All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for local food

Guilt and abundance (and raw milk)

Giant courgette

I have a new form of guilt to add to the ever-expanding list: gardeners’ guilt. To our surprise (first season of serious growing, my first growing season here at all) the garden here is almost indecently fecund and productive. It’s all the stereotypical adjectives in fact: lush and verdant etc etc. Even things we planted late and expected not to thrive or fruit just yet are approaching giant proportions. That giant courgette is from the gift plant Rach dug in just 3 weeks ago.  This is normally a cause for celebration of course but I have such an association of denial and asceticism with this piece (from the winter performance, or indeed the first few days of this one) that suddenly faced with so much abundance – of variety, texture, flavour from garden herbs – I feel guilty.

Then I realise that’s what the dyed-in-the-wool environmentalist in me wants to feel: it’s not just about this piece, it’s about a whole ‘performance of identity’ through denial and choice that characterises a commitment to belief systems – whether religious or ecological. Dave Horton’s excellent book chapter articulates this brilliantly in a single paragraph around milk (and which raised a laugh-out-loud of recognition from me when I first read it in the quiet work area of Worcester Hive, to the consternation of fellow readers):

Discomfort can emerge over something so seemingly trivial as ‘milk’. Faced with a choice of ‘milk’, whether at a green meeting or when shopping, the activist confronts a choice of identity. There is no one ‘right milk’, and ‘milk’ correspondingly becomes a site around which identities are distinguished and performed. How should one buy one’s milk? Should it be delivered to the door, lugged home from the supermarket, or fetched from the corner-shop? From where can organic milk be bought? Is the best milk container made of glass, plastic or reinforced cardboard? How can one best ensure one’s milk is produced locally? Ought one to abstain from the consumption of animal milk entirely, and choose soya ‘milk’ instead? What if the only soya ‘milk’ available is non-organic, and potentially genetically modified? Given the impossibility of satisfying all these criteria simultaneously, which ones ought to be privileged when making milk-drinking decisions? Which elements of the diverse ‘milk economy’ should be supported, and why? Through their choice of ‘milk’ activists perform and are performed by their positioning within green networks. [From Horton, D. (2003) ‘Green Distinctions: the Performance of Identity Among Environmental Activists’ in B. Szerszynski, W. Heim and C. Waterton (eds.) Nature Performed: Environment, Culture and Performance Oxford: Blackwell 63-77]

(To which I might add that raw milk from pasture-fed cows is the only way to go, but hey, that’s a whole other story…)

Through ‘punishing’ ourselves in some small way (through denying ourselves something perceived as indulgent, excessive or luxurious but attractive all the same) do we get some satisfaction that we are doing something tangible? Suffering for one’s beliefs as well as one’s art to somehow make it all legitimate?

But as far the environment’s concerned, gardeners’ guilt is utterly pointless and wasteful. So I’m not going to whip myself with this courgette. I’m going to cook it, eat it and be happy…

Onions Courgette plant Chilli and tomatoes  Peas Flowering lettuce Red cabbageHerb spiral 3

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

Mumpet nostalgia

Beetroot patch kid

Some of you (if anyone’s reading this) may remember the infamous mumpets, the improvised fat-less, sugar-less stove-top beetroot cake of the last performance. I have since made and taken a batch of mumpets to every talk I’ve done about All in a Day’s Walk around the county and country: Putley, Manchester, Ledbury, Staunton-on-Arrow. While the usual comment is that they match the colour of my hair, the response to mumpets has been mixed…

At the Manchester activism event, someone thought I was subversively handing out raw liver.

My supervisor said they could do with some sugar.

A brave visitor in the spring requested to try some and politely, euphemistically described the experience as ‘like eating a garden’.

At Ledbury Ox Roast someone came up to me afterwards and said that, despite really not liking beetroot, they were very tasty. Others have been less enamoured. But I – locked in with my hunger as I was in winter – have a kind of Stockholm syndrome style relationship with them: to me, they are and always will be utterly delicious.

