Conference Call

A long pause in the Hawkwood blogosphere, since the last post, over a month ago. Things are moving slowly: the dark still of midwinter has been underscored by the recent deep frosts and down duvets of snow. Steadily, we have got on with the important-but-not-urgent winter tasks: mulching the Entrance Field; digging to extend the Old Kitchen Garden; building raised beds in the glasshouse; and raising the “Alpine Terrace” on the West Bank. There have been some brilliant crisp days, and some biting Siberian winds, enjoyed and endured by all the stalwarts here.

The seed ordering, like the other Yule customs, has come and long gone, and not for the first time so much of the joy was in the anticipation. Desperately trying to finalise the orders by the end of the New Year hangover week, I realised I wasn’t exactly living the dream of drawn cosy nights by the fire, sloe gin and time in hand, savouring next year’s bounty. Maybe this year.

On the produce front, the salad is at impasse, and our homegrown winter stores boast “only” our vital garlic, after the great squash clear out. Rots began to set in before Christmas, and by the New Year it was obvious we had to cut our losses: box scheme members enjoyed what I’d hoped we could drip-feed into the stalls into spring. This squash storage puzzle was one I resolved to get solved at the Organic Producers’ Conference in Birmingham this week.

Here, 200 producers, researchers and campaigners huddled into Aston University. As snow fell thick outside, we shared the pain of 2012’s weather extremes, and the hopes for agro-ecological futures. The bio-crisis seems to loom ever closer to home, making the task of building resilient food systems appear ever more urgent, and too slow. If it wasn’t for the commonwealth of wisdom and compassion you find in these sorts of gatherings, things would look utterly desperate.

Days of exploring seed saving, tool innovations and the emergence of Via Campesina UK; nights of too much organic ale and arguments about endive. In the wee hours, a white fluffy fracas ensued, involving the OrganicLea delegates, the Irish growers and the Soil Association girls. If I can’t throw snowballs I don’t want to be part of your revolution, as Emma almost said.

As for the squash question, I got a few pointers. The answer ,though, is howling in the arctic wind, only to be revealed this time next year. In the meantime, the rhubarb is up: the anticipation of a glorious growing season. Today, the forest’s woodpeckers competed with Huf’s jack hammer to provide the drum roll…