Thursday, 26 November 2009

Cool shower

I stayed at Dave's smallholding for a few days last week.

In the woofers' 'lodge' there was an aga (or was it a rayburn?) that Dave had set up in his own special way.

We lit a small wood fire in it each evening and shut the door. That provided us with enough heat for the whole night, and heated the water for three of our showers the next morning.

And now I'm thinking about slow casserole cooking, in a pot on top. So you could combine space heating, water heating and cooking fuel all in one small wood fire...

With the wood from pretty woodland nearby, in which you cut tress down and up when you have a bit of something to get out of your system, and in which you come with small children to plant trees

oo it's getting so idyllic it's oozing...

The Obamas' new veg garden: former White House lawn

Not exactly current, but fab news story.

Thanks to treehugger for the pic

Rob Hopkins TED Talk

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Late November Veg

I tend to think that food growing is mainly a summer thing.

At Canon Frome organic grow/milk/slaughter/bake-your-own community in Hereford, they have a chalk board in the dairy kitchen where they write up what food is ready to harvest. On November 24th, this was the list: [lost camera!!! :( ]

(most of it was growing outside with a tiny bit in a polytunnel)

Oriental leaves
Mouli (Japanese raddish)
Bulb fennel
Beet leaves
Chinese celery
Corn salad
Red cabbage

thanks to ann-eve and zotz for pictures

Monday, 23 November 2009

We drink meadows

I've been spending quite a bit of time with the goats here at Canon Frome.

I've milked them, put their milk in my tea, and made halloumi, ricotta, paneer, cream cheese and labna (boursin-like) from the milk. (In 4 days. Each cheese takes literally 24 hours to make. Or rather, about 15 minutes of effort over a 24 hour period.)

Every morning and evening, before milking them, I've given them hay. A lot of hay, to eat.

They make their own hay here, and before coming here I didn't really get what hay actually is.

Hay is summer meadows. Mown and baled and stored in the haybarn. (That I want to put a big rope swing in...) 

And the cows and goats eat it and turn it into milk.

Oranges, Avocados, Pecans...

I'm having a fantastic time at Canon Frome, an exceptionally well-organised organic community in Herefordshire where people have part time professional jobs, and they grow organic veg, keep goats, cows, chickens and bees, make hay and wheat and oats and all that, and are generally lovely and healthy and happy and great.

Lazing in my friend Ellie's bath last night, I leafed through a copy of The Hamlyn Guide to Trees of Britain and Europe, and it appetized me with ideas of orange, avocado and pecan trees.

Then I started thinking about the Pineapples they grow at the Eden Project in greenhouses heated by compost.

And now I'm excited.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

"Why I'm starting a woodland community"

"This week my wife and I took a rather large leap in the dark. We did something that many people dream of; something that many more think is daft or even dangerous: we sold our house in Bristol and bought a 10-acre woodland in Somerset. Which in itself is only semi-daft, it's the next bit that makes people think we're either visionary or deranged: we're going to run the woodland as a communal shelter for people facing a period of personal crisis."

This is a lovely article, in full here 

pic source

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The blended block

my favourite bit starts 1.20 in.

William Morris

"It seems to be nobody's business to try to better things - isn't mine you see, in spite of all my grumbling - but look, suppose people lived in little communities among gardens and green fields, so that you could be in the country in five minutes' walk, and had few wants, almost no furniture for instance, and no servants, and studied the (difficult) arts of enjoying life, and finding out what they really wanted; then I think that one might hope civilisation had really begun."

Quoted in How to be free, Tom Hodgkinson, p53
pic source

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Tom Hodgkinson

"Escaping the city has been a long-cherished romantic dream. From the Bucolics of Virgil to the Romantic poets, and today in pop songs and folk songs, it's obvious that we all yearn for peace and that we're all trying to get back into the Garden of Love."

"Your view of the city depends, I suppose, on whether you view commercial activity as liberating or imprisoning."

"I even like the idea of going around on horses and getting from country to country by boat."

How to be free, pages, 50 - 61. Pic source

John Seymour

"I believe that if half a dozen families were to decide to be partially self-supporting, and settle within a few miles of each other, and knew what they were doing, they could make for themselves a very good life. Each family would have some trade or profession or craft, the product of which they would trade with the rest of the world. Each family would grow, rear or produce a variety of goods or objects which they would use themselves and also trade with the other families for their goods. Nobody would get bored doing their specialized art or craft, because they would not have to spend all day at it, but there would be a large variety of other jobs to do every day too. This partial specialisation would set them free for at least some leisure: probably more than the city wage-slave gets, after he has commuted to and from his factory or office."

