All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for Foraging

Vegan roadkill

Vegan roadkill at White House Farm

A walk through Dymock to Brooms Green, home of Charles Martell cheeses. I’ve been intrigued by this cheese-makers-cum-distillery ever since I’d heard my friend Hugh (himself of the inspiring artisan cider-producing Dragon Orchard) waxing lyrical about them back in December. I wasn’t eating cheese or dairy then of course due to a suspected allergy, but this time around and in the absence of allergy, their delicious nettle-wrapped May Hill Green has been very sustaining on long walks. I set off late today with a belly full of it. I haven’t called ahead to arrange a meeting, optimistically hoping to bump into someone when I arrive. Or simply for the walk to guide me into an encounter with someone else.

I don’t and it doesn’t. In fact, I barely see anyone closer than waving distance: two farmers mending a trailer and a lone dog walker. So much for talking activism today.

I pass through a sinister concrete bridge under the M50 that looks like it should house a 1960s concrete troll and join up with the Daffodil Way, round the edge of Dymock Forest. I pass an equally sinister looking mansion which instantly makes me think, with a goosebump frisson, of  Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger. For miles it seems to be watching me with coolly blank eyes, and I wonder why we anthropomorphise houses when really, they are just hemmings-in of space for us to shelter in.

In Dymock I find myself following the Poets’ Paths to Brooms Green. It’s not intentional. In fact, there’s something vaguely embarrassing about it. Perhaps this is because I’m always achingly conscious that walking seems to have a tendency to turn everyone into a navel-gazing poet or philosopher of varying degrees of awfulness, something I’ve been anxious to avoid through informing my walking practice with my environmentalism and other political concerns, of varying degrees of gentleness. By this, I mean that I’m permanently hyperconscious that, for all that I was at pains to put activism in tracktivism, I know there’s still nothing overtly, tub-thumpingly political about it. And inevitably, in the luxurious engagement with natural world that rural walking offers, the political is not present for me in every step. I am not a pilgrim. I can allow my mind and senses to wander.

What I remain conscious of, however, is that this is no rural idyll. These farmed landscapes are constantly changing and responding to the challenges of economy and climate. Less obvious, dramatic and dizzying than the melting ice-sheets to be sure, but still more fragile than we think. As our oil dependency continues and rural infrastructure falters, maybe we should all be walking these paths and writing bad poetry while we still have the chance? In less time than has passed since Edward Thomas, Robert Frost et al. were walking here, who knows what these landscapes will look like as a consequence not only of changing weather patterns and climate but also resource depletion and population explosion.

On the way home, I’m really hungry. I only brought a small sorrel and beetroot salad with me (no cheese or oatcakes), it’s 7 pm and I’ve walked about 17 miles, 5 more to go. Then I see on the side of the road a whole broad bean plant that’s been pulled up and dropped (by a creature? off a trailer? I’m not sure). Some of the pods are broken, but some are intact and I liberate the beans. Vegan roadkill, I think. At a green activists’ event earlier in the year, I’d been speaking on a forum about local food, revealing my epiphany that I’d suppressed my ethical concerns over killing animals to eat in favour my environmentalist understanding that pasture-fed (and finished) meat was a more carbon-neutral form of local protein (and very likely also a healthier one, than grain-fed meats). A vegan member of the audience had disagreed: with enough planning, she said, we were more than capable of growing enough beans to make enough protein to feed ourselves locally and ethically. The beans dont give me much oomph, but in my ongoing unease with eating meat and dairy, I wonder if she’s right.

My how you've grown, maize Maize at Warren Farm Dexter cow Ford at Brockmoor Farm Ford at Brockmoor Lane Hay Wood Stop the cull M50 footpath tunnel Lake at Timber Hall Farm Boyce Court Slow sign, Dymock Slow signs, Dymock Dymock Poets Path II Dead rat Dymock poets path again Charles Martell cheese Pears at Hunt Court Lintridge Green Put the money in the pipe Morris Men Beauchamp Arms, Dymock Lake at Boyce Court

Carless and carefree

Old Lane, Gorsley

After walking the dogs, I leave them in the house with Callum and walk along the many, meandering lanes through Gorsley and over the old Hereford and Gloucester canal at Oxenhall  to Brown and Green, an award-winning farm and local food shop at 3 Shires Garden Centre that my internet searching has turned up. (Word of mouth is slower to work; though writing this retrospectively, it would have come onto my radar soon enough from the number of people who seem to be aware of it.)

I am, unsurprisingly, hungry this morning, but to the worrying extent that I am hyperaware of all signs of food, including that which has already passed through other creatures: I find myself photographing cherry stones and wheat husks in poo – the latter badger, the former I’m not so sure. An unripe crab apple, fallen onto the road and squashed makes me feel momentarily mournful.

