an example of urban farming. You will learn from one of our longest running staff members, head gardener and ‘gardening guru’ Roger, who has worked for CAT for 35 years. He teaches about when and how to sow many different vegetables, as well as herbs and flowers. Some wise words he’s shared with us: ‘If you want to be happy for a day, get drunk. If you want to be happy for a year, get married. If you want to be happy for life, get a garden.’

3099277681_bb8de76dda
Unusual urban planters

Find out more about this course on our website. Until 31/01/2014 we are offering 10% off this short course. 

If you would like to support the on-going research done here at CAT donate to our Gardens campaign.

Low Carbon Living: Spiced Apple Cobbler

Using calculations being developed for Laura’s Larder, we’ve created a low-carbon Christmas feast. This week’s blog is the last of the three courses and features the low carbon dessert: Spiced Apple Cobbler. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading these blogs and have fun trying out the recipes. Look out for more Laura’s Larder/food related blogs in the New Year, but for now – Nadolig Llawen / Merry Christmas!

Spiced Apple Cobbler

Serves 8

Ingredients

1.5kg Apples
60g Sugar

2tsp Ginger

1tsp Allspice

For the topping:
210g self-raising wholemeal flour
70g margarine
35g sugar
Ice cream to serve

Method

Peel, core and chop the apples into small chunks and divide roughly into two. Place half of the apples in a pan with the sugar, spices and some water and heat until the apples begin to reduce down. Once the apples start to look a little bit like stewed apple, take them off the heat and add in the other half of the apples. Stir the mixture, making sure all of the chunks of apple are coated in the sauce. Add the mixture to your serving dish.

NB// The sugar and spices can be added in stages to suit taste preferences. (Those with a really sweet tooth may need to add more sugar!)

For the topping; add all of the ingredients into a bowl and rub in the margarine until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add just enough water to make into a dough. Divide the dough into 8 and roll each into a ball before squashing slightly and placing on top of the apples. The topping should expand slightly when baked in the oven so leave a bit of space between each ball. Once assembled, bake in a pre-heated oven at 200C for approximately 15-20 minutes.

In order to make this dish suitable for vegans we used a margarine that did not contain any dairy products when making the topping mixture. We then served it with vegan ice cream. For the non-vegan option we served it with dairy ice cream. For those of you who have never tried a non-dairy ice-cream I would highly recommend it – it was absolutely delicious!

Low-Carbon Notes

 

Emissions relating to Spiced Apple Cobbler served with dairy ice-cream
Emissions relating to Spice Apple Cobbler served with non-dairy ice cream

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greenhouse gas emissions of the dessert

  • The scale of this bar chart is very small. These dishes have been designed to have very low greenhouse gas emissions scores
  • All of the emissions values used are based on commercially grown produce. This means growing your own or buying locally produced ingredients could reduce emissions further still.
  • High emitters:
    • The apples contribute the most to this dish as we have used so many. When comparing foods on a per kilogram basis, apples have low associated emissions.
    • Using the same amount of dairy ice cream as vegan ice cream makes the dairy option 2 ½ times worse from a GHG emissions perspective. The non-vegan dessert, however, still has very low associated emissions meaning that, if portion sizes are sensible, dairy products can be consumed as part of a low carbon diet. The downside to this is that when you look at scaling up these results for the whole of the UK population, rather than for one person and one dish – an emissions difference of 2 ½ times begins to make more of an impact.
    • Sugar is one of the lowest emitting foods available. I would advise restricting it where you can for health benefits rather than for emissions reductions.

 

Low Carbon Living: Festive Nut Roast

Using calculations being developed for Laura’s Larder, we’ve created a low-carbon Christmas feast. Last week we posted the starter: Root Vegetable Rösti with Parsley Pesto Hummous. This week’s blog is dedicated to our low-carbon main course: a Festive Nut Roast. A vegetarian staple around this time of year, our nut roast is packed full of tasty nuts and vegetables. Next week, we’ll post the final course in this festive meal – the dessert (yum)!

Festive Nut Roast

Serves 8

   Ingredients

250g roasted nuts (hazelnuts, brazil nuts, cashew nuts, almonds and peanuts)

4 small shallots, finely chopped
400g tinned tomatoes
½ leek, finely chopped
¼ red cabbage, finely chopped

½ tsp dried rosemary
½ tsp dried sage
½ tsp dried mint
1tbsp fresh parsley
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice

Method

Whizz the roasted nuts in a food processor until chopped but still loose. In a large bowl combine the nuts, shallots, tomatoes, leek, cabbage, herbs, vinegar and lemon juice. Mix thoroughly and pour into a well-greased and lined loaf tin. Bake for 45-60 minutes until firm to the touch and golden brown on top. Leave in the tin to cool slightly before turning it out on to a plate. (It’s that simple!)