Quoted in How to be Free, Tom Hodgkinson, p54
pic source


"Wherever men have tried to imagine a perfect life, they have imagined a place where men plough and sow and reap, not a place where there are great wheels turning and great chimneys vomiting smoke."

Quoted in Tom Hodgkinson, how to be free, p50.
pic source

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


House buying, 2009 vs 1973

I'm staying with my parents. We're talking about house buying. They've offered us all some money towards getting on the housing ladder when we're ready. I asked if a yurt counts. They say it doesn't.


Long and animated conversations ensue, and a bit of random hunting for yurts and mad people across the fields of Suffolk with my middle aged, posh-and-loud voiced mother...

So. Housing.

My Dad earnt £2.5k a year when he bought his first house in 1973. He was supporting himself, my mother and my eldest sister, then a babe in arms. He was 26 years old.

He bought a 4 bed house in Stoke Newington for £11k. He inherited £4k from family for the down payment and got and a £7k mortgage from Islington council.

Wind forward 36 years. It's 2009. I'm that man's daughter. When I was 26 I was earning £28k a year in a comparable job, so let's use £28k.

To stick to his proportions,

I'd be buying a 4 bed house in Walthamstow (a comparable area to Stokey of the 1970s) for £125k.

I'd have a family contribution of £40,000, and a mortgage of £84k.

O, and I'd be supporting a husband and a baby on that.

So I looked at 4 bed properties in Walthamstow and the cheapest I could find was £250k, exactly double what my Dad would have paid proportional to income. My parents' kind offer of support for bricks and mortar is generous, but it is nowhere near £40k.

So. Why.

Why are the houseprices I face pretty much double those my Dad faced?

Level 1: increased demand without an equal increase in supply = increased price.

Level 2: the increased demand is not really about population increase. In 1973 there were 56m people here, today there are 60m.

Level 3: So what is leading to the increase in demand? Around the kitchen table we've identified four drivers:

One: Increased availability of credit has made a larger proportion of the population able to buy houses. That has increased competition.

Two: Women work too now. That's raised household income. People are willing and able to pay more for what they want in competitive circumstance.

Three: Some people earn A Lot of money. And some get high bonuses. And they buy property and let it out as a good way to turn money into more money.

Four: Smaller household sizes. People are marrying later, divorcing more, and living longer. So the same number of people need more dwellings than ever before.

Ok, Judgement Time.

One. (easier credit). Fine. Apart from it's maybe contributed to the financial crises which would have bought the whole system to its knees were it not for trillion dollar bailouts that are coming from..???? Public services for one, says my sister who's a government economist.

Two. (women work too). Problem, says my ma. Families need time. Relationships need time. Bodies need time. People need time. Communities need time. Cooking needs time. Friendships are really important all through life and they need time. She doesn't mind whether it's men or women putting in the time, she says, but if everyone's energy is going mostly into work, then lots of important things get fucked up.

Three. (some people earn lots). My Dad says that 1% of people earn over £55k a year. He got that off a radio programme where MPs were moaning that at £57k they didn't earn enough, and an economist said, you're in the top 1% of earners, stop complaining. (sorry for the tipsy sources: if this were a book I'd sharpen them up :). Problem, say I. I'm concerned about the ongoing growth of economic inequality within the UK and around the world, and the impact it has on everyone's life. I put it down, largely, to the plc model of company ownership and finance, whereby companies effective suck money from the many and deposit it with the few by maximising profits (created by the work of the many employees and the money of the many customers), and distributing them among the few shareholders and the few top bonus-receiving employees.

It's like holding a salt cellar upside-down over a table and pouring the salt down so there's a big peak in the middle and an ever widening periphery. Except this dynamic works in the opposite direction, so resources are hoovered from the many, the periphery, and piled up in the central cores. I think that's problematic. I think it's better to balance the interests of employees, customers and original financers (shareholders). So it's the people towards the tops of those peaks of salt that are earning high incomes and buying property and contributing to the fact that if I buy a house I have to effectively pay twice what my Dad did back then.

Four.  (more people living alone). My mum's given me one minute to write this because dinner is ready.
That is SHIT because it's LONELY and SAD. Especially when you're old, but even when you're not, living alone is just SAD. Ok there are other issues but food is ready so I'm done.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The Future of Farming

This BBC documentary is on youtube in 5 parts.

It's really interesting. It explores how our ways of farming aren't resilient to a carbon / oil constrained future. Basically concludes that lots of small scale permaculture is the answer, and eating less carbs and more nuts.

Oh My Green Soapbox

My old housemate Lucy's ace show is on for the last time, 5-7 November.

