Friday, 28 November 2008

back to the land

Ever since Molly Scott Cato spoke in Lewes about the need to become local producers I've been looking for opportunities to develop useful skills. It's worth repeating that we are the most spectacularly unskilled generation of humans that ever existed. What use a university degree in a world where energy availability isn't so leveraged by cheap fossil fuel?

One of our resources is a 20-acre piece of woodland near Laughton, bought five years ago for £20,000. Two years ago the Forestry Commission gave me a grant to coppice the overstood chestnut, of which there's about an acre.

An increase in the number of rare Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterflies is one of the outputs of the coppicing, as well as seasoned logs. So last week some friends and I played about with the idea of a new enterprise – to deliver logs to Lewes. The day was fine, we had a fire and plentiful tea, we split the logs and chucked them in the trailer and then stacked the piles of logs in our own and other people's houses. At the end of the day my friends and I had got free loads of wood and I had made a net profit of 60 Lewes Pounds, after I paid one woodsman to cut the wood and another to transport it in his trailer. We had a basic system in place.
I learned that being a local producer is hard work, relative to the brain work for which I've been trained. If I wanted to make a living out of it, and I just about could, I'd have to scale it up to the point where it would become a slog rather than pleasant exertion. I do wonder about how we are going to make this transition of livelihoods in our time. Perhaps the art – since we do still have the luxury of choice – is to develop a mix of different small income streams.
I also noticed in myself that mixed in with the pure pleasure of reconnection to the land, I felt a mild sense of embarrassment, of diminishment, that I was earning money from manual work. I became aware of just how much we belittle and downgrade – and underpay – human labour. This barrier in our mind is perhaps the largest obstacle to the move back to the land that's ahead. If I, a willing adventurer, find so much inner resistance, how much more challenging will it be for a merchant banker to take a job on a farm, or to keep animals himself? We shall find out very soon, I suspect.

Adrienne Campbell

Monday, 10 November 2008

Burning Bush

Bonfire last night was for me a celebration of Obama's victory: change brought about through a democratic rather than the violent means being attempted by Guy Fawkes. I am still filled with sheer and total joy about the US election results. Perhaps it's because I'm an American citizen myself that I feel this is a defining moment in history. It's as though I've woken up from the extended nightmare that was George Bush. With Bush in power we've experienced as a world a disgusting growth in corporate and personal greed, war, cynical politics, degradation of our planet: the list is endless. Now I have hope for humanity. With a visionary, honest man leading the US, the rest of the world will no doubt be influenced. Brown and the likes surely won't be able to get away with the rot and deceit that Labour has created for so long. It's so tempting after so long to project that President Obama will be our savior. He has a huge challenge to help lead the world through the paradigm shift we face. He said as much in his wonderful acceptance speech. But he has so much intelligence and integrity, and I trust that although he won't have all the answers, he'll bring us all together to find them. For the first time in two years I now have hope for humanity.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

tangerine dream

I had a peak moment with a tangerine this week. It was a pretty sexy experience, full bodied… that combination of sweet and sour, hitting my tongue, juices bursting… groans of delight… you get the picture. The tangerine was biodynamic, which helps, but the main reason for the rapture was that because we mainly eat in season, when citrus time comes around, it’s an exciting experience; I get to taste things anew, as though for the first time.

The tangerine in question was from Tanya Laporte’s new shop on Landsdown. I had just bought a few, which were wolfed down by my four children – sorry, young adults - but I returned the next day and got a whole big brown bag full. At around 25p a fruit, they were excellent value. Indianna, who runs the shop, says they will be kept stocked up for the whole season, depending on supply.

In recent years I’d all but given up on citrus, since dry, tasteless fruit is so disappointing. But now I have a new policy: taste them all to find the best and gorge on that. Next day I went to Bill’s for breakfast. I bought one tangerine, a mandarin and a navel orange and settled in for my trial with a paper and a cup of tea. The tangerine was disappointingly bland, but then Bill, who joined in the tasting, pointed out that tangerines are always quite bland. We agreed that the mandarin was a bit pithy. But we hit gold with the navel – Yes! It was as zingy and juicy and messy as I remembered navels from my childhood. (I used to eat so many that a dentist once commented on it.) They were 6 for £1 so I bought 30 for 5 Lewes Pounds. They were mottled from rain and Bill reminded me that the European Commission is allowing Class 2 fruit and veg - with cosmetic defects – to be sold where before it was being sent to landfill – a full 20% of all European produce. Bill’s keen to take on a ‘pile em high, sell em cheap’ approach with certain gluts, which is great for foragers like me.

I suppose my point is that living simply, in season, locally, from glut to glut, is not the hairshirt lifestyle that consumerists paint it to be. It’s an adventure, it keeps me fit and it’s enjoyable and deeply satisfying. A bit like sex really.