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.