We ate our nut roast with a smoked paprika sauce, peas, roasted potatoes and carrots that had been flavoured with herbs and oranges!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Low Carbon Notes

  • The scale of the bar chart is the same as the graph we provided for the starter – so you can compare the two.
  • Remember that all of our emission values used are based on commercially grown produce, meaning growing your own or buying locally grown ingredients could reduce emissions further still.
  • Nuts:
    • We used the same number of grams of hazelnuts, brazil nuts, peanuts and almonds, but hazelnuts have a lower emission score (per kilogram).
    • We used around 2/3 less cashew nuts than hazelnuts, but as the emissions from cashews are almost 2 1/2 times higher; their emissions contribution is almost the same.
    • The ratio and types of nuts used in this dish can be altered to taste but, if you were looking to make it as low-carbon as possible, I would recommend using more hazelnuts and less cashews.

 

  • High emitters:
    • Tinned tomatoes contribute the most to the emission score of this dish. This is partly due to the fact that we are using a lot of them (400g) but their emissions score is in fact the highest per kilogram of all the foods we are using. Interestingly however, the emissions score we have used is the value for tomatoes grown in Europe. Many tomatoes in the UK are grown in greenhouses. The ‘emission costs’ of heating and lighting these greenhouses actually make UK tomatoes a worse choice in terms of emissions. So this is one example where buying locally grown produce may not reduce your food-related emissions as much as you would think. Sadly though, without information on the packaging telling us how these foods are grown, it’s difficult to know what you are buying.
    • Conversely, carrots in fact have the lowest emission score (per kilogram) of all the ingredients we are using. Their contribution is high because the amount that we are using is almost twice as much as that of the tomatoes. When looked at this way – you can use twice as many carrots for less than half of the emissions!

 

Low Carbon Living: Root Vegetable Rösti with Parsley Pesto Hummous

Using calculations being developed for Laura’s Larder, we’ve created a low-carbon Christmas feast. Over the next three weeks we’ll be posting a starter (below), main course and dessert for you to enjoy.

Root Vegetable Rösti

Serves 8 as a starter

Ingredients

2 large potatoes
2 parsnips
2 small onions
1 sweet potato
2 beetroot (ours were chioggia, a beetroot variation with a very distinctive striped pattern)
150g gram (chickpea) flour
2 tbsp cumin seeds
½ tsp salt
Oil for frying

Method

Finely grate the potato and onion, sprinkle over the salt and mix well. Place in a sieve or colander and leave the water to drain whilst you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Grate the sweet potato, beetroot and parsnip. Add the potato and onion and mix well. Gradually add in the flour bit by bit until handfuls of mixture stick together.

Over a low heat gently warm the cumin seeds in a frying pan. After a few minutes add them to the root vegetables and mix well. Pour a generous amount of oil into the frying pan and turn up to a medium heat. Form small patties from the rösti mix, making sure that the mixture is tightly clumped together. Once the oil is hot, place the patties in the frying pan and flatten using a spatula. Once the underside has browned nicely flip them over. Make sure the hob isn’t too hot as they are easy to burn.

When both sides of the rösti are brown, remove them from the frying pan and place on a plate covered in kitchen paper to remove the excess oil. Transfer them to the oven to keep them warm as you make the rest.

Parsley Pesto Hummous

Ingredients

400g tin of chickpeas
4 tbsp tahini
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Lemon juice, to taste
Olive oil, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
A handful of chopped parsley
1 tbsp pesto

 

Method

In a bowl combine the chickpeas, tahini, garlic and a little bit of the chickpea water. Blend the mixture together until you have a thick paste. Gradually add the olive oil and lemon juice until you have a smooth mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the hummous into a bowl and drizzle over the pesto. Finish with a sprinkle of chopped parsley.