"... a comically wayward attempt at environmental activism... genuis" Time Out

Monday, 12 October 2009

Monday, 5 October 2009

C4 Landshare website

Landshare - dating website for veg growers + land owners

Care Farming

I've lost a couple of friends to suicide and I see the drivers as 80% external, ie, they were in shitty situations in very unhealthy contexts, in one case medicated up to the eyeballs and if you or I were in either of their situations, I bet we'd do the same.

I'm not interested in cute neat shiney blended communities where the most privileged and progressive urban working elite sit happily under apple trees with their apple macs typing innovatively away or having creative meetings on skype. Ok, I am interested in that, but not that alone. I'm interested also in the very old, the very young, people with other kinds of work, and the vulnerable. I'm interested in integrated communities.

So I find the growth of Care Farms interesting (although they're not very integrated).

"What is Care Farming?
    • Combining care of the land with care of people, in a setting where they feel safe, respected and engaged in meaningful activity.
  • Using commercial farms, woodlands and market gardens as a base for promoting mental and physical health through normal farming activity.
  • A partnership between farmers, participants and health & social care agencies, that develops people's potential rather than focusing on their limitations.

Who benefits?
  • Participants: They often experience improvements to their physical, mental and spiritual health and well-being.
  • Farmers: A high value is placed on their knowledge and skills. They gain great satisfaction from helping people improve their lives through farming.
  • Rural communities and economies: Care helps rural communities become more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable."

Looks like there's quite a lot going on. Vauxhall City Farm and Spitalfields City Farm both have a care farm element going on there.

There's a bunch of research about its impact available here.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Research: The Work Front

People who live blended lifestyles in rural areas either need to be their own bosses, or to have very flexible bosses, or to work nearby.

My employer is very flexible. What does the rest of the picture look like?

1. Between 1997 and 2001, the proportion of people teleworking rose by over 65%, to 2.2 million people. (Matheson, J. and Summerfield, C. (Eds). Social Trends No 31. ONS 2001, p82-83)

2. That kind of freedom is still a privilege rather than the norm, and tends to be enjoyed by graduate and professional knowledge workers. In the US, where teleworkers’ mean income is 66% higher than the national average, 12.5% of the workforce telework. 40% say they would like to but don’t think that their employers would allow it.

(Bennian, Y. and Dwelly, T. (2003) Time to Go Home London: The Work Foundation)

3. Researchers have identified five types of mobile workers, including Yo-yos who occasionally work away from a fixed work location; Pendulums who work alternately at two locations – say, the rural home and the urban office; and Nomads who work at changing locations.

(Lilischkis, S. (2003) ‘More Yo-yos, Pendulums and Nomads: Trends of mobile and multi-location work in the information society’, in Socio-Economic Trends Assessment for the Digital Revolution, p7.)

4. "Organisational cultures are shifting. The bureaucratic, hierarchical structures of old, in which management would impose control over not only what workers do but how, when and where, are beginning to dissolve. Networked organisational structures are growing up in their place, with increasingly flexible relationships between employers and employees hinged by mutual trust. One product of this shift is that more employees are exercising greater autonomy over where they work – and in many cases it is broadband that enables them to seize this freedom."  John Craig and I in Beyond Digital Divides, Demos and the Countryside Agency, 2004.

5. "Employees want more human organisations with greater autonomy and flexibility… In short, they want organisations to ‘disorganise.’" - Miller, P. and Skidmore, P. (2004) Disorganisation: Why future organisations must ‘loosen up.’  London: Demos

6. Since it's launch in 2005, The Hub - a shared office space for come-and-go workers and organisations - has been a phenomenal success, and there are now 18 around the world - just four years since the first one opened.

I reckon there are a lot of jobs where you need to go to the office for group meetings, and that that needs to happen no more than once or maybe twice a week. That's been the case in all the work I've ever done, apart from site specific work like waitressing and babysitting when I was younger. 

In between the office contact, for two or three way communication, skype, the phone, and other kinds of electronic comms work just fine.

This works where there's trust and commitment going two ways.

Call me an extremist, but I'd say, if there's not trust and commitment, why bother?

Lots of managers think their employees have to be in the office all the time so that they can be controlled. And I think, if you have to control people to get work out of them, that's shit. If the work doesn't come voluntarily, there's something fundamentally wrong. The situation is saying something to you.

Like, if you're a plastic cup factory, and your office staff have to work in the office otherwise they'd be at home just pretending to work, that says, the staff don't love the organisation and what it is here in the world to do.

And I think, if an organisation's staff don't love the organisation and what it is here in the world to do, then maybe the organisation doesn't have a right to exist.

