|AN ORGANIC JOURNEY
"There is no reason, except ignorance, why this island should not feed itself, value its farm animals and be a whole lot healthier - mentally and physically"
says Hilary Peters, as she continues her organic research into Gloucestershire ....
NOV. 5, 2002
The problem is communication.
To simplify outrageously, Steiner believed that we are all linked: humans, animals, plants, the earth, and beyond. His farming, education, dance, religion, all worked out aspects of this belief with German thoroughness. Steiner's followers are so dedicated, so thorough and so right that it is quite hard for them to communicate with the rest of the world. That doesn't bother them.
There are lots of them and they communicate well with one another. But it should bother the rest of the world because they have something we really need. To take farming, their soil is nurtured naturally, their crops are superbly healthy, their animals (and people) thrive, because bio-dynamic farming gives back at least as much as it takes out.
At Oaklands in the Forest of Dean, they have a flock of sheep, a herd of cows, fruit trees, a kitchen garden. They produce enough to feed themselves (more than 100 of them) and sell the surplus. There is also a weavery, so the sheeps' wool is valued. The whole system works because the profit motive plays no part in it.
So when the sheep all round them had Foot and Mouth and the authorities wanted to slaughter their healthy animals, it wasn't just their cows and sheep that were threatened, though that was awful enough. It was their whole way of life.
They withstood a siege. We supported them. And out of that victory the frail resistance to the government's farming policy was born.
The problem for us, the resistance, is how to talk meaningfully about farming to the great urban public who sit in their tower blocks and get fed, or to policy makers who see farming in terms of industry.
As a society, we see farming only in terms of profit. This is not the only way to see it. Oaklands works as a whole. The fact that they produce more food than they need is incidental. Is there any message here for the rest of us?
WICK COURT, FRAMILODE, GLOUCESTERSHIRE
Known for their colourful mounds of squashes at this time of year, Over has been going 20 years, bringing a range of local food to the side of the A40, just outside Gloucester. They sell their own vegetables in admirable profusion. They have also returned 200 acres to meadowland, grazed by their own cattle.
Their own beef appears in the new butchery section, together with free range Cotswold lamb and free range Gloucester Old Spot pork and bacon. They have a good range of English (though not particularly of local) cheeses. Milk from HYDE FARM DAIRY, CHELTENHAM, another brave and local dairy. Over also do their bit for communication, with animals you can visit, notably goats, donkeys and free-range hens.
I heard another sad story in Stroud. Local people have been extremely active in opposing a planning application by MacDonalds. As far as I can gather, not a single person in Stroud wants MacDonalds, but they're going to get it just the same. I can only hope that not a single person will patronise it.
Also yoghurt from Dorstone in Herefordshire and S. Molton in Devon and butter from Wroughton in Wilts and Moorhayes, Wincanton. Milk (Jersey, unhomogenised) from the Bowles family, Beckington, Bath. Free range eggs from Saffron Walden.
The communication battle is being fought hard at the Borough.
Farmers have only just started to communicate with consumers and it's not surprising that they differ about what they are trying to put across and to whom. The Borough represents all shades of opinion from Pate de foi gras and a stuffed pheasant inside a duck inside a goose to vegans and farmers who put animal welfare first.
Bob and Chris Fridd, Selling, Faversham, Kent, with their own home grown veg. Lots of it.
Telling the public about farming is the most important thing we can do. We've hardly started yet. I am on this journey for the same reason I started a city farm, which is the same reason I became a gardener. I am moved by the dreadful cut-offness of humans from the natural world.
This cut-offness has some strange symptoms. One recurring one is people's inability to admit that they are moved by animal suffering. They would find it easier to tell you they had AIDS than to say that they cared about animal welfare. Genuine care for animals is disguised as "good stockmanship". Taste and human health are considered more relevant to the consumer than whether the animal had a good life and a painless death. Farmers who obviously care for their animals are ashamed to admit this. Why?
Shop is particularly rich in dairy products and has a good selection of cheese, several from Dorset but at least 3 are more local:
Interesting cheeses from ASHDOWN FOREST ORGANIC, SUSSEX HIGH WEALD DAIRY, DUDDLESWELL, E. SUSSEX
Herd of healthy looking Jerseys (not lame, not too thin, straight backs). Friendly and free collies. I bought milk, cream, and ice-cream. They have just won a gold award for their ice-cream. Unfortunately, most of the milk gets sold on. I wonder if I could persuade him to make yogurt. This is how Loseley got going. He was putting the bull on a cow with one hand, and selling to me with the other, while expecting the milk recorder. Anything else might be too much.
They also sell milk from another independent dairy:
It was also very well attended by customers, in spite of the rain. It is possible that there are not so many people round here as there are round Stroud who have given up supermarkets completely and live from one farmers' market to the next. You'd need a freezer to do that, but then, everyone round here has a freezer.
Vegetables were in shortest supply.
SECRETT'S FARM SHOP, who hosted the market, had a spectacular stall. Also
TEST VALLEY WATERCRESS and the man I bought spinach from, who had excellent leaves but no name.
Then there was meat:
And best of all to me, two stalls with woollen goods:
ANNE BROCKHURST makes a living from her smallholding in Fernhurst. She added peg-loom rugs and naturally died wool to an inspiring collection.
With wool, I have to admit, it is a niche market. Man-made fibres have taken over the mass market and they really are cheap, easy to wear and cruelty-free (cruelty to animals anyway). Wool is for people who love and appreciate it and sheep are valued only by that small minority. There is not the direct parallel here with food that industrial farmers assume.
There is no reason, except ignorance, why this island should not feed itself, value its farm animals and be a whole lot healthier - mentally and physically.
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