A farmer’s dream
It is now officially spring. While the end of winter is always longed-for and never seems to come early enough, this year warmer weather and longer days have gained a whole new meaning. I have got an allotment. Whereas spring used to be the season for shedding winter woollens and donning sexier, more colourful attire, this time it is all about mud, spades, seeds and pest control. I am looking forward, not to a summer spent lounging in a snazzy little two-piece, but to an autumn spent feasting on the literal fruits of my labour. So, like the birds, trees, weeds, slugs and students that share my 100m2 of Scania clay, I have been getting very busy these last few weeks.
When I was a child I had a box in which I kept small change that would, I hoped, one day be sufficient to finance my first farm. Alas, my younger brother saw things rather differently and the carefully amassed funds ended up paying for three packs of pokemon cards at the corner shop. After that painful episode my farming ambitions were set aside until I rediscovered them at the age of 16 as I stumbled across John Seymour’s classic Complete guide to self-sufficiency at a marxist bookshop. The book was a revelation, a no-nonsense guide to, well, everything, without any of the obnoxious green posing and Guardian life-and-styleism the marxist teenager in me so abhorred. It suddenly ocurred to me that very real people, not just algae-eating graphic designers with serious yoga habits, could, and did, live sustainable lives. I was excited!
Clearly, growing your own has an important environmental and ethical argument to back it up. You avoid C02 emissions, pesticides, land erosion, exploitation of migrant labour and long distance transport, to name a few. To some extent we can control the impacts of our consumption by choosing to consume better things. We can buy organic, Swedish or straight from the farmer. But there are no guarantees, unlike eating something you have known and watched since the moment the seed went into the ground. Possibly even since you took the seed from a previous crop. This circular logic of nurture, growth, maturity, death and then, after a long winter, rebirth, is innately appealing to humans. The physical involvement in this gives us a connection to our surroundings that, all too often, we seem to lack.
Going to ICA and buying the shiniest pepper in a plastic bag is an act of disconnection. The pepper is far removed from it’s origins, manipulated to appeal to us in the bright lights of the supermarket while the important nutrients inside are decaying as it waits for the culmination of life. There is a huge chance that all the effort and resources that have gone into it will be wasted, that the pepper will become rubbish. Similarly, the person who buys it is removing themselves from the season, the earth and the constraints of the place in which they live. Digging a pumpkin bed last weekend I finally realised how heavy the soil in Lund really is. Watching how the clay particles were packed together, how water and nutrients were retained between them, and how that would feed my plants, and later feed me, was a revelation. I suddenly feel like I know this place, I can appreciate the climate, the wind and the rain. I can also appreciate how much work and human toil that lies behind the food I eat.
That was a lesson I learned a couple of summers ago. Fuelled by green vigour and wanting to learn French, I volunteered for the summer on a number of organic farms in the south of France. The people I worked with were mostly poor, self-sufficient, and pretty happy about it. But it was incredible to see that you could spend day after day working in the fields, the dairy, with the flock of sheep, all to satisfy your own hunger. Sometimes there was something left over that could be sold or exchanged for something you wanted. In our spare time we brewed beer, went swimming, slept in the grass, picked mulberries and talked about politics. There is an incredible intimacy that is created when you work side by side with other people, all bent on creating something tangible and delicious. Each day has a logical conclusion, a feast and a celebration of your weary body. Beyond just being good for the environment, providing for yourself is one of the most rewarding things you can do. It gives a feeling of strength, competance and creativity that the institutions we surround ourselves with too often counteract. I am surely not alone in feeling sapped of energy, slightly inadequate and rather dull after a four-day marathon of a take home exam has just been handed in.
So, after all this, I decided to compile a guide for people who want to change their relationship to food and go a little, or a lot, greener. Hopefully, you will find it as much fun as this guy does:
Name: Tobias Sjöqvist
Occupation: Law student, occasionally pretends to be a political scientist
Favourite plant: Borecole, a monster sized cabbage
…and a quote: If we all grew our own vegetables we wouldn’t have to invade a new arab country every three years.*
*Panorama disclaimer: This is not a statistically proven fact.
By: Agnes Bridge Walton
Things to read:
John Seymour. Complete guide to self-sufficiency.
– The book that covers everything from how to grow lettuce to slaughtering an ox to building a wind turbine.
Novella Carpenter. Farm City.
– A hilarious account of farming in american urban wasteland, and how one woman goes too far. She has great reading tips too.
www.foodfirst.org For facts and figures about the food industry and how people around the world are fighting back.
www.alternativ.nu A Swedish guide and forum for everyone who wants to do things differently. Great growing tips.
Things to do:
Plant some seeds. Grow things like spinach, radishes, beetroot, chili and herbs in your room. Its really easy.
Get an allotment. They cost about 300kr a year and there is no waiting list. Call tekniska forvaltningen at Lunds kommun for details: 046 35 50 00
Get an allotment partner: Check out alternativ.nu for people to grow with. The growing season is still young!
Go WWOOFing. It sounds insane and stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Volunteer anywhere in the world and come home with quotes like: Cheese? I can make that.
Go all out! Quit your job, buy a farm, a flock of sheep and bring in your best friends. Live a carefree life of digging, fun and free love. Why the hell not? Or just move into one of the many existing farm communes near Lund. They exist, I promise!