Reviewed by FarmED Programme Coordinator, Edd Colbert.
When was the last time you consciously let yourself day-dream, or came together with a group of people to simply see what your imaginations had to offer? If it's hard to remember such a time, or indeed to 'imagine' what this might feel like you're not alone, according to Rob Hopkins. Humans are innately imaginative beings he argues in From What Is to What If?, yet in recent times we have ignored or rather suppressed this part of our being in all parts of life. Whether it's in offices, governments, community organising or even schools, our imagination is often seen as something that gets in the way, is unproductive, or even 'unrealistic'. At best imagination is often outsourced to 'innovators', 'creatives', or professionals who are paid to imagine for us. Yet as this book argues, each of us not only has the ability, but also the right to imagine how our individual and collective lives should play out.
What has this got to do with food and farming? Well, the book shares a number of stories about how communities around the world have created real change to the way their food is produced, distributed and consumed. These initiatives are examples of democracy in action, of citizens using their power to shape the diverse landscapes and economies they are a part of. Yet common to each of these movements is the fact they all began their journeys by asking the simple question 'what if?'. What if all of our schools provided children with locally grown organic food? What if commuters were able to pick salad on their way home from work from community veg beds? What if our town had a community owned brewery, baker and miller that utilized locally grown grains?
The key emphasis underpinning each of these questions is, as Rob says - we can't build what we can't imagine. By imagining new possibilities for the way we grow, distribute and eat food we are able to actually make plans to realise these ideas. Such ideas may be lofty, visionary, or even 'unrealistic', yet by not giving proper attention and importance to our imagination we are likely to remain stuck with the status quo, or at best mild reform.
This book was immensely inspiring to read and has already influenced the way I think about our role at FarmED in ensuring that the education we provide to those who visit us challenges assumptions, energizes the imagination, and ultimately empowers people to create the change they want to see in their farms, communities, food system or planet. It also left me with a curiosity... what if FarmED became a centre for food and farming imagination? Perhaps we already are...
'From What Is to What If' by Rob Hopkins is published by Chelsea Green.