Maybe if everybody working in organisations doing and producing things that they didn't love just stopped, you'd only be left with the organisations doing things that were really worth doing.

I've observed a 'fewer, better' principle at play in my life. Gradually, I start wanting fewer, better clothes; fewer, better friends. Maybe the world needs fewer, better organisations.

I know in the interim there'd be a hell of a lot of chaos

but there's a fair amount of chaos around right now

maybe it's time to start

ok, fewer sounds like The Day of the Multinationals but you know what I mean. If no-one loves plastic cup companies, let them die. We'll figure out something better.

Here's what they do in India instead of plastic cups.

When they're done they throw them on the ground and they smash and gradually get stomped back into the earth and it's the same earth that new cups are made from so it's like life, zero waste, works just fine.

The Research: People Like Me

Ok here's my first stab.

On people, in no particular order

1.  4 out of 10 UK adults under 35 dream of 'downshifting', according to research from the Prudential 

2.  While 75% of Brits live in urban and suburban areas, 54% say that they would rather live in the countryside or a village, and 72% think that they would be happier anywhere but a city, according to a Gallup survey reported in The Economist

3.  This isn't a new trend: even in 1939, 61% of people wanted to move to rural areas – yet at that time, national migration flows ran the other way  (same Economist article)

4.  So, young wealthy urban folk are on the move. Research has found that urban to rural migration outstrips North to South migration at a rate of 4:1; in one study, 48% of urban to rural migrants were under 40, and in another, 50% were aged 25-44. One study found that 41% of incomers earned over £25k a year, compared with 13% of locals, and 70% of incomers were economically active. 

These figures are all reported in a report I wrote with Demos for the Countryside Agency back in 2004, called Beyond Digital Divides, and come from Mason, John, ‘Is there really a rural economy? Urban concerns crowd in on the countryside’ Financial Times, 18 September, 2004, and Findlay, A and Stockdale, E.(2003) Rural In-Migration: A Catalyst for Economic Regeneration, Draft report.

So are the migrants living the Good Life or shopping at Tescos? What do they want to be doing? Don't know. Do know this, however:

5. In 2006 the BBC reported that allotment waiting lists in Camden were ten years long. ("Forget the flat caps, allotments are becoming fashionable among inner-city eco-warriors.") In 2009 the Telegraph  reported that Camden's waiting lists were now 40 years long, with many other parts of the country at the 10 year point, and a total of 100,000 Brits on waiting lists for allotments. It's the recession + Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall + Jamie Oliver that've done it, writes the journalist.

6. Everyone I speak to seems to share this yearning.

7.  Last friday I went to an Alastair McIntosh talk down in Brighton. (In Soil and Soul , Alastair points out that we partly left the land in the first place because we wanted to, but a lot of the migration was driven by the sword.. Enclosures etc.). 
It was friday evening. Train from London after a long day of work. (Four hour meeting in chairs, bodies slouched, energies kept up with tea and snacks, sunshine outside, walls around us. We should have had that meeting over a veg patch somewhere... But where?)  

The city in my body. I sat. Alastair opened a slide of his home Island of Lewis and the woman behind me had exactly the same reaction as me in exactly the same moment, at the sight of all that wild green expanse; a sharp, instinctive inhalation, followed by a long slow out breath accompanied in my case at least by a relaxing of the body and a little wetting of the eyes.

This yearning is beyond ideas, for me. It is in my fibres, perhaps it is in that woman's fibers too, perhaps it is in all of our fibres.

Everyone I speak to seems to yearn for this kind of thing. It might be because I mainly speak to people who are more or less like me. It's also possible that it's because this is about something fundamental to the human animal.

Call for Research


According to my stat counter, about ten different people visit this blog each day.

I have a question.

You might have leads. 

Do you?

Ok so here are my questions. (they've just multiplied).

1. Who else wants to live the way that I want to live? With part time knowledge work, and gardening, and goats, and a slower pace of life, and rural air and space and breakfasting on the hedgerows? 

Who are they? What do they number? What sorts of people are they?

2. Who is able to live that way?

I've got 50% of the blended lifestyle: a part time interesting job that I can do from anywhere provided I can be in London for meetings about once a week. That gives me the time and flexibility to establish the other 50% of the blended lifestyle.

How normal is that kind of work? How many people can have such freedom and flexibility with their employers?

3. What are the relevant social, economic and environmental trends?

And what are the drivers? And, how might they play out over the next couple of decades?

If you know anything, any stats, or any articles or reports that would be good to read, could you drop a comment or an email??

Not clucky, just nesting

"Are you clucky?" Jo asked me as I peered in terror and fascination at my very new first cousin.

No. Not an ounce of desire yet looking at that tiny, terrifying thing.

