All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for rural infrastructure

Little green shoots of change

Aspen House

A walk through the morning to Hoarwithy, where I’ve arranged to interview Sally Dean and Rob Elliott, who run the appropriately sub-titled ‘Real Food’ B&B Aspen House [which has since closed, in 2015].

I walk over Capler Camp and through Brockhampton, hemmed in by high hedges, passing polytunnels (which Gareth talked much about), puddles and  floods and being passed by the four-wheel drive convoys of the pheasant shoot… I stop to record the racehorses on the gallops at Aramstone (a racing yard) Audio Track: Aramstone gallops and later (because I’m earlier than expected for our meeting) to record the flooded wye forcing its way under the bridge at Hoarwithy Audio Track: River Wye (in spate) at Hoarwithy bridge. Then I visit the remarkable (and unexpected in this small village) Italianate church, before heading down the road to Aspen House.

Sally and Rob are more than ‘just’ B&B proprietors: they are passionate advocates (and activists) for local, seasonal, ‘real’ food. Sally, a nutritionist, is also local chapter leader for the Weston A. Price foundation (an organisation organic dairy farmer Will Edwards also spoke passionately about). Rob is a writer (The Food Maze and How to Eat… Like There’s No Tomorrow) and blogger. Both are extremely knowledgedgable about nutrition, local infrastructure, farming, growing and how our rural eating-living needs to work in order to be sustainable and just as well as genuinely nutritious. They are hugely inspiring and uncompromising in how they live and their desire to communicate what they do to as many people as possible. We have intense, wide-ranging discussions which I’ve edited only a selection of highlights below, as they are both best represented in their own, articulate words:

Audio Track: Sally and Rob on the importance of slowing down: slow food and slow cooking

Audio Track: Sally and Rob on meat and balanced food production

Audio Track: Sally and Rob on localised food infrastructure

Audio Track: Sally and Rob on local food activism: ‘little green shoots’ of change

A huge thank you to them for their time and sharing their knowledge so passionately..

Capler Camp flood Capler Camp gorse Capler woods Wye floods from Capler viewpoint Hoarwithy Holly hedge 4WD flood Oh no, I have to walk through this... Not as bad as it looks Strawberry polytunnels Flooded Wye at Hoarwithy bridge Flooded Wye - Hoarwithy tollhouse Flooded footpath at Hoarwithy Hoarwithy Italianate Church 1 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 2 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 3 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 4 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 5 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 6 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 7 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 8 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 9 Hoarwithy cider press  Soda bread and sourdough Kefir Kefir grains Hoarwithy mill race? Strawberry plants

And then later in the evening, because it’s Friday, I walk (4 mile round trip) through the dark to the pub with friends for local bitter

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

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…

‘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