Thursday, 21 January 2010

English land maths

We've organsied our land into urban and rural areas, distinct. Separate. Broadly speaking, disconnected.

This trend for growing your own; how big is it? How long will it last? If it's big, and if it lasts, what does it mean for how we organise our land?

The numbers for England

England is made up of 13.028 million hectares, that's about 2171.33 square meters per person, or 46x46m.

It breaks down like this.

Type of land use
% of our space
Total area (hectares)
Area per person (sq metres)
That's about
crops and bare fallow
grazing and grasses
forest and woodland

So for a community of 100 people, it might be reasonable to use about this much land:

10 acres for housing
36 acres for all your crops, animals, meadowlands and so on
4.5 acres for your woodlands
3 acres of 'other'
and some space for natural water.

That would be representing the macro land use pattern at the micro level.

This data all comes from Defra . The url seems to change quite a lot so if this is dead just google "defra land use" and you should find their spreadsheets in no time.

Andy Collier calculated that a person needs 0.1 acres to be self sufficient for food, or 0.5 acres if you're going to grow the food for your animals. 0.1 acres is 400m2, or 20x20m, and 0.5 acres is 2023m2, or 45x45m. The above land distribution gives you 0.36 acres per person.

Incidentally, 36 acres of farmland is about 14.6 hectares so should be eligible for some farm subsidy...

This Green and Pleasant Land

My friend Jack if critical of the idea of the Funny Farm.

Don't build on the countryside, he says. Let's live high density in cities. Death to suburbia. Keep our green and pleasant land green and pleasant.

The Government's South East plan sets a target of building 32,700 new homes each year in the SouthEast of England. The document says it's time to build on the green.

We've had a policy against doing that as least since the Second World War. At that time, we had to import food by boat at great danger. This is crazy, we said. Let's grow our food here. Let's protect our agricultural land.

Plus, culturally, we are deeply attached to rural England. Planners have had a strong remit to prevent rural development.

The South East plan changes that.


"Planning policy must therefore balance the need to protect the countryside and retain the charm and heritage of the region’s enviable patchwork of smaller settlements whilst making sure that thriving and socially inclusive communities are maintained and developed, to serve the needs of both their locality and the wider region.

"Whilst the policies of this Plan seek to focus new development into and around existing larger settlements, there remains a need to recognise that local authorities should consider the need to plan for some new development outside these areas to support rural communities and services."

My Dad's a planner. He says there's a big furore in the planning press about the Government's building targets. It's not realistic, say local authorities. We don't want it, say local communities. We won't do it, they say together. Court cases are ensuing. Who knows.

Agricultural subsidies

My friend Jack gave me this film about his project,

According to the film, European agricultural subsidies currently amount to over 100 Euros a year from every man, woman and child in the EU, and most of the subsidy goes to the old, big landowners.

I searched on the website for Suffolk where I come from, and where I am right now, typing away by the fire. A lot of subsidy money comes here. Including a farm a friend of mine lives on. I wonder if we could get subsidies for the funny farm....

Monday, 18 January 2010

How to make Halloumi (and ricotta on the side)

Recently, people have become excited when they discover I know how to make Halloumi, so I thought I'd post the recipe, for which many thanks to the wonderful Pam at Canon Frome.

You need:

Some goats milk, ideally unpasturised and organic and taken from the animal with your own hand (ideally)
A thermometer
Some cheesecloth or muslin or similar thin clean material, about the size of a dishcloth
A colander
Two pans big enough for the volumes you're working with
Rennet - either veggie or non veggie (I think it comes from the stomach lining of an animal)
Some kind of hook about 2 or 3 feet above some kind of surface where you can leave things undisturbed for 24 hours.


Heat the milk to 35 degrees c. Ideally use a few litres, maybe 2 - 4 litres, of milk.

Mix a slosh of rennet with a bit of water in a mug, and add that to the milk when it reaches 35 degrees. Turn off the heat.

When you add the rennet, the milk separates into curds (thick yoghurty stuff) and whey (like milk with all the whiteness taken out of it).

Put your cloth in the colander and put the colander over a big bowl.

Pour the contents of your pan into it. The curds will stay in the cloth / colander, and the whey goes into the bowl.  Pick up the edges of the cloth and bring them in, twist them around so they form reasonably snugly around the curd, and tie a knot in them. Then move the whole shabang - curds-in-cloth, whey-in-bowl, colander in between - actually you can remove the colander now - to your hook, and hang the curds-in-cloth on your hook.

Remove a jug of the whey from the bowl, add a teaspoon or two of salt, and put it in the fridge.

Do something else for 24 hours.

The Next Day

Unwrap the curd and cut it into big chunks, each the size of a small block of halloumi.
Put the whey in a pan and heat it to 90 degrees. Then put the curd pieces in carefully and let it boil for 30 minutes. Don't let it go over 95 at all costs.

As it cooks, skim off the curd that comes to the surface and put it in cloth/colander/bowl. This is ricotta - 'twice cooked'.

