All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for eco-living

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

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

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

I do not know how to make moisturiser from a nettle…

Being hyper-aware of where my food (and energy) is coming from, I’m suddenly hyper-aware of the ‘away-from-here’ ness of all the things I use and need: the ‘consumables’ that I consider essential (to varying degrees) or at least have become accustomed to being able to use whenever I choose. I make a substantial list even from the first things I’ve used within an hour of waking that day:

Toilet paper (recycled, natch)
Toothpaste (Kingfisher, of course)
Toothbrush (Monte Bianco, saving the planet one toothbrush stalk at a time)
Shower soap (Weleda)
Deodorant (Weleda)
Toilet cleaner (Bio-D)
Surface cleaner (Earth Friendly Products)
Sponge (alas, from evil supermarket)
Board chalk (village shop)
Moisturiser (Burts Bees)
Matches
Baking parchment (If You Care, FSC-certified – REALLY)

It’s worrying that, even through the frisson of eco-smugness that could be attached to the ‘ethical consumer’ brand names (=fewer chemicals, minimalist packaging, biodegradable, hand-made by free-range unicorns on a guaranteed minimum wage etc.), there is still so much  s t u f f  here…

Are you local?

And then there are all the containers – glass, plastic, film, cardboard – they are squashed, poured or rolled into and around. In all their colourful (yet also, of course, tastefully restrained) plumage, they form a textured map of the complexity of our dependence on  t h i n g s: products that I – for all my supposed knowledge about ‘eco-living’ – would have little idea how to make myself or replicate the effects of using only locally available herbs or chemicals. (A sudden pang of eco-inadequacy: I do not know how to make moisturiser from a nettle.) And our dependence on oil to package, transport and store them.

Through my focus on local food and my physical, pedestrian relationship to fetching it, I am suddenly acutely aware of all that is coming in to my home and all that is going out and the physical journey it made to reach here. And thinking like this, even my own home – a static caravan at present – feels suddenly alien, other, with no relationship to me, my making or the materials available in the local environment. It’s as if we’re all caddis flies from a littered river, surrounded by a constructed carapace of compulsively-collected detritus that is not of our making… I mourn suddenly my recently-taken-down-for-repair yurt – with its wooden frame (trellis walls (khana) and roof poles) made from a Herefordshire oak felled by the maker himself. I had never before considered the ‘home miles’ of the shelters we choose to live in.

Yurt Frame

Impractical as it would be (for me and the rest of humanity) I can suddenly understand the urge to live in a bender in the hills…