All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for rural infrastructure

‘So that we don’t carbon ourselves into oblivion’

Yare Farm

Walking to Yare Farm

This morning, I walk over to Yare Farm again to pick up some more flour. It’s a beautiful day to be out but I need to rush back because I’m interviewing Gareth Williams – farmer at Caplor and my landlord – just after lunch. There’s a rainbow out as I walk over to the farm office.

Rainbow over Caplor

And I’m particularly interested in what Gareth has to say about local food, because we’ve had many informal, brief conversations about this in the past and the posters on his office wall might suggest this is something he has an interest in.

Eat local food

Buying local

But he shares some unexpected perspectives with me in these edited highlights of our conversation which ranged from food, farming, floods, economies of scale and globalisation… COMING SOON!

Pedigree Phocle Herefords at Caplor Farm…

Caplor Herefords 3

Caplor Herefords 2

Caplor Herefords 1

Old cider press in the barn…

Caplor cider press 3

Caplor cider press 2

Caplor cider press 1

Fownhope Farm Shop

Fownhope Farm Shop

The Fownhope Farm Shop has been my mainstay and local food hub since the start of this project. Conveniently located almost literally on my doorstep, there has been a farm shop selling local produce at Caplor for the past 6 years or so. Originally this was the farm’s own initiative with all the produce grown on the farm itself, supplying not only the shop but also local schools and restaurants. It then went through various iterations – including a local food and crafts shop staffed by farm residents – before being taken over this year by Dave and Elise Shuker. They now manage the polytunnel on the farm and also keep pigs and hens here, but they stock a range of produce from surrounding local food suppliers. Sourcing all the food locally is at the centre of their ethos, knowing exactly where and who it’s come from: their own eggs, honey from Brockhampton, apple juice from Carey Organics, their own veg (in season) supplemented by a range of vegetables from Aconbury, Allensmore, Bartestree, Holme Lacy and Stoke Edith. Before going for a walk with my friend Sue who is staying,  I visit the shop today. I ask Dave to draw on my map the exact locations of the places where all the vegetables I’ve purchased so far have come from, so I can plan my walks there accordingly and maybe contact the producers. Below is an edited recording of one of our many conversations as I shop…

Audio Track: Fownhope Farm Shop

Shop Open   Fownhope Farm Shop Christmas Tree   Seasonal produce calendar 1   Seasonal produce calendar 3

‘We ate with the seasons…’

Today Alison Parfitt (of the Wildland Research Institute amongst many other things!) joins me: my first ‘official’ guest to accompany me on a ‘performance’ walk. I haven’t planned very well for her visit and can’t decide where to go… When she arrives, we look at the map together. She would like to be a practical help in search of food and has brought along a large backpack for the purpose. I’d like to take her on an enjoyable walk that takes in some of the more scenic Herefordshire countryside. We settle on a walk over the Marcle Ridge through (a few) orchards to Westons, the cider producers where I hope I’ll be able to buy apple juice, and Much Marcle shop for eggs.

It’s still (literally) freezing. I still have no water in the caravan and every single surface outside – even the spiders’ webs – is covered in hoar frost: microscopic needles of crystalline blossom.

Alison

Alison’s lively enquiry into my practice is equally sharp but I’m glad of her presence and clarity – an antidote to the cold and the insidious slowness – helping to thaw my mind and bring into focus what I’m doing. As we walk, she asks me about the background to the project, which I start to describe as arising from my fascination both with simple notion of a day’s distance in a day’s time and what it could be used to draw attention to, to bring in to focus, to measure or calibrate. Then, how layered on to this came the notion of sustenance and what emerged was the concept of  ’embodied mapping: drawing a map with my feet of the area that sustains me nutritionally’ and the sadness that we can’t always lead the local life we aspire to when we live rurally, in the place where all this food is grown because the infrastructure is now missing. I’m thinking specifically about the wheat, oats and oilseed rape grown on the farm – I talk about the roaring dragon of the grain dryer which drives us [farm-dwellers] demented with its day-long droning whine throughout August only for the grain to be shipped away again and sold. To me this is ‘extraordinarily inaccessible food’ and I talk about the notion of loss which Alison then goes on to summarise far more articulately : ‘ yes, it’s a loss of understanding, a loss of connection,  a loss because we’re no longer in control of our food… we don’t even know where it goes and what happens to it. So it’s disempowering, really…’

