When talking of his formative years, through the Second World War, my grandfather – the one-time tomato farmer – likes to quote Dickens: “they were the best of times, and the worst of times”. The Chinese proverb throws yin-yang light on the matter: “may you live in interesting times”.
These are interesting times. We are hurtling into an age of “climate chaos”, huge environmental and social upheavals. One hope is that the worst of climate change will be arrested by peak oil, the not-unsettling prospect of the fossils that fuel our economy running low. And yet, these are great days we’re living in right now: autumn’s golden aura crowds our peripheral, whilst in our brighter moments we are Indian summer. As above, so below: the pumpkin leaves are withering to reveal the fiery glow of the “Uchiki Kuri” squash; the chicory leaves turn green to red with each colder bite of night.
Walking Tractor Attachment Of The Month this September is the Potato Lifter. In the Old Kitchen Garden, Sean and I, with cameo appearances from apprentices Jo and Naomi, creep up front, manhandling four horsepower to unfold the ridges of Isle of Jura, whilst a fairly chirpy gang follows in the furrows, gathering vegetable gold in hessian sacks, grading out the holey and blighty.
It’s just like the tattie harvest as described to me by one lady brought up in 1950s Ireland. And it’s what a sensible “low carbon” future will look like: oil-powered machinery summoned up for occasional, high impact jobs, whilst the more sophisticated tools – human hands and eyes – are relied on for the finer detail. The oil our tractors run off is recycled chip fat. On combustion, the exhaust fumes do indeed smell of chip shops: a most auspicious incense to accompany the sacred potato picking ritual.
A few bright leaves drop on us as we cart our heavy haul into the warehouse, passing Nicole and her team, manually pressing “scrumped” apples into juice, and for cider vinegar.
In the good times; in the bad times; in the interesting times: there will be chips and vinegar.