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Going to Seed

A Counterculture Memoir

By Simon Fairlie


“Simon Fairlie is possibly the most influential—and unusual—eco-activist you might not have heard of.”—The Observer

An unforgettable firsthand account of how the hippie movement flowered in the late 1960s, appeared spent by the Thatcher-consumed 1980s, yet became the seedbed for progressive reform we now take for granted—and continues to inspire generations of rebels and visionaries.

“Fairlie has a refreshingly declarative style: he’s analytical, funny and self-aware. . . His memoir has much to offer anyone interested in movement history or in the future of intentional communities.”—Elizabeth Royte, Food & Environment Reporting Network

At a young age, Simon Fairlie rejected the rat race and embarked on a new trip to find his own path. He dropped out of Cambridge University to hitchhike to Istanbul and bicycle through India. He established a commune in France, was arrested multiple times for squatting and civil disobedience, and became a leading figure in protests against the British government’s road building programs of the 1980s and—later—in legislative battles to help people secure access to land for low impact, sustainable living.

Over the course of fifty years, we witness a man’s drive for self-sufficiency, freedom, authenticity, and a deep connection to the land.

Fairlie grew up in a middle-class household in leafy middle England. His path had been laid out for him by his father: boarding school, Oxbridge, and a career in journalism. But everything changed when Simon’s life ran headfirst into London’s counterculture in the 1960s. Finding Beat poetry, blues music, cannabis and anti–Vietnam War protests unlocked a powerful lust to be free. Instead of becoming a celebrated Fleet Street journalist like his father, Simon became a laborer, a stonemason, a farmer, a scythesman, and then a magazine editor and a writer of a very different sort. In Going to Seed he shares the highs of his experience, alongside the painful costs of his ongoing search for freedom—estrangement from his family, financial insecurity, and the loss of friends and lovers to the excesses and turbulence that continued through the 70s and 80s.

Part moving, free-wheeling memoir, part social critique, Going to Seed questions the current trajectory of Western “progress”—and the explosive consumerism, growing inequality, and environmental devastation laid bare in our daily newsfeeds—and will resonate with anyone who wonders what the world might look like if we began to chart a radically different course.


“This is a fascinating, funny and moving record of an extraordinary life lived in extraordinary times.”—George Monbiot

Reviews and Praise

“This is a fascinating, funny and moving record of an extraordinary life lived in extraordinary times.”—George Monbiot

‘Simon Fairlie is one of a kind. Going to Seed is brilliant, bloody-minded, funny and full of hard-learned lessons that we would do well to heed.’—Paul Kingsnorth

‘Authentic counter-cultural voices, true to a set of consistent values and principles shaped over a lifetime, are few and far between. Simon Fairlie’s voice is one of those, highlighting so much of what is wrong about our current model of progress.’—Jonathon Porritt, cofounder, Forum for the Future; author of Hope in Hell

‘Pull up a chair by a rustic fireside, with a glass of local cider in hand, and allow master raconteur Simon Fairlie to regale you with tales from his extraordinary life. It is so important that the great modern activists capture their stories and the rarely-written histories of progressive social change. These are the shoulders on which we all stand, and there is much wisdom to be discovered here.’—Rob Hopkins, author of From What Is to What If; founder, Transition movement 

‘Sooner or later anyone who gets involved in low-impact housing or agriculture in Britain, and perhaps beyond, will find a path through the weeds already mown for them by the well-honed scythe of the pioneering Simon Fairlie. In his wonderful new book, Simon takes us behind the scenes with a warts-and-all personal memoir about an unconventional life lived with gusto. At the same time, and without seeming to try, he sketches a social history of postwar England of surprising thoroughness. Most importantly, while it’s debatable how much tuning in resulted from the dropping out of many in his generation, in these pages Simon forges an acute and nuanced political analysis out of his counter-cultural experiences that’s of urgent mainstream relevance today.’—Chris Smaje, author of A Small Farm Future

‘An ideological romp through a life well lived, as irascible, rebellious and perspicacious as the man himself. Genuinely gripping.’—Maddy Harland, editor and cofounder of Permaculture magazine

‘Beautifully written—both informative and entertaining, and I found myself laughing aloud on numerous occasions. This book is an essential read and a source of inspiration for anyone who ever has been, or ever hopes to be, involved in any kind of “alternative society”.’—Mike Abbott, author and pioneer of the green woodwork revival in the UK

‘A fascinating insight into the life of a true pioneer. This energetic memoir charts half a century of environmental resistance, from almost accidental activism to becoming one of the most powerful advocates for sustainable land use in my lifetime. Without his inspiration, I would never have been able to introduce One Planet Developments in Wales.’—Jane Davidson, author of #futuregen: Lessons from a Small Country and former Welsh minister

‘A riveting memoir of a timeless English radicalism; a chronicle of insight, wit and wisdom of the land.’—Alastair McIntosh, author of Soil and Soul; fellow, Centre for Human Ecology