Low-Carbon Notes

Greenhouse gas emissions of the starter
  • The scale of this bar chart is very small. These dishes have been designed to have very low greenhouse gas emissions scores

  • All of the emissions values used are based on commercially grown produce. This means growing your own or buying locally produced ingredients could reduce emissions further still
  • High emitters:

    • Gram for gram we used the same amount of sweet potato and parsnip, but the emissions from sweet potato are almost 2 1/2 times higher.
    • Chickpeas contribute the most to the emission score of this dish. They are actually responsible for slightly lower emissions than sweet potatoes (per kilogram produced) but we are using more of them.
    • Of all the ingredients used for our starter, oil has one of the highest emission scores per kilogram. This means that the less oil you can use to make the rösti the better – using less oil makes them healthier too!

Laura’s Larder: thinking about the greenhouse gas emissions connected to our food


Nowadays, many people think about the impact their food has on the environment, as well as how healthy it is. This goes beyond transport to encompass what goes into growing, preparing and packaging – as well as shipping – the food. It’s great that we’re becoming more and more aware of these issues, but it does lead to all sorts of questions:

  • Can I eat more chicken if I don’t eat lamb?
  • If I want to keep eating sausages, can I give up something else instead?
  • Is it okay to have ‘real’ milk in my tea, if I don’t have a biscuit with it?

 

These questions reflect the fact that we all have different tastes and that we all have foods that we would potentially prefer to sacrifice over others when push comes to shove.

But, as individuals who clearly care very much about making good choices with respect to our food, what we need is more information to help us. So, what I am working on now is an application called ‘Laura’s Larder’. This application will allow anyone who is interested, to input a diet – whether an accurate reflection of their own or invented – to see what impact that this diet would have on greenhouse gas emissions and on health.

Designing an application that tailors the results to each individual means that we can begin to help answer the sorts of questions that come up when we start to think about the food choices we can make – such as those outlined above. This means that if you are interested in reducing your food related emissions, but don’t fancy an immediate switch to veganism, you can design your own approach and tailor your emissions reductions in line with your own tastes and preferences.

I hope very much that the Laura’s Larder application will provide a helpful way of showing the sorts of changes that we can start to make to our diets today and that seeing the significance that those changes can have on our emissions and on our health, and how achievable those changes can be, will encourage the first steps towards a low-carbon future, such as the one that we have laid out in the latest Zero Carbon Britain report: Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future.

The launch of Laura’s Larder is still a few months away, but we thought we would get into the spirit of it by creating a series of festive recipes in the lead-up to Christmas. These recipes are all tasty, nutritious and healthy for both us and the planet. Each week we’ll post a new recipe with a breakdown of each meal’s greenhouse gas emissions, as well as tips on how to incorporate low-carbon food into your everyday lives.

The first recipe will be posted later today.

Whose Larder?

Building on the land-use and diets part of Zero Carbon Britain, Laura Blake, a food and diets researcher at CAT, has embarked upon an exciting new project, tentatively titled ‘Laura’s Larder’. In the first of a new series of blog posts, she explains the importance of thinking holistically about our food.

“Whilst working here at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), I have been doing some research into the environmental and health implications of our diets. This work was primarily conducted as part of CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain project, but more recently I have been developing something new (more details to follow!)

My interest in food has been ongoing for many years now. I became vegetarian at a young age and, with the help of my Mum, learnt how to get all the nutrients I require from non-meat sources. This was the beginning of my interest in nutrition, which I eventually went on to study for my undergraduate degree. I then went on to do a Masters in Food Nutrition, which, combined with membership of a fair-trade society, meant I became more aware of the inequalities of our current supply system.

There are many different issues surrounding the foods we choose to eat – from the effects of the greenhouse gases (GHG) released in their production, processing and transport; to the inequality in the profits of large companies who benefit from paying producers (often overseas) next to nothing. Recently commissioned research into shoppers’ buying habits noted that sales of Fairtrade products increased by 18% last year, despite people generally spending less on their shopping. It appears that we care about issues relating to the food we eat, and when we are provided with trusted information we can make good choices that have benefits on a global level – choosing to buy fair-trade, for example, really does make a difference to people’s lives.

As I continued my work in food issues I began to realise that the effects of climate change (droughts and soaring temperatures, floods and other extreme weather events) have already begun to affect our ability to grow food. My Masters helped me understand that farmers who are already lacking access to clean water, medical supplies and facilities – as well as struggling to make enough money to buy food for themselves – may find it even harder in the future to grow their crops, making life even more difficult. But climate change will not just be a problem in other parts of the world: the effects may hit poorer farmers hardest but they will also affect our growing abilities here in the UK.