So, imagine my delight that our first crop of beetroot is harvested and ready. May the mumpets commence (when I can get my hands on some local flour again…)

'It's hard to tell which is which...' Hm, Jess or beetroot?

Meanwhile, with the garden so productive, it’s only a domestic dog walk and some oat-based baking today.

Hereford

River Wye

A walk to Hereford, for a meeting at All Saints Cafe about an installation and walking performance for h.Energy this autumn. (I’m going to be walking in circles around Hereford city, carrying water with an antique milkmaid’s yoke, but that’s another story.)

It’s a long way, and I’m walking halfway back again too before this evening, so I give myself permission to ‘just walk’. I need to get there on time, in time for our meeting at 2. I set off at 7.30 and arrive at exactly 1.30, I seem to be better at timing my arrival when walking even across unfamiliar terrain than I ever am when travelling by other means. Maybe that’s because, on foot, my soul is travelling at the same speed as my body.

I’m bothered by a steady stream of commuter traffic on the road up to Crow Hill, but once I cut across Eaton Park wood and drop down to the Wye Valley Walk, it’s idyllic and tranquil and I’m suddenly the disruptive force: my feet send up butterflies and damselflies from the long grass with every step.

I arrive into the bustle of the city to find it’s the weekly farmers’ market. I speak to Dave who, I read somewhere, refers to himself as ‘the man with the hat’. He tells me that market has been going about 13 years, waxing and waning and waxing in size over that time. I ask if people – customers – ask where the produce or plants come from and he tells me that they often do, and are pleased when they hear that they are his own plants. Because then he can answer questions about them.  There are lots of what he calls ‘secondary producers’ here – people selling pies, cakes, preserves or other delights which are made locally and with mainly local ingredients but necessarily combined with others sourced from further afield (like sugar or spices for preserves and confectionary of course). All these are outside my current rules so I can’t buy anything today. But I see that the vegetable stall is from Kidderminster in Worcestershire: he says they set a radius of 40 miles ‘which is quite far’ (I agree, outside my daily walking distance) but that they get enquiries (which they turn down) from sellers as far afield as London wanting to attend. It strikes me that this – the London enquiries – is ‘local’ retail gone mad. It reminds me of a criticism I’ve heard in the past, that many farmer’s markets (but not this one, which is excellent) are far from that; selling over-priced artisan produce and crafts aimed at a monied middle-class market, pricing genuinely local food out of most people’s range. It strikes me that it’s doing more damage than good to people’s faith in the concept of local food, and working in supermarkets’ favour.

Which is a massive shame, because where else than a genuine farmers’ market can the farmers, growers and makers connect directly with their customers and their customers with them? And have important conversations, literally over the produce itself, that allow them to explain the real cost of producing food: prices that reflect a difficult winter, a late spring, more expensive grain, a poor harvest, or the time, effort, love they invest in making it… Then we understand that when we buy food others have grown, we are paying for more than taste and calories: we’re rewarding the growers appropriately for genuine craft, commitment and consciousness.

Combine at Warren Farm M50 at Crow Hill Peas at Gayton Farm Wheat and poppies at Gayton Farm Eaton Park Wood Eaton Park River Wye at Hole-in-the-Wall River Wye, Ingestone River Wye, Ingestone 2 Wye Valley Walk bridge Brockhampton sign Capler Camp Wye viewpoint Brockhampton bench Brockhampton bench 2 Fownhope rec ground: 'for the enjoyment of all' Fownhope pond Fownhope footpath Old Mill, Nupend Lugg at Mordiford Bridge Cow on Lugg Meadows Maize at Hampton Bishop Stank at Hampton Bishop Damselflies Outfall into Wye at Rotherwas/Hampton Bishop Hereford Bull Hereford Farmers' Market

Slow activism gone viral?

Cobrey berries

A day at home walking dogs, feeding the horse.