With Sollers Hope church in sight, Alison asks. ‘So what are we performing?’… I respond cautiously ‘We’re performing slow activism and slow food in some kind of sliding together of lenses I think. The idea was that the structure of these walks – walking to find food, walking to the producers of food (even it’s not where I bought it I have to be able to walk to where it’s produced) was about drawing attention to what is there and what is there no longer, facilitating discussion, debate and discovery. And carrying that knowledge with me to each new encounter’.

I’m not feeling very articulate today, so I’m delighted when (as we are climbing steeply up the Marcle Ridge) she finds a way of clearly describing the essence of my practice – tracktivism as walking performance which foregrounds environmental concerns – far more clearly than my own fumbling attempts to liken it to bas-relief and the notion of removing something that obscures to allow what is there to emerge. No, she says helpfully, ‘it’s more subtle than that. It  [the environmental/political ‘truth(s)’]  is not obscured by something ‘other’ that needs removing, it’s the practice which reveals what IS there…’

I like this. As we walk on, I wonder what is left revealed in our wake.

—-

We walk into Much Marcle where I buy eggs (Kynaston) and juice (Aylton) from the village shop and record an interesting encounter with the shopkeeper, sharing his wonderful childhood reminiscences of rural life and local food in Oxfordshire where his father managed many gardens and allotments and they ‘ate with the seaons..’:

Audio Track: Much Marcle Shop

We then turn back on ourselves to call in at the Westons shop on the way home. Here  they stock the full range of Jus single variety apple juices from sweet Egremont Russett and Worcester Pearmain through medium Coxs, Katy and Discovery to the dry Bramley Seedling (my absolute favourite). I intend to journey to Aylton later this month to talk to the Skittery family. Their juices have been my emergency energy food this month in the absence of fresh apples which I’ve not been able to source locally. This in itself points to another type of loss – the loss of knowledge of how to think slowly in the longer term and store our produce to eat out of season…

Jus bottles Jus article

Local hangover for local people

Today, thanks to the generosity of friend Hugh, I’m mildly hungover (largely sleep deprivation from late conversation) on his family’s local and delicious Once Upon a Tree cider and perry from Dragon Orchard at Putley. But I still have to walk 9 miles home in -1 cold. I pop into Hereford city centre first, but even at the wholefood shop, I’m surprised that, today at least, I can’t find produce that can be guaranteed within walking distance of home (which is not to say there is not a lot of produce from elsewhere in Herefordshire of course).

Fodder Sign 1

Fodder Sign 2

On the way back, in daylight this time, I realise that last night I was walking across a harvested field of corn (maize) next to the river Wye. I am so hungry it makes me wistful for my last supper of popcorn.

Corn 1

Corn 2

Half a loaf of sourdough loaf comes home with me in my rucksack. My fascination with this walked connection of mill to grain to loaf continues. At Mordiford, I stop to record the sound of the river at the mill

Audio track: Mordiford Mill

Mordiford Mill Wheel 1 Mordiford Mill Wheel 2 Mordiford Mill

Then returning home through the village, I see a Suma (wholefood cooperative extrordinaire) delivery van and look longingly inside as I pass. I can’t believe I’m suddenly fantastising about food miles…

Suma delivery van

Daily bread

IMG_3662

I’m hungry already. I realise I will need more (and portable) calories than apple juice and carrots and stew  to sustain both walking and talking and thinking this month. I need to make bread.