As climate change results from high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, this makes reducing our food-related greenhouse gas emissions another important consideration when buying sustainable products – the story goes full circle.

Through my work on the Zero Carbon Britain project I was able to carry out some in-depth research into the greenhouse gas emissions associated with different types of foods that we commonly consume in the UK today. This was one of the two main focuses of research that went towards the recent publication of Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future here at CAT. It turns out that the best way we have currently of cutting emissions related to our food and agriculture is simply to choose to buy and eat different things that are lower in carbon. By looking at the greenhouse gas emissions associated with different types of foods that we commonly consume in the UK, I could come up with a diet that both met all of our nutritional requirements and significantly lowered our greenhouse gas emissions.

Throughout my time working on the ZCB project I was often asked questions such as “how much cheese could I eat if I didn’t eat beef?” or “how much chicken could I eat if I gave up lamb”. These questions reflect the fact that we clearly care very much about making good choices with respect to our food, but we don’t currently have enough information. We all have different tastes, and foods that we would potentially prefer to swap over others in order to reduce our emissions. All of these thoughts have formed the backbone of my new project, something I will tell you about in more detail in my next post!”

Growing in the Gardens

CAT is currently recruiting for some lovely long-term volunteers to join us here in mid-Wales. Are you looking to gain experience in woodland management, horticulture or marketing? CAT has five or six-month placements in these areas and we are recruiting in a rolling basis. We’re taking a closer look at the different roles over the next few days. If you are interested in applying then check out our volunteering website.

Yesterday we looked at the Water and Natural Resources Volunteers. Today:

Gardens Volunteer

Tending to the flowers planted to help support the bees and butterflies

Why volunteer in CAT’s gardens? Well first and foremost, because they’re one of the most important aspects of CAT. According to Roger, CAT’s main gardener, it’s the best place to be for a volunteer! By coming just before the harvesting season the new volunteer will be in time to reap the benefits of the spring and summer plantings.

Former gardens volunteer Drew had this to say about his time at CAT:

I came to CAT with very little knowledge of gardening, but with an enthusiasm to learn as much as possible. Some would say that’s a great attitude to have, but ask Roger, our Head Gardener, after a whole day of being barraged by questions from his wide-eyed, hungry for knowledge volunteers on all things horticultural and you may get a different response. He is a dedicated and passionate gardener and has been a joy to learn all things green fingered from.

As a long term volunteer you get the opportunity to immerse yourself in a way of living that is quite alien to many. The feeling of community within the surroundings of CAT and the local areas we find ourselves living in is a joy to be a part of. From sowing seeds to swing dancing, weeding in wellies to learning Welsh, pruning grapevines to preparing pot-luck dinners, it has been an incredible journey that has left me wanting more of the same. So much so that I have actually decided to lay some roots (excuse the terrible gardening pun) in Machynlleth and find work locally so that I can keep helping and learning from Roger on my days off. I also hope to get involved in a local Community Garden Project, something I would never have thought about before coming to CAT.

Visit the volunteering website for more information about this placement.

Working in the Woods

CAT is currently recruiting for some lovely long-term volunteers to join us here in mid-Wales. Are you looking to gain experience in woodland management, horticulture or marketing? CAT has five or six-month placements in these areas and we are recruiting in a rolling basis. Over the next three days we’re going to take a closer look at the different roles. If you are interested in applying then check out our volunteering website.

First up:

Water and Natural Resources Volunteers

Using a draw knife to make a traditional Welsh gate.

We’re looking for two people to work in CAT’s Water and Natural Resources department. This is a brilliant opportunity to learn about traditional coppice skills, correct tool use and care, sustainable woodland management, biodiversity survey work, land and estate management, wetlands and eco-sanitation. CAT’s woodland website has loads of further information about each of these areas.

The people we’re looking for may not necessarily have experience in this area, but they will:

  • have a genuine interest in woodland and natural resources
  • have practical skills
  • be happy to get a bit grubby
  • be flexible with an enthusiastic and positive disposition
  • be keen to learn
  • willing to complete physical work outside in all weathers

 

Iñigo, a previous volunteer had this to say about his experience: “I like being involved in the woodland and working outside, being in contact with nature through the work that we are doing and trying to preserve biodiversity. I think it’s a great experience to have and to take some skills and to develop a different view of what you can do with them, and to improve sustainability and to be a change maker in some way.”

Visit the volunteering website for more information about this placement.