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In my blog posts Spooncarving- a ‘gateway drug’ to pro-environmental behaviour and landscape advocacy? and Craft is good for your Health I have been exploring the connections between practising crafts and skills and the benefits for both individuals and society.

Their have been a few social movements that have recognised the power of craft beyond its utility, and I had planned to put together a review to look at these movements and analyse the main features individual and socio-ecological mechanisms underpinning them.

However, with a little digging i came across this wonderful paper Crafting sustainability? An explorative study of craft in three countercultures as a learning path for the future by Hanna Hofverberg, David O. Kronlid,  and Leif Östman from Uppsala University

In it they explore three periods when craft-based movements rose to prominence in western societies:

  • 1900 (i) The Arts and Crafts Movement; (ii) The Swedish Home Crafts Movement
  • 1968 (i) Hippie Culture; (ii) The Whole Earth Catalogue
  • 2015 (i) Woodworking (ii) Makers (iii) “Craftivism”

Their study looks at how crafting might fit into stories about sustainable development from the aspect of education. The authors identify a lack of consensus in what ‘sustainable development’ is and how it should be taught so adopt a broad definition to examining the educational purpose and philosophy of each of these  counter-culture movements which are, by definition, seeking to change or transition from existing social states.

Sustainable development is a broad multi-level process in which social, ecological and economic processes function together to maintain a resilient socio-ecological system.

For each movement, its purposes, the desired skills and approaches to learning are detailed (see table below)

They also group the craft movements according to an educational profile

  • Perennialist basic knowledge of order, discipline and control to legitimise current heirarchies. Collective social needs downplayed in favour of individual.
  • Essentialist Scientific knowledge be transferred to all members of community regardless of class etc ; the creation of functional society based on facts, objectives, tech. Facts as socially useful functions. Theory/Practice dualism. Can result in structural/organisational inertia.
  • Progressivisim questions utility and expert-led approach. Socially transformative force. Learning by doing
  • Reconstructionist Continuous remodelling of society. Social norms, institutions dealing with facts as social constructs. Consensus/controversy continuum  in education. Matter is not backdrop but inter-meshed with the social
Learning blacksmithing skills with Rob Martin from Thak Ironworks at an Ontario Rural Skills Network Workshop, Mount Wolf Farm, Ontario

The authors conclude by asking the question does crafting empower its pratcitioners to take action on SD goals

  1. Individual vs collective- craft can of course be practised in isolation and can be used to enforce social norms in contradiction to the inclusive nature of sustainable development goals. For instance, the Swedish craft movement in the 1900s was use to teach women ‘good behaviour’. How inclusive is a crafting culture in terms of gender,class, race, environment and non-humans?
  2. Crafting as an expression of joy points to a fundamental relationship of the individual with the world. What constitutes beautiful or useful is individual or place-based, and so determines which of the sustainable development goals is given attention
  3. Ecological, Social and Economic dimensions produce a tension eg care for the crafts person versus the desire for cheaper products; high quality products although costing more are also more desirable because they should last longer.

This is a really interesting analysis although I was a little surprised that two movements were left out:

(1) Educational Sloyd which was developed by Otto Saloman in the 1900s and could be included with the “Swedish Home Craft Movement but was particularly focused on building character and an appreciation of the beauty of objects and skills to make them in children.

(2) “The Great Reskilling‘ of the Transition Movement started by Rob Hopkins in the mid 200Os This has similarities with all of the other movements although I would place it firmly in the Progressive/ Reconstructionist quarter with the Makers.

Another area of reflection is the idea of ‘craft’ itself and the social connotation. particularly in the west, of crafting, which is often seen as a hobby, or something to return to in retirement, when for a large part of the world making things with your hands is simply skilled work.

Craft is often looked to for its personally and socially transformational potential, but this work highlights the need to look closer at when determining their usefulness in developing sustainable livelihoods. I would like to see a deeper exploration of the educational uses of craft in specific SDG goals.

It provides a useful background to my work where I am asking whether those engaging in a craft for the first time, and also those who are developing a practice, begin a transitional movement into pro-environmental behaviour, or whether that exists as a precondition to taking up a craft. One of the key areas I plan to explore is with craft as a ‘flow’ experience which enables a more intuitive understanding of the natural complexity that exists in the world and therefore provides the basis for a set of problem solving abilities which could be put to good use in building adaptive and resilient communities.

A major frustration to putting on any outdoor workshops this time of year is the inclemency of the weather. The site where we held our first spoon-carving workshop in September last year  is now under a thin blanket of snow (which is thickening even as i write!) and the temperature with wind chill is  -4 0C. Not great for the fine-motor skills needed for whittling!

However, the Crandall family, owners of Mount Wolfe Farm, have come to the rescue of the Caledon chapter of the fledgling Ontario Rural Skills Network (ORSN). On the ground level of the bank barn at the farm, Seymour Arnold Crandall (aka SAC or just Arnold) carved out a space for a workshop. “Poppa’s” workshop hasn’t really been used as a workspace since 2000 and is a treasure trove of timeless tools and a miscellany of assorted wonders, bric-a-brac, and curiosities – a testimony to his love of collecting.

With a bit of tidying and sorting there is space for a small group of spoon-carvers, and even a lathe to practice on until I can build the pole-lathes that we will use in the outdoor setting.

Arnold Crandall was passionate about woodworking and the Crandall sisters think their dad would be tickled pink to see life in the workshop again.

Sign up for one of winter/spring workshops on the ORSN website here and come and see what the place looks like!


Just back from sending off the Mount Wolfe Farm Environmental Farm Plan for review, which I have been helping Farm Manager Sarah and her aunt Debbe Crandall complete as part of my work for the University of Waterloo Hedgelaying in Ontario’s Landscape Project 2018.

The EFP is a voluntary programme driven by the farming community with technical support provided by the Ontario Ministry of  Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). It is run by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA).

EFPs are assessments voluntarily prepared by farm families to increase their environmental awareness in up to 23 different areas on their farm. After attending two workshops with Sarah and Debbe we risk-assessed the 23 different areas which included Water Wells, Pesticide Handling & Storage, Fertilizer Handling & Storage, Treatment of Household Wastewater, Livestock Mortality , Field Crop Management and Woodlands and Wildlife.

The overall purpose is to assess the impacts of farm operations- particularity nutrient enrichment from manure, pesticides and tilling practices on ground and surface water resources. There are however useful sections on sustainability of water resources where we looked at how much water the farm uses; on energy use, and on wildlife. Scoring for each question 1-4, any answers with 1 or 2 require an action plan to be completed.

Completing the EFP opens the door to cost-share funding under the Canada-Ontario Farm Stewardship Program

From my UK experience this is more a Catchment Sensitive Farming Plan than a Farm Environment Plan. I would like to have seen more emphasis on wildlife, particularly in identifying endangered species  or species of conservation concern and creating actions to benefit them.

However the EFP was an undeniably useful process for Mount Wolfe and would be for any farm interested inreducing their environmenatl impact. I especially found the mapping component useful, where i got to flex my QGIS muscles (slightly more than the hand drawn plan required by the EFP but useful for long-term farm planning especially for woodland management). It did take us, a small Community Supported Agriculture Farm, a number of days to get all the information together and think through answers, even if many of the 23 worksheets were not applicable to our operation. I think a larger farm would need more support than two workshop days in completing the form.

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