All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for December, 2012

Visions of sugar plums… (or organic medjool dates)

Christmas (walking) stockings

Christmas Eve and a new meaning to hanging up stockings by the fire…

Christmas stockings 2

So, time for some reflection, before the Twelve Days of Christmas Countdown begins…

I’m enjoying this. (Now). I took such a calorific nosedive at the start of the project that my brain stopped working and I went into some kind of survival mode (the freezing weather didn’t help). As someone who knows how to cook (and on wood!), and eat well using mostly vegetables, I’m baffled by the sudden-onset cluelessness as to how to walk and feed myself properly on local food in December, simply because I was adapting to a diet that was slightly less varied, unable to rely on the the convenience products – soya milk, rice cakes, peanut butter, cashews, dates, bananas – on which I realise I’d come to depend for instant energy (and protein). I also realise how much unseasonal, unlocal produce has crept into my ‘staples’ list in recent years – avocados, spinach, red peppers, romaine lettuce, cucumber. And most of all, I realise that my relationship to food had become all about speed. Allowing myself to get very hungry, feeding myself as quickly as possible, hurtling off to the next thing. Fast (wholesome) food for fast living. I had to  s l o w down, but the transition was painful…

I’ve learnt how to live  s l o w l y. The hunger and loss of strength has died away now replaced with a twinge of embarrassment that I was initially so pathetic. There is plenty of food I can eat, it was just learning how to cook and carry it. It’s also interesting how much less I’m eating than normal – the food is less palatable, so I’m less bothered about it. How much of hunger is actually just a relationship with taste – and wanting to taste – rather than what we truly need to consume? Now I’ve learned how to feed myself, how to maintain a leaven, how to cook properly on wood, and most of all, how to slow down. Slow (wood/cooked) food takes time and planning and I can’t let myself run out…(no speed pun intended)

I feel very well. Unpolluted by refined food, sugars, salt (none of which I eat much of normally anyway but still…), I feel very clear-headed and clear-bodied and in a better place to ‘listen’: to myself (my body) and other people.

I haven’t walked as much or as far as I’d like, because initially I couldn’t feed myself enough to sustain the long distance endurance-tramps I’d intended. It’s also very very very wet which slows me down and takes up far more energy. But most of all the process of surviving takes more time: the business of living, bread-making, cooking, wood-fetching, water-heating and horse-feeding. Now I’ve got a comfortable routine, I’m hoping that the weeks that follow will allow me to address this. But my desire to push myself – and the sense of ‘cheating’ if I don’t (otherwise it’s not a performance, right?) also makes me laugh at myself – so determined to make my walking practice  h a r d  because I’m so sold on the specific notions of achievement and endurance I seem to admire in the work of the solitary male walking artists, when really, I’m a female walking artist after all: it’s all about conviviality and connection and ‘knit[ting] together people and place’ (Heddon and Turner 2010). And you don’t have to walk hard and fast and competitively and show-offingly to the edges of your personal food horizon to do that.

I haven’t talked as much as I’d like. Apart from the encounters I’m orchestrating (with people who are already proponents or producers of local food), I’m just not really meeting that many other people – it’s hard to bump into people in the pouring rain on obscure and muddy Herefordshire footpaths in December. But I also have to admit I have been deliberately missing opportunities, especially when I’ve been hungry – it’s too vulnerable-making to initiate a conversation with a stranger when hungry: I’ve felt too distracted by this more pressing need. So I feel like I’m failing in this regard from an activist perspective, because then it’s just all about me. But it’s not over til the fat lady sings… or the skinny girl finishes walking.

But I’ve met some amazing people. I feel filled with love for the local food producers, makers and movers of South Herefordshire and the web that connects them – partly constructed, now, of my footprints. There is a real awareness bubbling away in the countryside here, like a healthy leaven.

I’m mostly missing oats but also bananas, mango, soya milk, rice cakes, peanut butter and tulsi tea. But the VERY first thing I am going to eat at the end of this performance is a single, delicious, fresh, organic medjool date. And be grateful for every single mile it travelled to get to me.

