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Nature's Prince

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The longest serving heir to the British Throne has taken on a larger realm -- Earth.

On June 2, 2012, the world celebrated Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee, and her 60 years of outstanding service as Head of State to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. Her firstborn son, Charles, The Prince of Wales, also celebrated a noteworthy occasion, albeit in a much quieter way -- 60 years of being the heir apparent -- the longest time anyone has waited to become King. While that sounds like a career buzz-kill, in fact, H.R.H. The Prince of Wales has used his unique position to become sovereign and chief spokesperson of a much larger realm -- Earth. History will surely remember Prince Charles as Nature's Prince, and if he has his way, each one of us will join in on the sustainable revolution that is needed to save humanity from what he calls "a collapse of catastrophic proportions."

In his book, Harmony, Prince Charles writes,

"The Earth's alarm bells are now ringing loudly and so we cannot go on endlessly prevaricating by finding one sceptical excuse after another for avoiding the need for the human race to act in a more environmentally benign way -- which really means only one thing: putting Nature back at the heart of our considerations once more."

His devotion to sustainability and nature is not just lip service or some new public relations stunt designed to make the heir to the British throne more People friendly. Harmony and respect for nature is the soul and inspiration of Highgrove, Prince Charles' private home, and has been since The Duchy of Cornwall first purchased the estate in 1980.

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H.R.H. Charles, The Prince of Wales

Official Photo by: Hugo Burnand, used with permission

The chairs in the Highgrove garden are engraved with the words of the poet William Blake, and Prince Charles' own passion about nature is just as poetic. Prince Charles makes it very clear that a "spiritually intact philosophy of life" is required to "tread more lightly upon this Earth, the miracle of creation that it is our privilege to call 'home.'" He firmly believes that a holistic view is the better approach for everything from poverty to global warming, and he has gathered a team around him to walk the walk in his own life, and spread the word so that everyone, regardless of income or resources, might easily employ more sustainable practices, too.

David Wilson, Highgrove's farm manager, had no idea what organic farming was all about when he was first asked by Prince Charles -- 27 years ago -- to create a biologically sustainable farm, but today he is one of the greatest ambassadors of organic farming. The Prince of Wales farms 1,900 acres at Home Farm, where he cultivates dairy, beef, sheep, pigs (rare breeds), chickens, grain (barley, oats, wheat) and vegetables. The farm also supports a number of beehives. Mr. Wilson speaks as candidly as The Prince of Wales about how critically important sustainable farming practices are. In an interview on May 23 he told me, "We are in serious trouble if we don't have a sustainable food system." In college, Wilson was taught what fertilizers to use, without any mention of the benefits of crop rotations and clover, and he worries that this basic information is still bereft from the curriculum of some of the world's agricultural education institutions.

The difference between an organic farm can be seen, tasted, smelled and heard on the Home Farm at Highgrove. An ostinato of bird songs underscore my conversation with Wilson, as we walk among dairy cattle (and their calves) who are grazing on a wild field full of dandelions, sweet grass and clover. Hedges serve as field fencing, creating wildlife corridors and encouraging a robust biosystem, where a bird slips in to feed worms to her young. Salad greens are clean enough to be picked and eaten, and delicious without a drop of dressing. John Williams, the executive chef at The Ritz London, calls Highgrove organic beef "simply superb."

Prince Charles' breakfast table might include scones made from organic wheat grown on his farm, eggs laid from free-range chickens, honey harvested from his hives, butter churned from organic, raw milk, grass-fed organic lamb, beef and pork, and vegetables, fruit and potatoes grown in his walled garden. Nothing is wasted and all needs are sourced locally -- including the willow "hoops" that line the pathways, where 34,000 people trample each year, touring the Highgrove gardens and purchasing seeds and commemorative gifts in the Highgrove shop on the Highgrove estate. Even money is recycled -- from the gift shop back into The Prince of Wales's Charitable Foundation, where Prince Charles supports environmental sustainability, responsible business practices and social enterprise, among other passions.

Of course, organic is not all the scent of roses and fluffy scones. Being clean and sustainable includes waste and sewage. Gray water plumbing directs bath water into a water butt to water the gardens, and reed and willow beds filter the brown water back into a fresh water pond, which helps to support wildlife. The latter is part of the Sewage Garden filtering system, which is capable of handling thousands of people each year visiting the Highgrove Gardens. I'll spare you all the unappetising details and skip to what is important: His Royal Highness' sewage doesn't stink, looks clear and clean and passes regular health and safety tests.

I have toured a number of green homes and buildings around the world, and no property gets it 100 percent right -- yet. There are still gains to be made in energy generation and perhaps even energy efficiency in the Highgrove home itself. However, Home Farm is a place where The Prince of Wales and his team experiment with cutting-edge green strategies and lead by example. It is, beyond a doubt, one of the best examples of cradle-to-grave materials, water recycling and reclamation, organic farming and consumer outreach. If you have interests in any of these areas, consider coming to the estate for your own experience.

Before your visit, you can learn more about Prince Charles' commitment to worldwide sustainable practices in his book, Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World. From the Highgrove website or on Amazon, 23 out of 24 readers give Harmony a five-star ranking (apparently the naysayers haven't discovered the web page yet). Harmony, the film inspired by H.R.H. Charles, The Prince of Wales, premiered at Sundance London on April 28, and should be released to a wider audience soon.

Is Queen Elizabeth as passionate about Harmony and sustainability as her son, The Prince of Wales, is? Does the apple fall far from the tree? We'll never know. According to the royal website, "As Head of State The Queen has to remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters." So, the longest serving heir of the English monarchy is able to be Nature's Prince, but can never become Nature's King.

Check out the slideshow below to see pictures of the Highgrove Home Farm. Stay tuned to this blog for the second and third part of this series on Nature's Prince.

Highgrove: The Home Farm of H.R.H. Charles, The Prince of Wales
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