I’m also thinking more and more about foraging. Having read both Food for Free (Richard Mabey, of course) and Wild Food (Roger Phillips) years ago, I’ve long been obsessed with scanning hedgerows whilst riding and running, particularly in the spring when the first succuluent greens start coming through. I have been making all the obvious things for years: nettle soup and tea, Jack-by-the-hedge salad, elderflower fritters and cordial, blackberry crumble and sloe gin and giant puffball steaks. But otherwise, my interest in foraging has been more of an academic one: feeding my brain rather than belly. Revisiting those books now, I’m struck by how many of the recipes require significant amounts of additional produce – potatoes, butter, milk, eggs, flour, meat and fish – to make the foraged leaves into meals substantial enough to be filling. Quite often they’re more about flavouring and interest, and possibly texture, rather than calorific sustenance. (This is an observation that JoSh also wryly makes in his video blog, after a very difficult week of trying to survive purely on foraged (‘bitter’) leaves. I write an email in response to his blog, offering sympathy and agree ‘Like you say, foraging for sustenance came before we had full-time jobs – foraging WAS a full-time job, together with resting to preserve energy! ). Nevertheless, today I find myself drawn – by its scent, very sweet and almondy in the hot sun – to meadowsweet. I’ve just been reading about its use as a flavouring and sweetener, in tea, puddings and custard. There is something about its frothy heads of flower that is redolent of the richness of cream. A kind of synaesthetic olfactory-visual onomatopoeia.

After a quick duck under the shade of Cold Harbour Bridge on the disused Hereford and Gloucester canal at Oxenhall (sections of which are currently under restoration), I plod on to the main road and pass a series of sprawling garden centres (including Gloucestershire’s most inspirational plant centre apparently: I walk past). I arrive at Brown and Green. It’s like a traditional delicatessen-cum-farm shop, personal and homely and well-stocked but somewhat incongruously set in a massive, department-store style garden centre. I explain to the sales assistant what I am doing and she is instantly friendly and takes time to talk me around all the produce, making recommendations and knowing where every single thing has come from and how it was grown.

 

It’s very impressive and I fill a basket with as much as I think I can carry back: mushrooms, carrots, beans and peas, apple juice, May Hill ale (though I later realise that possibly the hops weren’t grown quite within my walking radius, sigh) and nettle-coated Charles Martell cheese (May Hill Green), made up the road in Dymock with their own Old Gloucester milk. I sit on a bench outside and wolf down the cheese with my salad leaves and broad beans.

On the way back, I fall into step with another walker, who’s joined my route from a different footpath. Slighlty awkwardly, we fall into conversation and she tells me she has lived rurally without a car for over three years. She cycles everywhere and when she can’t she walks, as she explains in the following audio (apologies for the poor audio quality; there was a breeze and I forgot my wind-jammer):

And finally within a few miles of home and passing back through Withymoor Farm, a dairy  at Aston Crews, I stop to ask if they sell any of their products on the farm. They don’t, but we fall into conversation anyway and I find myself being shown around the space-age tardis-like wood-chip water heater that runs two houses and a whole dairy unit. Now an audio documentation geek, naturally I record it:

Cherry poo Orchard near Gorsley Meadowsweet in Gorsley hedgerow Honeysuckle in Gorsley hedgerow Stoney Road, Gorsley Squashed apples Meadowsweet again Butterbur? Butterbur? 2 Three Choirs Way Hot sheep Last year's corn Last year's corn 2 Badger scat in the wheat Hereford and Gloucester canal above Oxenhall Really? La la la... Brown and Green Fresh local berries Between Newent and Gloucester May Hill ale

And then walk the dogs again when I get home…

Fasting, foraging and food theft

Beans

An incredibly hot day and a walk up May Hill with Rachel and the dogs. (By the evening, the garden thermometer has recorded a maximum of 39 degrees Celsius. In the vicinity of the shed, that is.) On the way out of Lea, the first fields of the footpath are full of dwarf beans. Hungry for something more stodgy and sustaining that salad, I feel like taking some but don’t want to steal. It makes me wonder, as I haven’t before, if food theft is a problem in the UK. Do people steal food straight from the field? As a child I remember occasionally scrumping apples or damsons from branches overhanging a hedgerow onto a footpath or road. But, always having had enough money to buy food of one kind or another, this was for pleasure or naughtiness, not necessity. It’s never occurred to me that some people might be so desperate, even here and now, to feed themselves or their families that they have to go out and forage or steal.

Talking of foraging, back on the first day of the project, I was ‘virtually introduced’ (via email from mutual acquaintance Roz Brown of the Mid-Wales Permaculture Network) to JoSh Rogers who, very coincidentally, is spending July only eating foraged or otherwise found food and spending no more than £1 a day on his everyday life. (This is part of an ongoing series of month-long projects, life challenges and experiments, as recorded in his excellent and very honest vlogs.) This is far, far more hardcore than this ‘performance’ of mine (it makes me feel pretentious even using the word), especially when he’s doing it on top of his everyday (physical) work as a gardener and commuting to work.

