Changing the world a bit at a time


I’ve been reading a very good book called “So Shall We Reap” by Colin Tudge (http://www.amazon.co.uk/So-Shall-We-Reap-Worlds/dp/0141009500).  It really is an excellent book, and everybody needs to read it and think carefully about what he says.
In a nutshell, he is saying that agriculture has lost its way.  If we are to feed the large and growing population of the planet, then we cannot do it by means of industrialisation and globalisation of agriculture, but have to do it by a modern agrarian economy in which food is grown carefully, by good husbandry, by people who live on and know the land, who are able to grow food suitable to the local cuisine, and who exercise good husbandry over the land and the livestock.
What does this actually mean?  First of all, it means that we have to improve the yield of our land, and the best yield (as opposed to maximum profitability) comes from mixed farming in which livestock, arable and horticulture are carefully managed in rotation.  Second, it means that science needs to be applied to improving yields rather than improving profitability – this may go hand in hand, but often does not, since the profit is often taken not by the farmer, but by either the wholesaler or the biotech and agrichemicals companies.   Third, it means that more people need to work in agriculture, so that the principles of good husbandry can be applied, and animals, humans, crops and people can live in harmony with nature, rather than by trying to control and subdue it.
But surely the largest cost for farmers (and foresters) is labour?  What he says is this:  we only need to produce food at ever-reducing cost because the goal is not to maximise production of food, but to maximise profit.  So we produce raw ingredients at rock-bottom prices using industrialised methods of farming – these are then bought by a small number of globalised food companies who dictate the price, “add value” to them by processing them into ready meals, prepared vegetables or whatever, and then sell them to the consumer.  The consumer does not pay less for their food – often they pay more for food of lower quality.  If they bought food locally directly from the producers, then they could produce food in a much more environmentally-friendly way, take better care of their animals and land, provide more employment for people who desperately need the work, and it wouldn’t cost the consumer any more, although they would have to be prepared to cook things from raw ingredients, just as humans have done for thousands of years until ready meals took over in the last 40 or so years.  We must also be prepared to eat less meat – meat is seen as a garnish and flavouring in many traditional cuisines, rather than the centre of the meal.  We need to return to seeing it that way, eating mainly vegetables, roots, pulses, tubers, nuts, grains and seeds, with a little meat for flavour.
So what does it mean for us?  We already try to support good husbandry by buying local produce, and making our own food from raw ingredients, cooking our own pizza, pasta, bread, curries, and growing our own where we can.  But we need to go further.  So my resolution for this year is this – we will seek out those local producers who operate on sound principles of good husbandry and try and buy from them.  Where we can’t do that, we will buy from ethical stores, and if we have to buy from supermarkets, buy from those with a good environmental record, and buy organic where possible.  We will avoid buying fruits and vegetables from the other side of the world out of season, and instead buy local, seasonal produce.  It will involve more effort, but I am prepared to make that effort.  I’m sure that at times I will fail – and end up buying something that isn’t produced sustainably.  But the point is I’m thinking more and more about it, and trying more and more to support local production.
If everybody thought just a little bit about where their food comes from, and how it is produced, and how the prices are manipulated so that both consumer and farmer lose out, and the middlemen and big superstores take all the profit, then this would seem a logical choice.  Politicians are not going to change the way in which agriculture and the food business operate because there are far too many vested interests at stake.  The only way in which the world can change is if people start to think more carefully, and buy only those products produced sustainably.  Changing the world a bit at a time.

Dream come true…

The woods are beautiful.  There really is no way of improving on nature.  But despite knowing this, I have had a frustrated urge to try and do just that over the last few years.  In early 2010, I started studying a professional photography course, and have set many of the images for my assignments in or around the woods.  It struck me that it would be wonderful if I could actually hold an ehxibition at the woods.  Pictures of the woods set in the woods where they were taken.

This weekend, my dream came true.  My final assignment was to hold an exhibition.  For the last year I have been taking pictures with this aim in mind.  What I really wanted to do seemed impossible:  get a set of images that, when placed in the woods, would both enhance the woods, and be enhanced by their setting, so that both were greater than the sum of the whole.

Entitled “The Eye of the Beholder”, I wanted people to see the woods through my eyes.  There is so much beauty in the detail, and by setting images of the details of the woods  – the insects, butterflies, damselflies, flowers, light and shade, colour and texture – in the place where they were taken, I hoped that the eye of the beholder would be drawn into the image, through the image, and beyond into the woods themselves.  Drawing people through the image into the reality beyond, and helping them to connect to the woods, and learn to see nature, and its beauty, in a different way.

So much work!  Picking the right pictures, selecting the right spot (and then finding I couldn’t put the picture there because of buried stones, the need to turn the tractor, or simply poor lighting), finding the right kind of print that would be weather and UV resistant…and then bashing in the stakes (thank you, Stephen!) and mounting them.

Was it worth it – was it a dream come true?  Well…this weekend we opened the exhibition (which will stay in place until November 2012), and 63 people came along to see it.  And I think it worked, judging by some of the comments.

I don’t think I can ever make people see the wood through my eyes – but I DO think that by careful use of art in the landscape, the relationship between the viewer and the landscape can be made to change.  These pictures don’t do the same thing when they are indoors, on the walls – nice though they look.  Placed outside, in the environment where they were taken, they can improve the connection between the person, photographer and the natural world.  Photography in its real element.  A dream of mine, and a dream come true.

If you’d like to visit, we are open on Wednesday 29th August and 5th and 12th September between 6-8pm, as well as on our Open days on Sundays 23rd September, 28th October and 25th November.  If a group would like to come, then please contact us and we can sort it out.

And if you’d like to see the video of the exhibition with music – well, here it is.