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*QUESTION* I have been doing the research of food production and distribution in Coniston, as well as working on a food project with John Ruskin’s sprit in his later year. He once mentioned in his writing that everyone should have a graveyard size of land to grow vegetable to sustain yourself. What do you think about growing vegetable on graveyard of John Ruskin?

2011, July 10 (sun) at Graveyard of John Ruskin

<16:00 woman in age of 70’s>

From family of twelve children, we had allotment and worked on garden during our childhood. Ideally growing vegetable on the grave is quite symbolic and bring out an awareness  of food production. This life style is beautiful and that how it should be. Losing agriculture is losing a sense of community.

<16:10 man in age of 40’s with a san / Tourist>

No offense. This grave (John Ruskin’s) itself doesn’t show anything of what Ruskin did, so would be interesting to show his intentions are. But better growing flower not vegetable and let them grow wild.

<16:30 two woman in age of 30’s / Tourist>

It will be interesting depends on how you make it and it will be better symbolic. Though, this land can be practically too small to grow food and do not prefer eating food from grave, but flower would be interesting. My mom has this copper plate that my grand father kept, we assume it can be  designed by Collingwood, so came to check on Ruskin’s Grave. My grand mother is from this area and thinking if my grand mother was one of the maid of Ruskin, it is our family mystery.

<16:50 A dad and daughter>

That’s lovely idea. South of the country where I am from, there you would be encourage to plant vegetables and all different kinds of plant like fruit trees on the land buried people underneath. It is a common thing so. It is also cycle, people are frighten to death that some may have difficulty growing plants on graveyard. Good luck with your fight.

<16:53 Two old ladies from Ireland>

Who is John Ruskin? Oh, this guy. We are Irish and we have no idea about John Ruskin. About growing vegetable on graveyard? I do not agree with it at all because it is very special place and I do not want to imagine someone is growing vegetables on my husband grave even though I know that he is not there. Also there are plenty of land in this country so you should have that size of garden in elsewhere but not on actual grave. Although, I can understand under the condition of over population, children are starving to death, in that situation I agree with growing food on the grave but not in our circumstances. Everyone seems so well off in this country so I do not think any need really. I can see the both side.


2011 July 11 (mon) at Brantwood House

<man in 60’s>

It is matter of how to do it.

<A couple in age of 40’s>

Ruskin can be iconic for this area to bring the idea of sustainability. I do not want to be buried in grave, rather to be composted.

<woman in 50’s / farmer>

Graveyard is unproductive land and I also want to grow tree from myself. You know when I was little , we used to go picnic to the grave at Methodist church on certain day of the year for the memory of ansester. We usually run around and loughing and talking about ancester. If we grow vegetable on the grave, we do not have to bring food for picknic but cooked on the spot.


Interestingly, at first almost everyone  talks about the ”general opinion” toward death as response to my question, similar to that found in the rejection letter, but then individual opinions are followed —reflecting on their own death as well as those of people they once knew and respected. Many mentioned their desire to grow trees out of their body or to be composted and recycled. This is according to environmental consciousness, seeking a useful value of their physical body. Specifically, Mark, the priest, said that from the Christian perspective, graveyard agriculture would not be a problem, since the dead body becomes material and the soul keeps traveling to meet Jesus in another world.

Here lies the bard Hipponax. If you are a rascal, go not nigh his tomb; but if you are a true man of good stock, sit you down and welcome, and if you choose to drop off to sleep you shall” →Beautiful notation, quite paradoxical: in general the (moral) law wants us to keep watch over the dead; here, it’s the deceased who conveys the gift of sleep: summum of benevolence.  (Roland Barthes – The Neutral).



Hi Maria, Adam & Emi,

Sorry it’s taken so long to respond to your proposals. We eventually managed
to get all the Church Council together on Wednesday evening. It was good to
meet Emi on Wednesday morning at the Coffee morning.

So, in response to the two proposals.