Jo is my age.

"So you're nesting."



My mother had children young and told the three of us regularly, from before we were old enough to understand, that we were Not Allowed to marry or procreate before we were 30.

I turned 30 recently and about a week later, my mother told me I was over the hill. "There's a window of opportunity for falling in love and settling down, and frankly, darling, you've past it."


Well, over the hill or not, I seem to be displaying nesting instincts. I have an unprecedented desire to accrue savings. Having lived happily for years in a shared house with three friends, something told me it was no longer right, and I had to go and... make a nest. My small inner voice didn't quite use those words, but that was basically it.

The problem is, there is nowhere I want to nest. No existing types of nest I want to copy.  The way I want to nest doesn't exist yet.

So, awkward bugger that I am, it looks like I have to create it.

The Natural Beekeeping Trust

runs courses

Organic Farm School - short courses from the Soil Association

more here

92% of people think self sufficiency is important now

92% of people in the UK say that self sufficiency and traditional skills like growing your own food, crafting and rearing your own livestock have become more and more important during the financial crisis.

But half of the 1230 people surveyed (by Pollab Limited for the Soil Association) said they have lost the practical skills of their grandparent's generation: 45% admit they have fewer cooking skills, 47% say they are less able to grow their own food, 48% have lost the rural craft skills that make self sufficiency possible and 51% say they would have no idea how to rear animals.

More: Soil Association

Friday, 25 September 2009

My Grandfather's diaries

Mum just emailed me with an entry from her father's diary on 21st May, 1948 

"Reading 'The Rape of the Earth' , a survey of world soil erosion by G.V. Jacks and R. O. White.  Makes you think, and also a bit scaring.  I want to stock up with at least 5 years' supply of of tinned provisions, in case man's stupidity with the earth means soon that the earth will not be able to produce enough to support man. Finely balanced nature hasn't a chance against man's industry, energy and science; later, man hasn't a chance against the revolt of unbalanced nature - deserts, floods, drought and  sterile soil."

Plus ca change....

Love, Mum

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Farmer Suicide Rates

Further to my thoughts about how knowledge work and growing go better together than in isolation, some stats on farmer suicide rates - around double that of the rest of the population.

Source: Defra

Clear Village

"Developing sustainable living solutions at the village scale"...

"Goals of the CLEAR Village Foundation:

Develop an aspirational future of living in the midst of financial and ecological crisis. Co-design a replicable masterplan strategy with global experts to reboot rural & peri-urban areas. Harmonise low-tech romantic ideals with 21st century high-tech solutions and which offers alternative paths to non-sensical new builds."

Monday, 21 September 2009

In praise of yurts

"While this [yurt] looks like a normal, round canvas tent on the outside, inside it is... considerably more comfortable, and certainly a lot bigger, than my sitting room at home. If this is camping, then please let me live in a tent for the rest of my life."

The yurts at Embercombe  were what got me hooked. They had really big windows in the side that light poured through in the day, and a big skylight at the top that you could see the trees and the moon through at night as you feel asleep in your super comfy bed.

I like what they've done here (above) with the flooring and woodstore beneath. Wood must get damp in the rain though, no? The Embercombe yurts had fitted round wood floors, in four layers: wood, insulation, ratproofing, top wood. They were gorgeous.

(You need source of, and storage for, wood with yurts because you warm them by wood burning stove. And unless you hook up electricity you need oil lamps too, which produce a beautiful light.)

I'm wondering about how I'll power my speakers. Maybe a mini solar pannel?

Fuck it - the ultimate spiritual path

Friday, 18 September 2009

Knowledge work and farming

I said goodbye to the farm yesterday. Everyone is likely to leave in the next three to four months; the landlord has requested an exit strategy, for the distance between what he wants done with the land and what the community want to do with the land is too great. The community wants to run events there and produce food to sustain themselves and their visitors: the landlord wants them to just farm tons of veg for his farm shop in Bristol. The community aren't really interested in being farmers. Yesterday was a sad day, for the group have put their love and sweat into that place for a year and a half, and now they have to leave, and all their lives will change, because a man who owns more than they do wants something different to them.

Such is the world.

I once stayed in the welsh B&B of an ex farmer named Marcus Lampard, who wanted to start a website named

Radford Mill was the first time I've helped out in a garden for commercial production and it had a totally different feeling to a garden producing just for the community.

In producing food for the community at Embercombe or Findhorn for example, there is a feeling of something like love in what you're doing because you're helping to make delicious, healthy, sustainable food for people you know and care about.