Reference
Heddon, D. and C. Turner (2010) ‘Walking Women: Interviews with Women on the Move’ Performance Research 15 (4) 14-22

Hibernating…

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

Once Upon a Tree

Dabinett

Last night, on the winter solstice I walked in the gloaming, and then the moonlight, across the Marcle Ridge to Putley to sing carols around the tree at Dragon House. The Stanier family have been the mainstay of my social life during this project, their hospitality and generosity with their own amazing (and award-winning!) Once Upon a Tree cider and apple juice sustaining me calorifically as well as conversationally. Passionate about local food, rural community, sustainable living and re-connecting consumers with producers, the Staniers have run Dragon Orchard Cropsharers since 2001, one of the longest-running Community Supported Agriculture schemes (CSAs) in the UK. Cropsharers are invited to attend one open weekend each season, getting to spend time in the orchard as it changes through the year and receiving a proportion of its gifts each season: eating and cooking apples, juices, ciders, jams and chutneys. There is a shop at the orchard itself, and their Three Counties Cider shop in Ledbury which sells a range of local cider and other produce from Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.

Dragon House is a beautiful place to be and always somewhere I associate with conviviality, hospitality and warmth. Tonight is no exception – as I emerge from  the dark, many people are gathering here to sing also, and there is the unmistakeable smell of mulled cider to greet our arrival. Norman Stanier gives me and the project a special introduction to the assembled crowd before we sing carols round the very tall two-storey tree…

Dragon House tree

and people share readings – poems, a scene from Pickwick papers – which Norman concludes with the December poem from their own 2009 book Orchard Days (poems by Charles Bennett inspired by a visit to the orchard one day each month for a year). It concludes with a beautiful image of Adam holding the ‘Christmas Apple’ out to Eve ‘who hangs it back on the tree,/and all of us grow more innocent/year on year’

Orchard Days

I also meet Fran from the Ledbury Food Group who tells me about the CPRE local food web mapping project. I realise this is what I’m doing – less usefully? – through this performance. We swap contacts to talk more…

Today, after a wonderful breakfast of fresh (cold-stored) apples (heaven after only apple juice), conversation, chutney-jar labelling and deliberating over the visitors’ book (every single overnight guest that has ever stayed must make an entry…)

Dragon House visitors' book

I walk home through the surrounding orchards of Putley (where the pics are from), streams of water running between the trees. I’m excited because I’ve been invited to attend the Cropsharers wassail in January to talk about this project and my experiences or conclusions, whatever they may be. Walking in daylight this time, I retrace my steps made in moonlight thinking of the Wassail pig from the January poem who ‘turns her attention/ to that big white apple in the sky/she’s looked at night after night.’

Be safe, be seen  Putley orchard 1

Putley orchard 2

Putley Court Church

Winter solstice

Solstice wreath 3

It’s the winter solstice which is the event I now choose to celebrate – with food, conviviality, warmth, gifts – as my mid-winter festival of choice. (Not that I’m completely bah humbug about the big C – I’m even walking to Putley for carol singing tonight.)  All in a Day’s Walk has thrown this into an even sharper focus this year – the presence of daylight (or not) has been very much present for me in my daily life in walking and even eating. Eggs – my precious only source of local protein – have been harder to come by, because the shorter days are also the reason why the hens on the farm are laying less. (A connection I hadn’t considered before.)

I’m not a very conscientious celebrant, but it feels important to mark this turning point – the ‘standing still of the sun’ – as I’m walking underneath it.

‘The great cosmic wheel of the year… the symbolic wheel of time is acknowledged here. Jul or Yule means wheel in Norwegian. Northern Europeans of our Celtic past believed this mystic wheel stopped briefly at this crucial point as one cycle ended and a new cycle of the sun began. It was taboo to rotate any wheels at the Winter Solstice, from cartwheels to butterchurns, as they waited for the return of the sun.

Evergreens are brought into the home at this time to represent everlasting life…Each of the evergreens has a deeper symbolism. Red holly berries represent the red female blood of life while the white mistletoe berries represent the the white semen drops of the life-giving male

There is an old tradition of making wheels of evergreens as we celebrate the wheel of the year turning once again towards the sun… ‘

Glennie Kindred (2001) Sacred Celebrations Glastonbury: Gothic Image

Over the past few days, my walking has allowed me to collect various evergreens and I make a solstice wheel from plaited ivy (Fownhope church wall, to be mildly subversive), holly (How Caple and Capler Camp – the iron-age hill fort above the farm), yew (Capler Camp) and mistletoe (Oldstone Farm orchard). I also make my first truly successful rye-spelt sourdough bread – coincidentally shaped into a wheel/ring so that it can cook more easily in my stove-top oven improvised from a cast iron casserole dish.

Solstice wreath 1

Solstice wreath 2

Sourdough ring

SLOW flooding

Flooded footpath 1

It’s the eve of the winter solstice which this year will be at 11:12 tomorrow.  Ignoring the Mayan/world’s end predictions, I walk into the village to post some Christmas presents, through fields wetter than I’ve ever seen them, latticed by runnels and new rivers. Maybe this is the end of the world after all and this project is remarkably prescient but for a lost consonant: not so much slow food as slow flood.

