Sustainability, organic growing and coeliac

 © Jasmine Irving
© Jasmine Irving

For a coeliac, planning any group holidays, residential courses or even a meal out can be daunting. Panicked visions of potential cross contamination can rush into the head, alongside worries about being fed enough or if people will understand the severity of dunking a crumby knife in your butter. But recently, at embercombe, a community in Devon committed to inspiring action for a sustainable world, I learnt that coeliacs can be catered for successfully in a kitchen that cooks for big groups of people. Not only that, but it’s possible to feel cared for, valued and completely safe when it comes to breakfast, lunch and dinner in a new place. Hey, at embercombe, us gluten free folk even got to join in on tea time treats and pudding. Now, that was a welcome novelty.


Catalyst is a 5 day residential course for people who want to push their boundaries and shape the future. Through a variety of challenges, group tasks, working with the land and 1 to 1 coaching, catalyst participants gain a truly valuable experience, embarking on an adventure that provides tools to carry throughout life’s peaks and dips. In a nurturing enivronment, participants are invited to develop the self-confidence needed to be authentic in a society that can seem so often to conflict with ethical and sustainable living. Catalyst encourages us to look after ourselves and each other. It’s important for everyone to be able to voice their needs, a skill especially relevent to coeliacs who will have to explain on many different occasions exactly what is needed for their well being.

Embercombe is host to this unique course. Personally, I have often felt a little sheepish about not knowing how to grow vegetables or not knowing how food got onto my plate. It’s actually one of the main reasons I’m vegetarian – alongside cutting my carbon footprint – because I couldn’t kill an animal so what right to I have to eat one? I want to learn how to be actively involved in the process that my food has to go through before becoming a meal for me to consume.

What I’m exploring is not taking food for granted and not treating it as just another commodity with no real value. I’ve always loved organic food but after being diagnosed coeliac, I developed an even greater appreciation for the abundance of fruits and vegetables that the earth provides. Each is naturally gluten free and full of nutrition. Getting to delve into what it’s like to be part of the growing and harvesting experience at embercombe, felt really special.

Sowing seeds was exciting, I could sense the joy of the potential this tiny seed had to grow and feed another living being. That’s something so small can sustain the life of a human being, or an animal, and then die to be fed back to the soil to create more life, is simply amazing. Beauty really is found in the everyday.

As we harvested onions and felt the earth crumble off their wiggly roots, we chatted about our surprise that such a simple act could be so exciting and enjoyable. Eating food fresh from the land makes for an appreciated dinner. In my time at embercombe, I didn’t take one morsel of food for granted and realised the connection between my vegetable soup and all that the ingredients had to go through to get to my bowl. Embercombe also has compost toilets, making the whole process of growing, eating and digesting back into the earth, a cyclical process, as nature intended.


Normally in large groups, I sometimes end up being glutened in one way or another but I was happily surprised to be completely fine the whole week even in a kitchen that could be cooking for up to 120 people onsite. More than fine, in fact my digestion seemed to work better there than it has done in years! This really highlighted an important question that I am hoping to explore: Is sustainable living not only better for the environment, but also better for our own physical health, and emotional and spiritual wellbeing?

Amy, who runs the catering company in charge of the kitchen for Catalyst, managed to keep me safe, happy and well-fed the entire time without any problems. Upon arrival she checked in with me about my needs and kept communicating to ensure everything was okay and that I knew what I could eat. Most main meals were gluten free anyway and where not, there was always an equally delicious alternative. I was so impressed with the food and the care that was taken to cater for coeliacs. I felt included rather than the odd one out. And the absolute highlight? I got my very own wood fired not-touched-the-bottom-of-the-oven gluten free vegan pizza.


I would love to find out more about similar projects across the world with a commitment to sustainability and community, who can also cater for coelaics, so please comment if you know of any or if you want to share your own experiences.

I’m about to make a WWOOF profile now to see where I can go to explore organic growing and sustainable living across the globe. So, watch this space, Coeliac By The Sea may well be transforming into Coeliac On The Road!


Catalyst Course

Embercombe takes WWOOFers and volunteers, to find out more visit

 © Jasmine Irving
© Jasmine Irving


 © Jasmine Irving
© Jasmine Irving


 © Jasmine Irving
© Jasmine Irving



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