All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for seasonal produce

Hooves and health

Merlin's Legs

Merlin’s equine podiatrist comes to trim his hooves. He’s been barefoot – i.e. unshod – since April 2004 when I first became involved more intensely with the discipline of natural horsemanship and began to train as an equine podiatrist myself. This before dance training made me too precious about my body to want to consider standing underneath big horses all day, as they thrashed their legs around and I vainly attempted to hold onto the ends of them whilst wielding various sharp instruments (knife, rasp etc.)… But I remain a passionate advocate of ‘whole horse hoof care’, a relatively new (certainly, in the last decade or so) way of thinking about horses’ hooves as part of the whole beast and a key physiological marker of the health and well-being – nutritional/metabolic, cardio-vascular/musculo-skeletal fitness, even psychological – of the whole animal.

This may seem blindingly obvious, but traditionally, as British horse-owners, we have practiced a heartily devolved responsibility when it comes to our horses’ feet, entrusting their care – these distal points of their four precious limbs – almost exclusively to the farrier. (Not, as it happens, unlike our disconnected relationship to our food which is produced ‘somewhere else’ by ‘someone else’ and purchased from the supermarket, neatly packaged (in a protected atmosphere) in sterile plastic.)

‘No foot, no ‘oss’ the famous saying goes. And yet, few of us questioned if a man (for their invariably are) visiting every 6 weeks and nailing rigid metal to this (actually surprisingly mobile) proteinaceous tissue was perhaps the healthiest thing for the natural function of the foot. (Or even the less natural uses we might put it to – in that riding a horse is already inherently unnatural.) Suffice to say, it is now increasingly recognised that it is not. Though it is not as simple as simply removing the shoes. Barefoot horse husbandry – for high-functioning working/sport horses at least – requires a commited attention to the environment in which the horse lives, its nutrition and the ‘conditioning’ that one is prepared to do. In other words, if you want to drag your horse out of a muddy field once a week and go on a ten mile ride on the road or a cross-country competition, then you should probably stick to metal shoes. (Or get a quad bike. Or reconsider whether you have a respectful and meaningful relationship with that animal at all…)

My journey through the landscape of having a shoeless horse has necessitated and given rise to some big leaps of faith and understanding, not least that Merlin’s metabolic health – as evidenced by and echoed in his hooves – is in delicate balance, that it fluctuates seasonally, that British lowland pasture (largely now now rye-grass monoculture to maximise dairy production – and Caplor is a former dairy farm) is too rich in summer sugars for horses, whose digestive systems are still in time-lag, adapted to the dry grasses of the vast, arid plains where they evolved (and where their hooves were healthiest), and that hoof-infesting yeasts thrive in the warm, wet mud of climate-changed British winters.

If we listened to our own bodies as intently as I ‘listen’ to Merlin’s hooves, we might have a better understanding of our own nutritional – and seasonal – needs. And if we took greater responsibility for those needs – not handing them over to the supermarket ‘farrier’ – we might have a better sense of the whole systems in which we live, eat, breathe, participate.

Amazing, really, how I can now manage to bring every conversation, blog post or social encounter round to climate change, food and our relationship to it…

(And Debbie, Merlin’s trimmer, brings me some vegan Christmas cake too. Only 6 more days before I can eat it…)

Vegan Christmas cake

Personal horizon (or Stoke Edith in search of swedes)

New Year's Eve sunset

A New Year’s Eve walk in torrential rain to Stoke Edith (or, just beyond, to Newton Cross) where the swedes I’ve been buying from Fownhope Farm Shop come from. Today’s walk is just about walking (and talking if I encounter anyone, which seems unlikely in this deluge). Twenty-six days after I started and I’m only just now getting back to my original curiosity and key intention behind the project: to measure through the medium of walking the limits of my existence, beating the bounds of my ‘personal horizon’. For J. G. Ballard, who coined the term, this was based on sightlines (the limits of where he was able to see from the ground outside his home): only three quarters of a mile for him, in flat country. (According to psychogeographer Iain Sinclair, Ballard spent his year on a driving ban at home in Shepperton, refusing to take public transport and only walking three quarters of a mile in all directions, which meant he got to know his local area very well, and also that he ‘wrote more and better’, Sinclair says.) But for me it was more about ‘effortlines’: how far I was able to walk away from home and back in a day – preferably within daylight. (My original idea was to follow a simple formula of calculating how much light remained between setting off and dusk, then walk as far as I could in a more-or-less straight line for half of this time, then turn around and come back home.) This would of course depend not only on the time of year but also on the terrain, topography and, as it turns out, finding enough calories to sustain me.