Foolishly I decide to wear my wellies again which might keep my feet dry but have no grip. I fall twice before I’ve even reached the village and have almost made it to the shop when I slip coming off the slope into the rec ground and slide on my back, laughing, down the bank thick with wettest mud. I walk through the village like a swamp beast, much to the amusement of the Post Office queue where I stand, dripping mud onto the counter, making it worse in my pathetic attempts to clean it up, which only succeed in smearing it further.

I fell on my arse

The postmistress sympathetically wipes my parcel “It will cost more if you weigh it muddy…”. Then weighted down with mud and apple juice and cider I walk home like a cross child with my unbearably caked-in-mud arms held out stiffly to the sides gritting my teeth. I tell a friend about the fall-Post Office palaver and ask “Should I be doing a PhD in clowning?”. “Or drowning?” he responds.

River down Banky Field

Caplor lake 2

Flooded ditch

Flooded footpath 2

Wellies 2

Flooded stile

Fownhope rec ground pond flood

Fownhope rec ground pond flood 2

Fownhope stream

Pasture and pasteurisation

Warming feet on the still-warm-from-last-night woodburner

Warming my freezing feet on the still-warm-from-night-before wood burner before I set on a walk to How Caple where I’ve arranged to meet Debbie and Will Edwards, organic dairy farmers just above one of the sweeping bends of the River Wye. I’m excited to talk to them, because I’ve had some informal conversations with Will in the past and always been hugely inspired by his take on farming organically ‘in nature’s image’ and his passion for unadulterated milk, local food and pasture-raised animals. Unfortunately, this means that that cows are, quite rightly, dried off for the winter. So I won’t be able to try any of their milk raw (I was hoping to work out if I still had an allergic reaction to it, or if raw milk – with all its enzymes in tact – would actually agree with me. And I was also hoping to make some raw butter for a solstice treat. But hey ho…)

I walk down under Brockhampton Court, and through Totnor Mill (below, which seems to have been moated by its own leat, hence the little bridge), where a small alpaca herd eyes me warily. Then along the bridlepath to How Caple, which brings me out past another mill (I’m still pretty fascinated by these)

Totnor Mill  Alpaca at Alfords Mill 2

Will and Debbie are kind enough to give me over two hours of their time in the middle of the day, when I know that they would normally be busy with the stock. And the conversation is intense and wide-ranging – from milk (and the evils of pasteurisation and homogenisation) to pasture, to organic systems, to climate change, to Offa’s Dyke, Archenfield and cultural heritage. And it even concluded with a conversation in Welsh (supposedly my native tongue, but Will – who has learnt – was far more fluent than me.) There is lots of food for thought here – on local food systems, and the dysfunctional infrastructure and  paperwork of so-called traceability that makes it so hard – too hard – for Debbie and Will to sell their milk themselves locally where it would be ultimately and eminently traceable.

Edited highlights of our mammoth conversation will appear here soon! To be continued…

Solar and salad

Caplor turbine

Solar panels

Today I’ve arranged to talk to Chris from Caplor Energy – the renewables ‘wing’ of the farm business here where I live. They specialise in solar photovoltaics and solar hot water systems. As a renewables geek, I’m inordinately proud of living here, where pretty much every large south-facing roof is covered in panels and the water in our shower block and livery yard is solar-heated (even Merlin is a fan). And we have a 15kW Proven wind turbine. In terms of energy for this project, all my space-heating, water-heating, and cooking is being supplied by my wood burner, fuelled with local wood. But I’ve also ‘allowed’ myself electricity – for light and computer only – on the basis of all this local renewable generation, the largest array on the barn just above my head as I type. It’s not a closed-loop off-grid system at Caplor, but I’m curious to ask, if it were, how much energy of the farm business and community’s energy needs would be met by the renewable installations. Chris gives me a tour and answers my questions and I’m particularly interested to learn that it’s winter food storage (potatoes) that takes a considerable amount of the farm’s winter energy use. The edited highlights of our conversation are here (with the interesting noises-off of two of the farm blacksmiths working in their nearby forge!)…

Audio Track: Caplor Energy

Home sweet home

Solar hot water 2

Solar hot water 1

Later I walk to the village to catch the last post and stock up on local apple juice, the sun already setting. As I cut across the rec ground, they’re cutting the grass and I’m trying to work out why it’s making me hungry. Then I realise the smell of the grass is making me craving the juicy greenness of summer salad…

Sunset 1

Sunset 2

Freshly mown rec ground