After 30 mins, take the curd pieces out of the whey and put them on a rack to cool; cover them somehow for protection. Give the whey to your pigs or chickens.

When cool, put the the halloumi pieces in a dish and pour over the salty whey you put in the jug on the first day.

As you do all this, listen to something interesting on the radio / bbc iPlayer / a ted talk / sing / have a calm time

Don't bother doing it if you're in a hurry, spoils all the fun.

Eat and share.


Knowledge work and growing get married

I'm thinking of writing a Manifesto.

A Blended manifesto.

I'll have titles like, Knowledge Work and Farming Get Married

Knowledge / Creative work - yes, why leave out the artists? - and growing need each other. They need to be together, to live together, or at least next door.

Work can be great. But working five days a week for most of your adult life, for most people, sucks. Literally. It sucks the life out. Look at most people when they stop. Old and sucked dry. No thanks.

Aspects of self-sufficiency - gardening, animals, building stuff, sewing stuff - can be great, but try doing the whole show full time and your life becomes one long grind.

Knowledge and creative work need to have manual/growing/agricultural work dropped in the middle of them and wiggled around like marble cake mixture. When you need to think, step back and let ideas or the bigger picture bubble into view, or have rich conversations with colleagues that don't need flipcharts and spreadsheets - this is the time to be getting your hands dirty. An hour or two a day, peppered into your working day. Thinking time.

"A lot of our problems are created in there," said a man in Canon Frome community pointing to the meeting room. "And a lot of the solutions come up in informal conversation out here," he said while we stood together under the big fresh sky, turning a pile of pruned branches into kindling.

Next door, growing needs knowledge or creative work, otherwise it just gets boring. Farmers kill themselves a lot because it's a crap job if you do it all the time. And the system they're in now is horrible,  feels horrible from the inside. You don't just need interesting things to think about and interesting people to talk to while you tinker with the broccoli; you might also need to sing.

I sing a Phoebe Smith song called The Tan Yard Side that my friend Sam taught me.

Phoebe Smith came from Suffolk, like me. She was a farm worker with a voice like a fog horn and she used to sing for everyone as they worked, across the fields.

In Burkina Faso, says Malidoma Some, they play music while they farm. Work is draining, he says, so you need to do things to stay full. Where we use tea and biscuits, the Dagara people use music, he says, because "Music and rhythm are the things that feed someone who is producing something." (p68).

So, that's it really. We need to tear down our buildings and utterly redesign our spatial organisation, nationally, so that offices and growing spaces can get married and live next door to each other.

Here's a nice example, 1.20 in.

The secret to a good soup

It's taken me thirty years but I've finally discovered it. Please ignore this if you were quicker on the button.

The secret to good soup is:

onion + potato + knorr vegetable stock cube

+ whatever else you want to put in the soup - extremely simple seems to work best

= delicious soup! Every time!

If you'd like more detail...

Chop and gently fry an onion. When it's soft add your potato, as much as seems reasonable. In a little bit, add the stock you've made with your stock cube/s, (I think the other flavours don't work half as well as vegetable), and put in the other vegetables when it makes sense. So, today, I rescued some dying artichokes from the bottom of the fridge and put them in with the potatoes. Last week, it was broccoli, so that went in about fifteen minutes after adding the stock, and then it simmered gently - (i hear that if you boil things too hard you kill all the nutrients and flavour - I'm told the issue is all about temperature much more than time) - for about five minutes more, then wizz it up and add salt and pepper (at any stage I think) and you're done.

O, a hand blender. That's the fourth magic ingredient.

onion + potato + knorr vegetable stock cube/s + hand blender = delicious soup from any old veg you've got.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Festival

"Because we will probably outlive our way of life"...

UNCIVILISATION is a festival for anyone who's sick of pretending that we can make our current way of living "sustainable", that we can take control of the planet's reeling systems, that "one more push" will do it. It's time to acknowledge that "saving the planet" is a bad joke. We are entering an age of massive disruption and the task is to live through it as best we can and to look after each other as we make the transition to the unknown world ahead.

from the wonderful Dark Mountain Project 

Monday, 11 January 2010

R4 programme on Canon Frome Court

Thanks to Phil Ayres for pointing out this great radio programme about Canon Frome Court, a community I visited in November.

"Housing, and the need to live sustainably outside of big conurbations, are two of the biggest problems facing life in the countryside," says Ms BBC intro voice. Canon Frome is introduced as "one solution."

thanks to geograph for the pic

Sunday, 10 January 2010

TV programme about self-sufficiency looking for couples

"Hi there,

My name is Sophie and I am a researcher at a television company called
Tiger Aspect Productions.

I am currently trying to find contributors who would be interested in
taking part in a new programme we are developing. We need to find couples who would jump at the chance to leave their lives in the city to forge a new self-sufficient life in the countryside and spend a year getting back to a simpler way of life."

If you're interested email

Adam McIntosh's Treehouse