It seems laughable now that, at the outset, I saw the local food I’d be eating as largely incidental – the walking would drive the work (and the talking, about food), but I had not considered quite how vital the food would be to fuel the walking. It has turned my idea of what a sustainable – and sustaining – art practice really is, completely on its head (as discussed in yesterday’s blog.)

So it’s both a revelation and a relief to have finally found a balance between calories in and calories out, and to understand in a very profound way how the landscape I’m walking and moving across is literally supporting me, nutritionally as well as ‘gravitationally’ (?). It seems a genuine embodiment of the former Countryside Agency’s Eat the View initiative, which was about connecting consumers to the countryside that provides for us.

This last week stretching ahead of me feels too short – there is too much to do, too many more people yet to talk to, in the food web that my encounters with others has uncovered. I also need to catch up and start ‘walking the food miles’ (as a friend succintly described the project) to all the places where some of the food I’ve been buying elsewhere (or on the farm shop here) is actually grown. So it’s also a relief to strike out away from home with a very physical purpose and rediscover the sheer exhilaration of crossing space. My determination beats even the weather, which is relentless. (My first exchange of the day is on the farm yard with monosyllabic but expressive cow-man Tom, who is also, like me, peering out of a small gap in his head-to-toe waterproofs. He gestures at the sky with his walking stick and says ‘Don’t think it’s going to stop’.)

I have almost given up taking photos of the mid-field rivers, floods, puddles and lakes that have appeared all across Herefordshire… almost.

Saturated plough on the footpath to Wessington Farm Really? New rivers Different muds running together

But after a few miles, even I’m defeated. If I take pictures of them all, my obsessive documentation will slow me down even more than the mud. I also pass (depressingly) intensive broiler chicken sheds in Woolhope, the grain hoppers (unlocal grain? who knows) feeding straight into the windowless sheds in an automated system, so that even that simple connection between feeding – and acknowledging in the process – the animals we eat is lost. I walk over 9 miles beyond Stoke Edith to the main Hereford-Worcester road along the verge in incessant and depressing traffic to Newton Cross, then I turn around and come home. I didn’t see the swedes. But I was grateful for their sustenance and the miles they’d travelled. Every muddy last one of them.

Broiler (intensive chicken) sheds 1 Broiler (intensive chicken) sheds 2 Footpath bridge nearly flooded Perton Quarry Stoke Edith Church Gargoyle at Stoke Edith Stoke Edith Estate Stream in spate A4103 Stoke Edith

And then, after witnessing the beautiful sunset, I buy luxurious duck eggs, Once Upon a Tree juice and vegetables from the  Alumhurst Veg and Egg Shed

IMG_4212 IMG_4214

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

Christmas @ The Crown

Christmas at The Crown

It’s Christmas morning and I’m feeling very honoured to have been invited to join the Stanier family at The Crown Inn, Woolhope, where their traditional Christmas walk across the Marcle Ridge takes them for drinks and aperitifs. I walk over from the opposite direction, via Alfords Mill across flooded fields, which slows me down like a reverse (rural) travelator.

Walking to the Crown

There is a pint of their own (Once Upon a Tree) very fine Tumpy Ground waiting for me when I arrive, as well as bags-full of their own cold-stored eating apples and a bottle of perry. I could squeal with happiness. Their generosity is overwhelming and their interest in this project – the rules, the questions, what it’s revealing about the local food infrastructure (which their own amazing company is a vibrant and enlivening and positive part of) – is really rallying. Conversations range widely, but I mention my slowly emerging realisation that maybe I should eat meat. We talk a lot about their home-raised pigs, and the importance of knowing and honouring the animals we eat – not a piece of nameless, faceless protein packaged in plastic in a supermarket – even if that means that they ‘still deserve a name’.

I return home in the gloaming as the moon starts to appear

Moon appears at Alfords Mill

Wet footpath

in a considerably unstraighter line from the one I walked out with a rucksack full of precious, glorious apples, sit by the fire surrounded by them and eat five in quick succession. I am as happy as a (free-range) pig. A huge thank you Staniers!

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

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

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