Poetry and Flour

At last the sun has burned through the rainsmoke, and here at Hawkwood last week people were wearing bright hats and smiles as they set about preparing the ground for the Sweetcorn Blocs out on the Entrance Field.

When thin green seedlings, it’s more easy to grasp the surprising fact that corn belongs to the grass family, Poaceae. This is a Greek word, though  surprisingly unrelated to another  Greek word, poesis, to create.  Yet the Indigenous Mexicans call themselves “the people of the maize”, as if the plant created them. A poetic notion maybe,  but haven’t those other grasses – sorghum, millet, rice, oats, barley, wheat – made our culture and society, for better and worse?

Into the beds will go “Golden Bantam”, one of the few commercially available open-pollinated (i.e. not F1 Hybrid) cultivars, and “Bloody Butcher”, a non-commercially available, heritage variety, whose kernel colour is, as the name implies, every bit as bloody as the mission to civilise the New World is.

At the weekend, some of us headed out to Rothamstead, to a very different Poaceae patch. There, More than 400 growers, bakers and families from across England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Belgium marched against the return of open air trials of genetically modified (GM) wheat.

It’s in the make-up of well-intentioned, and well bankrolled, scientists to narrow the debate about genetic engineeering to small details, so that you can’t see the maze for the maize. Standing back allows us to see the bigger design, and ask more fundamental questions. Like,  should we work with nature, or against it? Should life forms be patented, commodified, privatised? Who should be more in control of food production: the corporation, or the  truly creative people, the producers?

With our hands, we create; with our hands, we destroy. We plant; and we weed. There is a time to give flowers; and, as the renewed GM campaign so rightly points out, a time to take the flour back.

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