Let’s Gro- an Inspiration Festival


A vegetable garden for everyone

Last summer,  I heard that Charles Eisenstein would be at Findhorn’s, ‘New Story Summit’ conference. At first I wanted to go, but the idea of attending a conference put me off. I’ve gone to similar gatherings only to experience a few intense days of inspiration, then being unable to maintain the ‘conference high’ back in familiar surroundings. The seemingly promising contacts also water down, and in a few months, I’m left wondering if I couldn’t have spent all that time and money more wisely.

From what I heard of the conference it sounded like I’m not the only one to resist this old way of orchestrating knowledge-sharing – despite positive feedback there were serious rumblings of rebellion and dissatisfaction throughout the week.

Mailing briefly with Charles after the conference, he understood my concerns, yet noted that this form of gathering was still precious in that it created a space where diverse people could meet and exchange experiences. But he, too, has been feeling the urge to explore more open-ended ways of doing this.

Well, last week I was very lucky to experience a fantastically successful alternative to the old conference form. And I didn’t have to go abroad to do so. I’m privileged to live just outside of Groningen- a culturally rich university town in the northernmost end of Holland. It has always been on the progressive side despite the Calvanistic influence, but now, things are really starting to hot up.

The Let’s Gro Inspiration Festival was a perfect platform for exploring transition. There were 122 events planned over 2 days in or around the centre of Groningen. The theme was ‘The future of the city Groningen’. All the events were geared to exploring alternatives to existing forms. The scope was huge: community greening initiatives, socially engaged art, repurposing buildings, recyling, upcycling, social work, new energy alternatives, rethinking transport in the city,exploring community in various forms, etc.

Here is a small selection of what was available to do, most of it free!

  • a masterclass in self organisation in the city, how to initiate citizen actions
  • a pop up restaurant using locally produced organic products
  • a talk about creating community green spaces by residents who did so successfully
  • a presentation on the ‘home of the future’ featuring new technology to enable the elder home-owner to remain at home longer
  • panels and events for young entrepreneurs in the creative industries
  • a guided tour around a garden started for low income families, to give them work and enable them to grow their own food
  • a ship container with a display of cradle to cradle projects, and a room where oyster mushrooms are being raised on coffee grounds collected from the huge Internal Revenue building’s restaurant.
  • a café run by volunteers, serving free meals, using only donated food slightly past hold by date, or surplus from restaurants and local farmers
  • a nature hike in the city’s green spaces
  • a vintage clothes swap event
  • a party for internationals- students and young entrepreneurs

There was music, dance, partying, art, theatre, film, and this water sculpture on the main market square. There were seminars on urban beekeeping, on providing a basis income for everyone, creative strategies for the city, safety in neighborhoods, sustainable entrepreneurship, a mini Maker’s Fair, and more.

What I loved about it was the free form way you could put together your own program. You could meet or not meet other people, you could choose where to linger, when to go, what to see, taste, hear, experience. The knowledge gained could be applied locally, which was the intention. And the people one met lived nearby enough, had enough common interests and networks to make keeping in touch realistic.

I attended several events on one day and though I didn’t come home on a conference high, I was quietly inspired and grounded in my neighborhood and in Groningen in a new way. Possibilities opened up I’d not been aware of before. This is truly a place where people are exploring new ways of building community together. There is so much going on!

As a result of contacts made there, I may be assisting a student project about social initiatives, and have since heard about some other socially engaged artists.

And speaking of community, I learned about the Community Lover’s guide to the Universe, which I hadn’t been aware of until now, were you?


#6 Walking the path of passion and heart

Pieterpad, Glimmen to Rolde

For the introduction to this (hopefully)480 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

Beautiful wooded sand-paths through trees and fields.

Beautiful wooded sand-paths through trees and fields.

It has been quiet here but after a month taking care of the house while Rende was away, I’m back on the Pieterpad.

travelling light

travelling light

This time was different. After being housebound I was wild to just get going, so I threw a few things in a daypack, waved to hub and dog and took off- without any real idea how long I’d be gone. This is so uncharacteristic of me- the list maker and planner, and worrier par excellence:  ‘what if I can’t find a place to sleep! I’ll end up being a bag lady’, etc.

