Sometimes, it’s easy to forget who you are in life, or what you want out of it. In amidst the wind and cold and rain, with a few seedlings here and there, it’s easy to long for central heating. Sometimes, when I’m dripping with sweat, wondering why the hell I wanted to plant 10kg of carrots, the first thought that comes to mind is “I could buy these in the supermarket for 10€.”
And then, something happens to remind you why you do what you do.
That thing for me was the horsemeat scandal. It’s not the horsemeat per se that is the problem. It could be human for all I care.
It’s the fact that we have no idea at all about what goes into most of our food and what processes are used to make it.
And that was one of the reasons I wanted to be much more self sufficient and have myself a hard-work acre of land in France.
For many years, I was a vegetarian. I am a child of the Eighties: a teenager who hung around in radical bookshops in Brixton, a girl who was brought up in the socialist heartlands of the North, a student of Marx and Engels, a member of Greenpeace and every other reactionary agency that I could find to join as a young radical. I am little other than the product of a Thatcherite Britain, a girl brought up with a ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ canvas bag that she used to cart books to and from the library. Call it middle-class white girl angst. Forget Catholicism. The Eighties did a good job of making me feel guilty about the state of the world.
In my little hometown, a couple of animal rights organisations used to leaflet outside a row of shops. I picked up a few from various agencies, opening my eyes to battery farms, intensive milk production, the fur trade. Don’t even get me started on all the hormones and chemicals pumped in to animals to keep them ‘healthy’ and fatten them up. It’s like BSE and CJD never happened – most of the food industry carry on, blithely feeding the public exactly what we ask for.
And that’s one of the reasons I’m here, trying to do just a little less damage and live a less greedy lifestyle. I was moaning about not having central heating yesterday, but today I’ve remembered one of the reasons I like wood is that it’s carbon neutral (though, okay, I burn through a few litres of petrol cutting it!) and I can be proud of my ridiculous electric bill. I was only just thinking of installing a small solar charger in the lean-to so that I can charge my laptop and camera free of charge.
And that’s why I moved here. I moved here because I want to eat better food. I want to eat crops that have been cared for and nurtured, and that care is the reason they taste good, not because I’ve pumped them full of water and fertilisers. I want to know my apples aren’t covered in pesticides, that my cucumber isn’t full of e-coli. I wanted to be able to add more of my own home-grown stuff to my diet.
If I had it all my way, and if I had the skill, I’d eat only stuff that came off my own land. Not like that family they found in Siberia who lived in a dark, smoky hut and nurtured their only blade of rye, living in isolation for 50 years. I don’t think self sufficiency should be that hard, or that total.
However, if we all ate a little less meat, if our fields weren’t needed to feed cattle, then there would be more to go around. It seems silly to me that we expect meat prices to be low when it’s really such an expensive commodity. It reminds me of the imported cherries I saw in Japan that worked out at £40 a kilo. Things should be expensive if they have a big carbon footprint or are expensive to produce.
But as the world’s population grows, it’s inevitable that there will be more famine, as land is misused for cattle fodder, and that prices should go up. It can’t go on forever, this have and have not mentality. The group of people who have access to meat and expensive foodstuffs is just going to get smaller and smaller as the group of people who are hungry grows.
That’s not how I want to be.
So, with that in mind, how does my garden grow?
My first cauliflowers have leaves, as do my first leeks. The chilis are beginning to put out leaves and my alicante tomatoes are out of the propagator, making way for more tomatoes. This week, I’ll be able to put in some more chili peppers and some more tomatoes. I’ll also put in some more brassicas to start off.
It’s going to be a long time til they’re ready to go in the garden, but I will be ready.
And this year, I want more than ever. The more I grow myself, the less I have to depend on the rest of the world to feed me.
Sure, I’m not right up there yet, Ms Holier-Than-Thou being carbon positive and completely self-sustaining. I’m lucky to be born in a place and time that affords me such ethics. An accident of birth means I can afford to be all guilty about meat and what I eat. But I won’t lie. It does feel good to eat my own stuff. I just had an omelette for tea, made with my own leeks and peas from last year. The eggs come right from my hens who are perfectly free to wander wherever they please and eat snails and worms and snakes if they like. For lunch, I had tomato soup, made with last year’s tomatoes and a handful of herbs I grew and dried. I like that about country living. You get to have days where you can live off the fatta’ the land.
Now, all I have to do is remember all of this when my arms ache from pulling weeds.