Why should that sense stop simply because you have never seen the face of the person who will eat the lettuce you're picking? At the Mill, I was trying to imagine the tables that the salad bags I was making, complete with delicious organic mixed leaves and decorated with blue and orange edible flowers, borrige, nasturtiums, marigolds - beautiful! At least when picked. Wilted probably by the time they're eaten unfortunately... Anyway, I was trying to imagine the people that would eat them and thinking, why can't my feeling of delight in producing food extend to these people I will never meet?

It can, I thought, but I don't like this because we're selling wholesale to a landlord, the relationship with whom is widely perceived here as exploitative, and that makes me an exploited agricultural worker right now, and that's the last thing I ever wanted to be.

And that's only participating in the system at one remove from a farm shop fifteen miles away, working in a beautiful place with nice people. How must people feel producing food on a massive non-organic farm for Tesco? Putting in a lot of effort for virtually no money in return?

I've done a lot of shitty work at the Mill. I took down yurts after a big party (heavy and dull work that took a team of 5 an entire day), and dealt with the party's rubbish (disgusting, and formed my resolve to live in a zero waste community). That rubbish was mindless, just like all rubbish is, and it only becomes mindful when you're the person having to sort it out and think about where it all goes. It all goes into Great Big Piles of Crap.

I think we can do better than that.

So I did a lot of shitty work. And it offended me inside which was interesting. "This is manual labour," said my pride. "I am not a manual worker. I am a knowledge worker. Why am I hauling around sacks of crap like someone with no education?"

In the first week I had three dreams that senior members of my family - who have tried for me and have expectations of me - died and my silly actions were partly to blame. Last year a consultant writing think pieces for government strategy units: this year, a shit-clearing farmer. You're letting your family down, wasting all that has been invested in you, my guts seemed to be telling me.

But it was also interesting. I was grumbling to myself about spending a day hauling around canvas and bits of yurt, but then, some of the most amazing experiences of my life have happened in festival yurts that someone put up and took down. And I pay for my ticket, come in, sit in them, experience nirvana or something like it, throw my rubbish in the bin, fuck off, and people I never meet do the dirty work.

And food. My London housemate Mark wastes a bunch of food. If he ever buys vegetables, he makes one thing using some of them, and the rest go in the fridge in their plastic packets never to be touched again until they're mouldy and he or I or the Brazilian cleaner picks them up and throws them away.

Harvesting at Embercombe is inclusive. It involves all the vegetables. The criteria for inclusion is ripeness. If you're ripe, you're in. Harvesting for the Radford Mill farm shop involves a tonne of wastage. The criteria for inclusion is visual conformity to a norm. If the leaf is too big or wiggly or holy, it's to the house or the pigs or the compost heap - and a lot of it ends up in the compost because the house and the pigs between them can't eat all of the fresh ripe organic food that tastes amazing but never gets to the customer because it doesn't look pretty enough.

All of that, every bit of it goes out the window when you produce your own food. When you've invested in it, you love it. You won't let it be wasted.

Kim and I walked the mile and half back from the goat farm in the dark the other night, me carrying the three litre tub of milk we'd just taken gratefully from The Ladies. We walked a bumpy bridleway by starlight, slowly. We didn't want to drop the milk! If we spilt the milk, we really would cry! The whole no-use-crying-over-spilt-milk thing means something totally different if you have taken the milk from the creature with your own hand, and it is then to become the milk and yoghurt and cheese for your family for tomorrow / the day after / three days after respectively, and if you spill it, that's it! Effort wasted and a hungry(er) family. Something to cry over for sure - and avoid.

So. Where does this take us. Most people who eat food are many steps away from the people who make the food. So we value it much less and waste it a lot, and the growers get a shit job. And we get worse food because of the time-lapse between field and plate.

It's alright, it's not bad, some people get work, others get fed, that's good. But isn't is also much more miserable than it could be?


It's time to get specific. Growing food all day every day doesn't work for me. So what does?

1. Growing as headspace

If I've been doing office work for hours, there is nothing more fantastic than stepping away from the screen and the phone calls and the meetings and going into the calm space of Growing. You feel the sunlight and the air and you work manually with the sensual food factory, involving lush black earth, in harvest time handling gorgeous sensual colourful forms of food - food just picked beats an art gallery for me every time - in spring time preparing beds and carefully laying rows of seeds full of promise. It's slow, steady, measured, physical work in nature and it lets the head slow down and breathe.

That can be an end in itself, or sometimes, when I would grow food in the garden, I'd scramble my own head by working for hours and having tea and biscuits instead of actual breaks, then I'd go into the garden and slow down with the veg and ahhhhhh that's it. Your brain wanders around and gradually, new ideas bubble up, the problems you were caught on get unstuck, useful questions and perspectives just arise in your mind. You stop forcing and start letting, and everything starts to move again.