A daily commitment to the animals is easy to incorporate into a life practice. A domestic commitment to and existence with other humans is more difficult to interface with a performance practice, I am discovering. When I first performed this score, I was living alone. I was encountering – socially and otherwise – lots of other people. But the duration and nature of our encounters provided a frame – an imaginary minimalist conceptual proscenium arch – through which I could perform and they could observe. There was a great deal of curiosity, interest, sometimes concern, and sometimes antagonism about what I was doing. But once I was alone, I was alone with the score and I adhered to it rigidly. I had a commitment to the practice.

I didn’t even eat salt.

Now I am living with others – my partner, his son – and the frame has shifted and there are reluctant co-performers inside it. While I know there is a fundamental respect for what I do and am doing, there is also a concern for my well-being and a healthy, affectionate amusement with the whole concept of conceptual eco-art. They want to support me at the same time as they want to subvert the score, which is ultimately compromising me. And my hunger doesn’t take much persuading.

So I’m finding it hard to adhere to rules #2 and 4 of the score when I’m surrounded by the concern as well as the food of others. I’m also an inherently polite activist: I don’t want to be rude or ungrateful. The other day, Callum walked the 5 miles back from Ross-on-Wye with a bag of food from a specialist local-food delicatessen Truffles. Concerned that I was ‘walking everywhere eating nothing’ and with some time to spare, he’d been in, explained what I was doing and bought as much local produce they could determine was grown within walking distance: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries from Cobrey Farm, cheese and spinach pie with ingredients from Newent and they’d even thrown in a small quiche in sympathy with the apparent craziness of what I was doing. He’d got them to write down where everything came from ‘so you’d believe me’ and then he’d walked home from Ross, ‘so it wouldn’t compromise the rules’. It was really touching. So, there was no way I was going to point out that the pastry of the spinach pie was made from flour that undoubtedly was milled if not grown outside the county. I ate it and it was delicious.

It also made me think, on a carbohydrate high, that maybe it’s these conversations that people are having about what I’m doing – even if that’s expressing consternation about craziness – that are what the practice is about. If the score is intended to provoke thought and conversation, then it doesn’t matter who’s having those conversations or why, does it? In fact, it’s even stealthier than I thought : slow food-slow activism gone viral (in a rural kinda way)…

Truffles goody bag

Dams and damsels

I seem to be annoyingly addicted to alliterative blog titles, but I’m just going with it for now.

A walk to Ross-on-Wye and back with my friend Jessie, who is fasting for Dharma Day. It’s the first time I’ve walked with someone else this time around and the baking heat is a total contrast to the freezing hoar frost of my walk with Alison to Much Marcle in December. It’s also humbling to walk with someone who is intentionally and ungrumblingly fasting for spiritual commitment, rather than unintentionally, haphazardly and whingeingly for eco-activist performance.

Last night we sat around the fire in the gloaming and cooked Hope’s Ash and Crooked End beef steaks, picked and ate salad and herbs from the spiral, and, in the cauldron, boiled new potatoes from the field next door. Our own lettuce is growing faster than we can keep up; peas, beans and beetroot are nearly ready.

Today, on our way to Ross we pass through Hope’s Ash Farm again and bump into Robert on the yard. He beckons us over, stops the tractor and opens the door. There’s a slightly pregnant pause and I’m starting to worry that I’ve done something wrong when he says ‘I read your blog last night and it was the first blog I’ve ever read’. He seems to approve of it, and it’s given him some food for discussion (on veganism, dairy and meat) with an A-level student who is currently with them on work experience, heading for veterinary training. He asks me if I’ll have a chat with her about veganism which, he says unlike vegetarianism ‘which is easy’, he believes ‘really is hard’. So I do – ironically, standing with her in the pens of the day old dairy calves necessarily removed from their mothers so that we can drink milk, ‘the guilty secret of the dairy industry’ rearing its beautiful bovine head again.