And, while we’re on the hardcore fasting front, it also occurred to me earlier in the week, that it’s very coincidentally Ramadan. (I seem to have a knack of accidentally coordinating my projects with key events in the religious calendar.) Then, reading about religious fasting, I was alerted to the Guantanamo Bay hunger-strikers and led me to this very disturbing, important protest video made by the charity Reprieve. In it, US actor and rapper Yasiin Bey volunteers to be filmed undergoing the same force-feeding technique that is being used on the hunger strikers. It is intensely humbling and my nausea (and shame that I couldn’t even watch it all the way through) makes me dismiss my grumbling middle-class stomach immediately.

Against all this my ‘polite’ activist art (and dog-walking) in idyllic rural Herefordshire is pretty pathetic.

Respect y’all.

Organic Wednesday

Holloway at Hoarwithy Dropped chard

A walk to the organic veg farm at Aconbury, then back (or so I intended) via Henclose organics (goats milk) and Carey Organic farm shop. Both veg producers – who supply the Fownhope farm shop too – have been mainstays during the past month. And I’ve heard that the Henclose unpasteurised goats milk is superb.

It’s very overcast, and the walk along the road to Hoarwithy slow and tedious, enclosed between high hedges. Crossing the Wye at Hoarwithy, I pass behind the church and pick up the Herefordshire Trail – one of the most newly instituted trails that allows walkers to circambulate the county, taking in all the major market towns and crossing some of the interesting landscape features on the way. (Walking has become an important income stream for the county since the farming community and economy was decimated following the foot and mouth disease crisis in 2001.)

It’s not raining, and I’ve been grateful that for a change, I’ve not got wet feet. Until following a footpath that passes straight through a farmyard I sink up to my knees in mud and slurry. Oh well…

On the way to Aconbury I stumble on a fantastic den of sticks in the woods. Then the faintest glimmer of blue appears in the sky (As always the bizarre line comes into my head: ‘Is it enough to make a sailor a pair of trousers?’, half-remembered from a Victoria Wood sketch that has stuck with me since childhood).

When I eventually arrive at the farm, it’s lunchtime and when I knock tentatively on the door, the family – at least two generations, by the look of it – are about to sit down to some food. So I don’t want to intrude or ask for an audio recording… I explain what I’m doing, ask them if I can buy some veg from curious ‘shop’ housed in what can only be described as a dark green plastic container (yes, leave money in the honesty box), then exchange a couple of pleasantries about the weather. One thing the farmer does say is that it’s been a challenge to grow broccoli in these increasingly wet winters – ‘it doesn’t like getting its feet wet’ he says. As I stand there with slurry still oozing inside my trainers I think ‘Yes. Quite.’

It’s a long way back down through Much Dewchurch. I pass Henclose organics (no one in – apart from the goats rustling in the straw of their shed) and head across country down towards the Cottage of Content (a pub, sadly, not a gingerbread house.) As I pass a small house, I bump into its two residents. I think these are literally the first people I’ve randomly bumped into outside for almost the entire month. In surprise, I ask them if they’ll consent to me audio-recording our conversation which ranges from donkeys and bananas to local food in London.

Audio Track: Lower Knapp Green 2 (Denuded rural infrastructure & post-war farming)

Audio Track: Lower Knapp Green 1 (London, local food, donkeys & bananas)

Finally, I head towards Carey and get there as the light is falling. I’ve missed the shop, also closed (arghh). But I can hear a tractor working up in the fields so I head up the lane a little way. I pass a field of young Swiss chard, but no longer hear or see the source of the tractor noise. I look wistfully at it (the chard), realising I hadn’t eaten green leaf vegetables for some time and feeling an intense pang of hunger for chlorophyll tang of leaf. It didn’t even occur to me to pick some. Then as I turned to leave the field, I saw one uprooted chard plant lying muddy on the rutted tracks – fallen off the trailer or pulled up by an animal, I wasn’t sure. But it was going to waste. I picked it up and took it back with me, triumphant at my ‘roadkill’. [Curiously, just days later I discover that the Institute of Mechanical Engineers has published a landmark report Global Food: Waste Not Want Not – which opens with the shocking statement that ‘it is estimated that 30–50% (OR 1.2–2 BILLION TONNES) OF ALL FOOD PRODUCED ON THE PLANET IS LOST BEFORE REACHING A HUMAN STOMACH.’ I read this and remember that chard plant which has, ever since, become indelibly marked in my mind’s eye as a sad signifier for waste]

And then just a long walk back in the dark along the Hoarwithy road in headtorchlight, and my red bike light clipped onto the back of my hood.

 

Perygl Tân - Athelstan's Wood Athelstan's Wood 2 Athelstan's Wood Fungi in Athelstan's Wood Den in the Athelstan's Wood Inside the den Merrivale Farm Organic Dairy Merrivale Farm Merrivale Farm Barn Merrivale Farm Shop Merrivale Farm Shop 2 Merrivale Farm Shop 3 Merrivale Farm Shop 4 Water at Merrivale Farm The Plough Inn, Little Dewchurch Crop field at Little Dewchurch Henclose Organics, Little Dewchurch May Hill from Much Dewchurch Carey Cottage of Content Carey Organic, Whitethorn Farm Chard in sunset, Carey Organic Chard in sunset, Carey Organic