Saturday 24 May 2008

The Art of Labour


As you might have guessed I'm strongly in favour of the organic movement. It seems intrinsically correct to keep to simple human friendly and scaled processes on the land. It keeps the human footprint within safe boundaries and is better for the other species we share the earth with as well.

So it would be nice to pretend that farm is entirely organically farmed and that all our activities are traditional practices handed down from generations of peasants who have worked the fields with hand tools and the sweat of their brows but that wouldn't be as honest as I'd like to be.

The fact is that we have 9 hectares here (that's about 24 acres), tiny for a farm but far far more land than two people can work using old fashioned methods. And I don't have Paul's strength with me for very much of the year. If I'm to keep on top of the abundance of nature I need power tools and that means oil powered equipment. We have a rotavator because I can't dig the whole vegetable patch by hand, a mower, a chain saw (which I never use, it's too scary) which is essential for tree work and a brush cutter. Whatever your feelings on global warming and the greed driven energy squeeze it would be better not to use them but the choices are limited.

Even with all this to help me I can still only hope to maintain a small area around the house. The fields are cut for hay by people who have the equipment to do it and our boundaries are being sadly neglected. We're going to have to invest more money in tractors and accessories in the near future because the land and the community need these obligations to be observed. Traditional farming is people intensive and we have become a society of couples and singletons.

Today I did an hour's brush cutting. A generation of neglect at the farm has left huge piles of rubble around the place and colonising these heaps, enormous thickets of brambles. It is unpleasant work, the stems are thick and resistant to the blades and the footing is uncertain with large chunks of stone and concrete tripping the unwary and denting the ends of the cutting blades. The protective helmet, essential wear, is uncomfortable and hot and the mesh of the visor combined with the spin of the blades induces the nausea that precedes a migraine. I always mean to do more but as soon as the fuel runs out so does my enthusiasm.

There are other compromises that mean we cannot claim to be fully "organic" as the definition is currently written. I have used a small quantity of artificial fertilisers, I will use slug pellets under certain restricted circumstances and I do intend to spray my potatoes and tomatoes with Bordeaux mixture in an attempt to protect them from blight. This copper based mixture isn't pleasant, copper is highly poisonous and I do understand why authorities like the Soil Association will deprecate its use but for us and other small farmers forbidding it makes our position untenable. I've even considered seeing what the commercial chemists are offering since I can't meet the rules for organic growing and protect our crops.

Anyway, this post has all the attributes of one that will never be read - most readers want to know how to make elderflower champagne or cherry jam - but just in case there's anybody listening; if you'd like a working holiday in this rural paradise, drop me a line. Bed, breakfast and a vegan evening meal if you want it. The more people who can help, the more we can avoid the perils of oil consumption and chemical shortcuts. And I'd be very very grateful.

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