Sunday, June 08, 2008

How is food our produced? The video at the top shows me helping out our good neighbour Paul, who’s been desperate to sow his maize (pig fodder) and been prevented by unseasonably wet (three times the average rainfall) weather.

A good friend of ours, who’s a farmer somewhere in Southern England, went on a Permaculture Design Course last year. How refreshing, that an established agriculturalist is open to perhaps learning some new ways of looking at things. Sadly, her three instructors weren’t similarly open to learning from her. They were vegetarian / vegan people who apparently refused to entertain the place of animals in permaculture systems as food items and took any available opportunity to have a go at conventional farmers, who were thus labelled as “the enemy”: in my opinion, a ridiculous point of view. Farmers are subject—like all of us that haven’t been born into money or won the lottery—to economic constraints.

(Watch the video at the top to see why I've included this pic of Jimmy Cliff!)
Personally, I don’t like the idea of chickens being factory farmed—especially as we are privileged to have the opportunity to have the land and the situation to let ours roam freely and also not have to earn our living from it—but I don’t think that farmers that factory-farm chickens are inherently evil. They are subject to unbelievable pressures from the supermarkets, who want to offer an over-ready chicken for just £2.50 (3€ / $5) and that’s the only way the farmers can provide the meat for that price and stay in business. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall is currently conducting a campaign in the UK to try and get consumers to change their buying habits and so change the way chickens are raised; it has to change from the consumers first, rather than the producers.

Basically that means choosing to pay more for your food, precisely at the time that there is a global food crisis with prices of oil and food skyrocketing. The poor, whether in Europe or in lesser-developed countries, are the first to suffer. Back to me in the field: Paul and his wife employ just one farm labourer to help them look after about 100 sows plus their numerous offspring and produce the cereals to feed them. They are honest people, working unfeasibly hard for slim rewards and a broken tractor or a succession of rainy days, is a heavy burden.

I see it as a real privilege that I have the opportunity to see at first hand how food is produced and why this permaculturalist (me) will defend and support our industrial-farming neighbours. If you want to make a difference, you need to start paying more—proportional to your overall outgoings—for your food … sorry. This is a complex subject and I’d like to hear your views: please post a comment. The video below was taken at around 7.30 in the evening.


Anonymous said...

I was just reading that in 1958 the Average Australian spent 30% of their take home income on food, they now spend less than 10% on food.

The fact that oil supply limits are driving up the price of food may make people in the west start to take a little more notice of what they are eating, rather than just gulping down the over processed, mass produced crap most of us currently consume.

PS: thanks for your comments on our blog over the last few month, sorry for the lack of a response lately :) Hope all is well in Brittany

PPS: I tried to make gallettes for breakfast the other morning... but alas the farm was buckwheat flour free.

Val Grainger said...

Fabulous Stuart! Not many people get an insight into the production of maize.....I am going to link it on my blog later....when hand sown more beans!

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way towards my unfortunate farming neighbours. They are not to blame. They simply followed the (wrong) path that had the big signpost "only way to keep farm afloat" without taking the time to challenge the premises.

And they have been stuck in this runaway rat race of investment, debt, inputs, subsidies and forced labour. And you cannot stop and think when you are running in a rat wheel.

Now that food prices are no more cost-driven but supply/demand driven, there is a breath of air for farmers worldwide. It will be hard on the urban poor, but I see it as a true opportunity for every farmer to start doing the things they have long been wanting to try and not fear immediate bankruptcy, like transitioning to no-till, to managed rotational grazing, to free-ranging, to organic, to permaculture.

PS - about no-till, there is a fabulous conference by Claude Bourguignon on Google Video.

PPS - now you've rune out of music, for the next time you spend the day in a tractor: think podcasts (e.g. Land Stewardship Project) or audio-books (like

Anonymous said...

The other thing to consider here in Brittany is the important contribution that the 'meat factories' make to the economy. My husband works at one. I've temped at a couple. Pretty much everyone here knows someone who works at one.

Interestingly, many of those factory workers will also grow their own veggies.

Anonymous said...

bravo, humane and sensible.