When you return to the screen, you do good work. Somehow you have been nourished.

Aside from work, just pottering in the garden with the radio on is great.

2. Growing as group headspace

There's a lot of value in working in the garden beside people you have important relationships with. Members of your team or family (I include partner in family), or your friends.

It brings space into conversation. And it slows it down. It's ok to pause for thought as you poke a hole in the ground and wiggle a tiny red onion into it, knowing it will come back a big onion.

Embercombe does this really well. Groups go and work the land together to talk and reflect and process and think slowly, at the pace of the garden, at the pace of the heart.

3. Growing as fun

On our first friends weekend at Embercombe, mark and I were asked to clean the outside of an entire polytunnel with a hose and a long mop/broom, which we did, while getting each other wet in the Autumn sun, playing around, being silly, shreiking with laughter, and teaching each other songs.

4. Singing and growing

Sometimes we started to sing songs while we picked together at the Mill. That was good. I reckon we should have fun fed singing sessions on the land while working it. Nice.

They do stuff like that in Africa.

Malidoma Some describes how it works in his village in Burkina Faso:

"Villagers are interested not in accumulation but in a sense of fullness. Abundance means a sense of fullness, which cannot be measured by a yardstick of the material goods we possess or the amount of money in a bank account...

"Most work done in the village is done collectively. The purpose is not so much the desire to get the job done but to raise enough energy for people to feel nourished by what they do. The nourishment does not come after the job, it comes before the job and during the job. The notion that you should do something so that you get paid so that then you can nourish yourself disappears. You are nourished first, and then the work flows out of your fullness.

"Many areas of work among villagers, including farming, are accompanied by music. Music is meant to maintain a certain state of fullness. People recognise that even if you are full before the work, you can't take that fullness for granted. You have to keep feeding it so that the feeling of fullness continues, so that the work you are doing constantly reflects that fullness in you. It is as if the output of work takes a toll on your fullness, even it if is an expression of your fullness, and you have to be filled again before you can continue. Music and rhythm are the things that feed someone who is producing something."

Malidoma Some, The Healing Wisdom of Africa, p68

So. Do I seem to be saying that:

Knowledge work and food making need each other. Knowledge work without land work is too heady and tight: land work without knowledge work is too dull

The participation principle rises again - it's good if you participate in making the food you eat, even a little bit

Growing works in community, in conversation, and with music, but not in isolation

So on the funny farm we'd have a garden that one person manages and the whole community and all it's visitors participate in a little bit. And musician gardeners / garden musicians get everyone singing. What about everywhere else? Maybe starting with getting it right on the funny farm is enough for now.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

My first Goatmilking

I breakfasted from the hedgerows on my way to the bus stop this morning, and my pockets now bulge with a couple of ripe apples taken from the autumn tree.

I've found it glorious to conduct my daily business in the countryside, walking to work, home, the goat farm and the bus stop through fields, woods and bridleways.

I'm on my way to London. I've been at the farm nearly two weeks now. Here's what I've found.
The greatest thing is the goats at the goat farm over the hill. When Kim and I first arrived, we were silenced and spellbound by the herd of baby goats in the lower fields, their mothers all up top getting a milking. On a Devonshire hillside, the sunset valley behind them, they clustered curiously and characterfully towards us, each one a clear Personality, and gradually explored us and nuzzled and cuddled and made friends.

We dragged ourselves away and walked up to the main shed where Rowan was milking their mums. I fell in friendly love with Rowan on the spot. She was a grinning no-nonsense tall strong slightly posh bird like me, and she was goat crazy. Casually milking 24 organic, Neil's Yard dairy goats in about 7 minutes with the aid of a machine, she invited us to help while she chattered away merrily about all things Goat.

I approached my first goat. Yowzers. I reached my trembling hand towards her bulbous udder, made first contact – yeek! - my poor goat jumped all over the place – my trembling hand tickled her! I jumped away in fear of these flailing goat legs and stood there with Rowan and Kim laughing all over the place and me trying to calm myself down enough to touch the poor beast without tormenting her.
Several similar tries later, I kept going, and I finally managed it with a bit of steady breathing, a different goat, a pat on the haunch to warn her I was about to come in, and softly repeating 'steady now, steady now, here we come, nice and steady...” and it kind of worked.

When we were on our last batch of the 120 goats we milked, she let us have a go at milking by hand.
Goat udders are like warm jugs made of incredibly soft leather, and holding one in each hand is like eating a bowl of steaming porridge in winter, with honey or brown sugar and cinnamon. I farted around a bit figuring out how to get any milk out of the teet, but once I managed it, I got into something of a rhythm. Goat milking is meditation. Provided you don't have to do 15 by hand morning and night, it basically gives you the same good feeling as sitting in a tree or putting your head or tummy to the earth, but it's even better because it also gives you milk.