Ruskin’s vegetable soup.
Ruskin’s grave is visited by a large number of people who come to pay their
respects to an inspirational man. In keeping with the traditions of such
respect, it is a place of quiet and timeless contemplation. A remarkable
man’s ‘final resting place’ to which people from all over the world make a
journey. Unlike the monument above it, burial in itself is a natural
recycling of our earthly remains, so Ruskin’s remains, like everyone else’s,
are already making their way in the great cycles of the earth – the nearby
tree, the annual flowers, the grass, the microbes and insects that feed the
birds – and so on – have fed upon the graveyard’s many occupants for over a
hundred years. No problem there.

However, we think there is a problem with the idea that a grave – any grave
- which is a dedicated and memorializing place, is in some way a utility -
or that we have the right to make it into one. We’re sure there would be an
outcry if the State came along and mandated that everyone’s grave was to be
turned over for growing food for the nation! In the War the graves may have
lost their iron railings but they weren’t turned into market gardens. The
end of this line of thinking is that, in fact, we shouldn’t be buried at
all, but just composted. On such a basis, the central idea of Ruskin’s -
that we should each have a green space in life and death alike, would be

We know that the Ruskin community would certainly be against this idea, and
we suspect that feeling against it would run high more widely. We’re not
sure it would even be strictly legal. On the Ruskin front, the idea confuses
two different things. Firstly, Ruskin did advocate (though it was ‘in
passing’ and not seriously pursued) that working folk living in cities
should have at a minimum a plot of green earth large enough to lay down in.
The idea originates in his writings about Manchester and Bradford, and the
appalling conditions in which workers in the cotton factories lived. He
didn’t seriously propose that such an amount of land would be enough to
survive on: the idea was really about making cities habitable by ensuring
that for every additional human presence there was a corresponding amount of
open space.

We therefore as a PCC are not willing to give permission for this first

However, there may be benefit from discussion about the possibility of using
the land behind the new housing on Church Field Close for temporary
allotment / vegetable space. We are open to discussing this.


                                                                       (Church yard in Hawkshead in Lake District)

The proposal was rejected. In the rejection letter, John Ruskin is referred to as a highly respected man, so growing vegetables on his grave (and in graveyards in general) would supposedly be a public disturbance. The Ruskin Society which Ruskin himself had never new about, strongly objected because Ruskin’s grave-garden suggestion was claimed as one of his “nice big ideas,” not serious enough to apply to current society, nor even to the context of the 19th century.

As I am non-British, there is an inherent distance of my own morality to this situation; I recognize attitudes toward death differ depending on cultural and religious contexts, past and the present. On the other hand, there are already examples in Todmodan called Incredible Edible of growing vegetables on graveyards becoming part of urban agricultural practices. To me, the rejection of our proposal reflects a morality of deferring to the general opinion, practiced without questioning whose ethics and from which era we are following.

Anyway, interpretation differs from individual to individual. So, direct contact with people is where this discussion begins. I started to interview and having conversation with people at John Ruskin’s graveyard, St. Andrews church, and Brantwood House, including locals, tourists, a priest and Ruskin academics.

The object of our labour is the freedom to express ourselves through consumption. In a system of mystification, self-expression fills our bellies, makes us sleepy; knowledge of how our world works remains under the table
Claire Pentecost


Margaret, a woman originally from Grizedale now living in Conisiton, once wrote the story “There it was”. This story tells about her childhood and life in Grizedale 1940s and 50s. Born to a family of nine children at a farm, she and her sister helped deliver milk on the way to school every morning. Her father went around town and exchanged his milk for vegetable and other products. There was a time when food production was in the hands of people in the Lake District.

Carolyn Steel the author of “Hungry City” (2008) mentions that 70% of Britain are farmland that landscape is quite green and “natural”. Though those lands are not used for food production, but they attracts city dwellers to come for Sunday walks to recharge their soul by nature. And real estate to turn the countryside into a business opportunity. British government back out of subsidising farmers to produce food, instead pay them to manage the beauty of countryside landscape. Grizedale Arts also talks that

In this ‘post-urban’ scenario, the Lake District has become a key focal point for all these contemporary issues. The outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001-2 exposed the reality of a global market place and the Lake District’s overdependence on the tourist economy. Additionally, the changes in the Common Agricultural Policy, due for completion in 2012, will radically alter the nature of farming, which has already seen a huge shift away from production to land management, conservation and cultural development. This has raised huge questions over the role of farming and has subsequently prioritised the role of culture within the rural environment.