Jessie and I walk on, talking about Buddhism, vows, our reluctant flexitarian meat-eating and its contradictions. We sprint, squealing, along the edge of a potato field, only just timing it right that we avoid a drenching by the rotating irrigator. Then we drop down and past the massive, industrial-scale Cobrey Farm: acres of fruit and pickers’ static caravans. We pass what I assume (from their accents and dress and our exchange of smiling, gesticulating nods) two European farm workers, also walking into Ross and playing music on their phone speakers as they do. It prompts us (Jessie and me) to discuss how more and more often (as Rebecca Solnit writes) we (culturally not personally!) think of walking as waste of time, a dead space to be filled with music on iPods or mobile phone conversations, neglecting the sensual pleasure that walking has to offer, not least as a mode of engagement with environment and self. We also talk about mobile phones, EMFs and the subtle body: are we living in a massive, global experiment that is scrambling our selves and our eco-systems, our bees and our pollinators and so ultimately our agriculture?

Dropping down into Ross and I make a beeline for Field Fayre, my local, organic, wholefood shop and recent joint runner-up (with Waitrose no less) as ‘organic retailer of the year’. I explain to proprietor David that this is the summer repeat of my winter performance (during which I’d first called in at the shop) and he talks me through the baskets and baskets of local produce. Because the shop is registered with the Soil Association, their remit is to sell certified organic produce, which means using European stock at certain times of year. But now, he says, it’s like ‘a dam bursting’: suddenly all the local producers have got everything:

We call in at delicatessen Truffles too on our way home – I want to thank them for their earlier generosity. They’re actually closed, but Richard opens the door in response to our persistent knocking and talks us through the huge range of Herefordshire produce they stock.

We walk back through Kingstone and stumble upon (if that’s possible), Bollitree Castle. We’re a bit disappointed that it appears to be a façade, but nevertheless I take photos of Jessie – with her spectacular Rapunzel-like mediaeval damsel hair – knocking on the door. When we get home, my partner tells us it’s the country home of Top Gear’s Richard Hammond. Surprisingly (for an eco-aware Buddhist) Jessie is a big fan. Later, I email her the pictures, laughing stupidly at my own subject line: ‘knock, knock, knocking on Hammond’s door?’

Jessie at Cobrey - what is the crop? Field Fayre Carey cherries Local bread board Organic veg Truffles Bollitree Castle 1 Bollitree Castle 2 Bollitree Castle 3 Bollitree Castle 4 Bollitree Castle 5

Double, double toil and trouble…

IMG_5481

Unleashing my inner witch, I learn how to cook in the cauldron over the garden firepit. We have been told by a local farmer that we can dig up some potatoes – large enough now, to be cooked as ‘new’ – and so we make a broth under the nearly-full moon.

Make and take with a pinch of salt and revel in your creativity with food and (waste) wood-fire, rising to the challenge of totally on-foot food miles…

Cauldron broth

Ingredients
10 new potatoes (next door field)
2 onions (Over Farm, 12.2 miles)
10 pea pods, shelled (Over Farm, 12.2 miles)
10 broad bean pods, shelled (Over Farm, 12.2 miles)
1 cauliflower, broken into florets (Over Farm, 12.2 miles)
3 courgettes, thickly sliced (Over Farm, 12.2 miles)
Selection of herbs: mint, basil, parsley, hot oregano (herb spiral in garden, 2 paces)
Knob butter (Netherend Farm, 15.5 miles)

Method
1. Lower the cauldron nearer the fire until piping hot and add butter
2. Lift cauldron a few chain notches and add onion; fry until clear
3. Add potatoes for a bit, fiddling with chain to get the right kind of heat (not too frazzly)
4. Add enough water to cover; bring to the boil (fiddle with chain as appropriate)
5. Simmer until potatoes nearly tender and add remaining veg and herbs
6. Simmer for another 5 minutes only
7. Taste and serve

Serves 2 for 2-3 days.

NB UNLESS THE GREEDY, NAUGHTY DOGS PUSH THE LID OFF THE CAULDRON THE NEXT MORNING AND EAT IT ALL UP *angry*

IMG_5484 Vegetables and herb spiral IMG_5480 IMG_5478 IMG_5473