And more. I've eaten yoghurt with my breakfast every morning for the past several years. Maybe you've bought a plastic bottle of milk every couple of days for years. If I collected all the plastic yoghurt pots I've thrown away to god knows where, they'd probably fill both decks of this bus.

I don't like that.

A goat eats up your brambles, nettles and leftover food. You have a little homecoming meditation on it each day in the quiet of the shed and as a result you get milk which lactose intolerant people can handle and is really good for the skin (I was allergic to my mother's breastmilk when I was born – projectile vomited it across the room after every feed – so I was weaned on goats milk. I've never liked cows milk and I find that when I drink it it makes my skin flaky, my nose blocked and my singing voice muffled). If you do some very simple things, you can also get yoghurt, and really delicious cheese quite easily – more on that in a sec.

Their shit becomes fantastic compost if you can sweep it up and put it somewhere quite regularly, their girl babies can either be kept to increase your herd or raised, impregnated and then sold for something between £120 and £200, and their boy babies can be killed at between 3 and 6 months old and turned into human energy, either yours if you want to eat it and you have a local slaughterhouse and butcher to use, or Rowan's farm sells their boy kids to flashy London restaurants who are interested in unusual food like goat meat.

You also get calm, peaceful friends.

And when your ladies die, you can bury their carcasses several feet below a new veg patch and they'll make excellent fertilizer. Actually any roadkill or fish bits (you can buy these) will do the same – this is fairly common practice in New Zealand I'm told.

Your milk is unpasturised so healthier for you, says Rowan, the biochemistry graduate Neil's Yard cheese maker - that's why she makes her cheese with unpasturised milk. Pasturisation kills a lot of the vitamins and nutrients, apparently.

And you don't participate in a questionable dairy industry...

How much better is that than a tub of yoghurt from the supermarket? And that's not even going into the economics.

I'm sold on goats.

Kim and I went up again last night and came home with three litres of milk with the following simple additions to prepare it for cheese: a couple of drops of rennet, which comes from the stomach of male goats - you can also get vegetable rennet – and a couple of spoons of whey (the liquid that separates from the curd when goats milk starts turning) from yesterday's goats milk that's already on the turn. This introduces the cheese culture into the milk. If you want to make yoghurt you add a couple of spoons of yoghurt instead; that introduces a different bacteria, the yoghurt bacteria.

For yoghurt, you don't need rennet, but Rowan says that adding a couple of spoons of skimmed milk powder makes it more thick and creamy, otherwise it can be a bit weak and runny. Kim and I looked at each other at that point – skimmed milk powder isn't the sort of thing we have on the farm – then clearly simultaneously thought, what the hell, worth a try.

We left half the milk in the larder overnight, covered, and this morning it was already solid like set yoghurt. Amazing! The over half we'll do tomorrow when I get back from London.

She said, what we do then is taste the curd to make sure it's no longer creamy but a little bit sharp and acidic. Then we put a sieve in a bowl, and put some cheesecloth in the sieve. Carefully spoon the curd into the cheesecloth without disturbing it too much, and when it's all done leave it for a day or two and then eat it like cream cheese.

I don't know make mature goats cheese with a rind. I'll investigate.

Ok. Enough eulogising on goats.

So veg. I love vegetable gardens, but I'm not loving this one. The production is more for sale than for the community, and that creates a different feeling. There is a widespread feeling that the relationship with the landlord, who buys the veg wholesale for sale in the farm shop - is exploitative, and I find that demotivating: I don't want to be an exploited agricultural worker. My interest in the veg garden is removed.

The community is struggling right now with the relationship with the landlord. Profound uncertainty looms about the future of the farm. The effect on the community is paralysing. A troupe of 8 pigs is down to two – we're slowly eating our way through the third – delicious! - and is not being regenerated. The three goats were weaned off milking weeks ago and are being sold today. The chickens were all killed by foxes one day – yes, they don't just come at night – when they'd been let out and about – and they haven't been replaced. Their pen is grownover with tall weeds.

Understandably, nobody wants to do anything until they know they can stay on terms that work for them and that don't make everyone feel like exploited agricultural workers.

Moods pass like viruses through the house. When we're happy and chirpy, we bob around happily together chirping. When a mood of uncertainty and somnolence descends on the house, it descends on all of us. We all retreat quietly to our bedrooms, caravans and yurts, and in my case at least sit there thinking about what next, what else, what instead of this.