It is true, in high season the few affordable accommodations are usually booked, and they were. But in those cases, I was lucky to simply bump into people who directed me to a private address where, in need, the owner would provide a bed and hearty breakfast for a reasonable price ( from around 25-30 euros). Some of the chiquer B&Bs were asking €70!
Influenced by my immediate surroundings after living in caution for so long, I need to learn to trust more and not try to control everything. This risk-taking suits a part of my nature which has been dormant for years and reminds me of my youthful hitch-hiking trips through the western US.

I ended up walking for 3 days and it was the most beautiful part of the route to date. After day 1 the weather was hot and sunny. I mentioned that the landscape would change from our stark northern spaces to a softer, forested environment. There were miles of sand tracks going through several nature reserves. It was so deserted I was able to get relief from the blazing heat and bathe unseen in a pond nestled in the heather dunes of Ballooërveld.

For several weeks previous to the trip, I’d been immersed in Charlotte Du Cann’s book, ’52 flowers that shook my world, a radical return to earth’. And I travelled accompanied by this sense of communion and connection. And with questions about passion and life path brought up by rereading of Du Cann’s own journey to self discovery. One can’t help be challenged by her stark honesty, and bitterness transformed, to confront the parts of one’s own identity that no longer burn true. Du Cann’s stripping down process has brought her to an incendiary core, it seems. Anything false is immediately consumed. And being in proximity with that kind of unflinching honesty forces one to try to locate the same kind of truth in oneself.

Shaded approach to Rolde

Shaded approach to Rolde

I walked among trees and dunes, in quiet, listening to birds, listening to my breath and footfalls, listening to my heart and thoughts, in peace and joy and belonging. I stopped when I was tired, ate when I was hungry, slept in clean sheets in the homes of kind strangers, and took more steps towards inner healing and finding one’s truth.








#4 To Groningen by foot

Pieterpad, Garnwerd to Groningen

For the introduction to this (hopefully)480 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

horse graffiti under a bridge approaching Groningen

horse graffiti under a bridge approaching Groningen

The weather report was good. I dressed lightly in anticipation of the sunny skies sure to appear later in the morning.

Wrong again. It actually didn’t clear up until I was done with my 4 hour trek, (the most ambitious up until now). There was a strong cold wind the whole time. But it was invigorating and somewhat of a victory, because until now, I really didn’t know if my condition was good enough to attempt this leg, which was more than twice the distance I’d been doing so far.

I started out with an hour’s bus ride to get to my starting point, Café Hamminga in Garnwerd. (see previous trip for photos). Here is the interior, it was a cosy beginning before facing the chilly winds and occasional drizzle outside.

interior Hamminga

The first leg was a stretch along the dike, a rich agricultural area with lots of sheep. I absent-mindedly started collecting small clumps of stray sheep’s wool for craft projects, and with nowhere else to put them, stuck them in my  pocket. In the freezing wind, I had my hands in my pockets a lot of the time, and eventually, as I collected more bits of wool, they became warm from the woolly lining!! Don’t ask me why, but I found amazing comfort in this for the whole walk. Perhaps because it was an unasked for and unexpected gift.

The walk was 14km or about 8 miles. It meandered along paths, through farms, along canals.  A promised resting point midway was no longer catering to guests, so they referred me to the house below where the lady was very kind and gave me hot tea and some time to rest. The rest of the photos give an idea of the first 7km.

I kept thinking it would clear up, but the grey cloudy skies stayed in front of me, while behind, patches of blue started to appear. Eventually the path led out of farmland to an asphalt road and a bridge over the canal. Here you can see the approach to the bridge,  and the bridge swinging open to the side for boats to pass.

Just across that bridge, there was a wonderful wooded path and acres of fields with horses and sheep acting as a sort of buffer zone between the path and the major motorway just a mile away.

Along parts of the path were sculptures with poetry. The modern building is part of the Zernike technological complex- the path I was on runs behind it. And along the water are the grounds behind the crematorium where people erect intimate monuments for departed loved ones.

After that things began to change from farm and nature to the city. The wooded path came out in a park in one of the neighbourhoods of Groningen, first passing under a road, the viaduct containing the inevitable graffiti. Then you know you are in the city. Another kilometre or two and I came to the green heart of Groningen, Noorderplantsoen- an English- style park full of old trees and site of the eclectic and magical Noorderzon cultural festival every August.

I walked to the market square and my legs were tired but I still had enough energy to do a few errands before embarking on the train, bus and cycle ride home (a little over an hour).
And to take the time to revel in the idea of having walked 8 miles without any trouble at all.

Central marketplace in Groningen

Central marketplace in Groningen

For more pictures of Groningen see my Flickr site.