When I came to Coniston for the first time in November 2010 through Vitamin Creative Space, I was pleased by the beauty of the landscape, and even had nostalgia for my home in Japan. And I imagined this is the place for  guer(r)illa farmers. In Japan and China, or at least Hokkaido and Beijing, if people who lives on the 4th floor of an apartment building found some empty plot near by train trucks, that is their future paradise to grown some vegetables. In deed, most of Japanese and Chinese were (are) farmer not so long ago so I understand that individual’s relation to the land is quite different due to their back ground of culture, history and geography.

The current urban gardening phenomenon is oftentimes a leisure activity, though reasons for growing food are varied; we met some in Coniston who saw God in food production, some who grow for vegetable competitions, and there are those who grow food for survival, and others out of environmental concerns and sufficiency. And interesting to see that there are two empty lots at the allotment of Monk Coniston, while other cities’ allotment gardens have waiting lists of 3 years. For me the importance of food production is actual hand labour and observation of how things grow. By doing so I disentangle the mystery of nature (though still tons unknown).

This year for a month-long stay of observation and conversation, I slowly came into awareness of a reverse system in this town as well, by which agriculture is supported for its landscape-shaping effects rather than its productivity (see previous blog entry on my Grizedale trip). Then thinking how can we (artists) revitalize the idea of village food production, and maybe thereby revitalize the village? or more to bring interesting actions?

“…six feet square, if no more can be had, — nay, the size of a grave, if you will, but buy it freehold, and make a garden of it, by hand-labour ; a garden visible to all men, and cultivated for all men of that place. If absolutely nothing will grow in it, then have herbs carried there in pots…” (John Ruskin 1874).

Together with Grizedale Arts, we proposed to the Church Council of Coniston the idea of growing vegetables on John Ruskin’s grave at St. Andrews Church. Many of John Ruskin’s experiments in practical cultivation are found in his writings. He believed that land should provide both the material necessities for life and reward the soul. Thus, taking his words seriously, this project is more symbolic rather than ultimately practical, by growing food by hand to enrich the village with a group of locals.


for Chinese please read : 艺术世界 2011年9月256 期

*临时放映: 计划/被拒绝的计划:在英格兰湖区的墓地种菜
*一地/Grizedale Arts




Walking around the church grounds, one step after another is fluffily soft; feeling microorganisms living underneath. Someone mentioned that perhaps a graveyard is the most nutritious and healthy environment to grow plants, on which no one has spread chemical pesticides. Sometime in the 16th century, the cemetery of St. Andrews church in Coniston, England was established to accommodate the practice of burying dead bodies. No records of death were kept, and it was long before the current church was constructed in 1819. According to the vicar Mark East, the first appearance of gravestones was around this time; in order for the family of the deceased to express wealth and living history, a visualization of death was constructed and carried on as a conventional wisdom.

“There is no wealth but life,” were the words of John Ruskin, the great thinker and early pioneer of ecology, who from 1900, the year of his death, also sleeps at grave #178 at St. Andrews church. He had spent his later years in Brantwood, his house overlooking Coniston Water. During this period, he published a monthly series called “Fors Clavigera: Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain”, which took a form equivalent to the Blog in today’s terms, predicting the effects of industrialization on the natural world, and devoting his writing to his social reform crusade.

Although the issue of social inequality was addressed to the factory workers around the time of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, it hits a sore spot in current society. Coniston presently engages with tourism on industrial scales: the town is surrounded by nature, and 40% of the local population is composed of holiday homes; sheep farmers are subsidized by the government to maintain heritage varieties; people are generally “well-off”, so consequently isolation in one’s own individual interests cuts off engagement in village culture, and it interferes in local food production and distribution. In this context, small local farmers went into bankruptcy because of the price control of multi-national corporations, better able to service the high turn-over rate of tourism. Urban agriculture and the allotment system are very popular community models elsewhere in England, but in a place like Coniston they are not the custom.



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