{[(Grain + mill = flour) + water + yeast + oven] = bread}

From years of riding, running and walking on and around the farm where I live, I have seen wheat, oats, barley, and corn grown locally, albeit on a small scale. From the map I know that there are many water mills in the surrounding parishes that would once have milled these grains. But what is lost is the connection between them: the grain that is grown on this farm, that is dried here (noisily in the perpetual August whine of the grain dryer), that is briefly stored here (in the perpetual hum of the grain store) right next to my home, is also shipped away to be sold and processed.

A month before this project began, I joined the village (Fownhope) Walking for Health group on their November turn around Haughwoods. Walking next to Jean (also from the village’s Carbon Rationing Action Group) and describing my plans for All in a Day’s Walk to her, I was delighted and surprised to discover that, remarkably, there was a farming-baking family – Gail and Duncan Sayce – in the neighbouring village (Woolhope), who grow, mill and make bread from their own wheat, spelt and rye. I phone and Gail kindly agrees to mill me some flour. But she warns me that while they have combined, milled and baked with their own grain in the same day before now, their current grain has been bought in (Doves Farm, Hungerford – how ironic is the name to my grumbling stomach). Hungry, I decide that the cheat is a necessary one.

Sollers Hope to Woolhope 2

I walk over this morning to Yare Farm via Sollers Hope church, the low sun behind me stretching my shadow in front, like the pull of my hunger reaching ahead of me.  The same sun streams into the kitchen as Gail and her son Harvey share their knowledge of baking, milling and grains. Gail has waited until I arrive to mill the grain, which, she tells me starts to oxidise immediately after milling, losing its nutrient value. (The fresh-milling of their flour is something Gail says draws people to their bread, more so than whether the grain is local or not.) And of course, it’s not a watermill, creaking and clunking into action through a system of sluices as I’d romantically imagined, but an electric mill in a modern farmhouse kitchen.

IMG_3668

Grain

Balletons

But I can hardly be disappointed – their passion for local, sustainable food and fresh produce is infectious: they rise at 4 am to bake a range of different breads for the local farmers’ markets, run bread-making courses and Harvey is even selling his own Herefordshire bird seed mix entirely from grains sourced from within a five miles radius: all in a day’s flight…

Herefordshire Bird Seed Mix

On my way home, I walk the flour on a real journey through an imagined history: altering my route to carry it back via the nearest watermill – Alford’s Mill – I might once have fetched it from. Not surprisingly, many footpaths lead to this place including one in an almost straight line from the farm. I stop and talk to the current owner and learn it was functional from the early 1800s until it was decommissioned in the 1960s. Trudging through waterlogged ground, I record the sounds of transiently restoring lost connection through walking:

Audio Track: Yare Farm – Alfords Mill

All in a Day’s Walk

All in a Day’s Walk is a month-long tracktivist walking performance. From midnight on 6th December 2012 to midnight on 6th January 2013 (Epiphany) I will be living entirely within the distance I am able to walk away from home and back in a day, sustaining myself only on the food that is grown, harvested, processed and obtainable within this distance. I will walk for 6 days a week, measuring out by foot the limits of my month’s existence-subsistence-persistence. I will travel only on foot, accepting no lifts and using no public transport. I will not accept hospitality or food from visitors that does not meet these criteria. I will try to follow all the rules even if I can’t answer all the questions. My walks will facilitate talks: conversational encounters with the people I meet, either randomly on my route or pre-arranged at a specific destination… walkers, farmers, growers, millers, bakers, apiarists, artisan cider-producers, woodsmen, solar installers, yurt-makers, hauliers, butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers. We might talk about the weather. Or we might talk about local food, loss of rural infrastructure, longest nights, lorry-driving, loaves, love and longing (as a vegetarian with a dairy allergy and an auto-immune arthritic with a potato problem, I’m going to be rather  h u n g r y). It’s slow food meets slow activism meets slow performance… so please take some time to meander through these pages if you wish, and leave some slow comments…

Jess Allen 06/12/12
Caplor Farm, Fownhope, Herefordshire HR1 4PT