Daryl Hannah inspires new Cowdray farming project

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A chance meeting with American actress Daryl Hannah has led to a UK-wide project for Lord and Lady Cowdray’s eldest daughter, Eliza Pearson.

The 23-year-old, who has studied permaculture, has become the co-ordinator in this country of an organisation, RegenAG, which was founded by Australian farmer Darren Doherty and describes itself as ‘an alliance of farming families and organisations around the globe who are committed to helping regenerate the world’s farms, soils, communities and on-farm livelihoods’.

On Monday, the first of four courses Eliza has organised starts at the Cowdray Hall in Easebourne, tutored by Doherty himself. A second, shorter course at Easebourne, precedes two more at Coventry University, which she has also set up.

Their purpose is to give British farmers, and others, an opportunity to learn how to apply regenerative farming techniques to agricultural landscapes, and the take-up has been so high for next week’s session there is a waiting list.

Eliza has been UK co-ordinator for the organisation since April. RegenAG UK is based at the Cowdray Estate, where her father has overseen a transfer of a considerable part of its farming operation to organic production.

She says he is enthusiastic about her new venture, which fits into the family ethos of sustainability.

She explained: “I met Daryl Hannah (the mermaid in the movie Splash) on holiday and she said ‘you have to come and do this amazing course I am doing in Australia’.

“In September last year I went with her, met Darren, and I was really moved by what he teaches. It’s practical, logical and makes so much sense.

“The traditional way of agriculture is how can I manipulate nature to get what I want, rather than how can I work with nature by designing a system which makes the best use of the resources I have.

“We are not using the resources we have on site because we are very unaware of them.

“RegenAG is about using the most energy-efficient and practical methods of regenerating the landscape.”

The courses cover issues such as holistic management – animal and land management practice that mimics nature to benefit grazing stock and biodiversity; bio-fertility which is about farm-produced fertilizers to restore fertility and yields; pasture cropping, a technique of sowing and harvesting crops in perennial pastures without destroying the pasture base; and how the benefits of local food systems can create resilience, stability and abundance for local farmers and the wider community.

“Nothing is looked at in isolation,” Eliza said. “Everything is thought of as being part of a system. The real skill is to read a landscape like a book.

“Darren is going to do a consultation for the estate here, to design it so it works more efficiently.

“I hope the estate will move towards a more regenerative enterprise which is more profitable, more diverse and more energy-efficient, a system which works for itself and is less dependent on fossil fuels and oil.

“I very much hope to be part of the process in creating that.”

She added: “British farmers are not the easiest people to sell this to, but I hope it will spread. Everyone can be part of this.”

For next year, Eliza is planning a series of regenerative agriculture courses in the UK and her ambition is to see these courses being taught in agricultural colleges.

For more information about RegenAG, see www.regenag.co.uk.