“Daniels and Morgan [two Forest of Dean free miners] reminded me of the hill farmers up on the moor where I live, clinging to an economically marginal way of life, because they experience physically its dignity and tradition. It is their heritage and their right, and they, perhaps unconsciously, create a deep and ancient freedom”
Sara Maitland, Gossip From the Forest
Blessed are the land workers, for they inherit the earth. And nothing but the earth. In the UK we scrape a living, or just drift into debt, pursuing a vocation which, though vital, is rendered barely viable by international capital. Those who turn their hands to the garden, the field and the forest, are fuelled only by the sense that this isn’t the daftest thing we could be doing with our short spell on the planet; that, and the solidarity of those who share this sense.
This was brought home powerfully at the recent Land Workers’ Alliance Farm Walks in Devon. Chagfood CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is a five acre, horse-powered market garden on the edge of Dartmoor, whilst Shillingford Organics is a well-capitalised, forty-three acre holding employing eight people, bathed in the English Riviera sun. Both balance the books thanks to the voluntary time put in by CSA members and WWOOFers respectively. At OrganicLea, this gifting of time and effort is at the foundation and heart of what we do. The gardens at Hawkwood are largely managed by volunteers: their design and layout geared to this input. Thus, in town and country alike, the “action of a few thoughtful citizens” on the site of production as well as in the market place, keeps organic vegetable growers growing, just as the mega-farms and super-markets rely on their subsidies and tax breaks from the powers that be.
This was one of the points made, alongside that time-honoured point that the point is to change it, on Thursday, as the same LWA marked International Peasants Day [a day which itself marks the anniversary of the 1996 massacre of nineteen landless peasants in Brazil] with a demonstration outside the offices of the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). As demonstrations go, it was very much a pagan-festival-meets-Saturday-fruit-and-veg-market-meets-larger-than-life-scarecrows-dressed-as-government-ministers-meets-international-peasant-chants-and-flags sort of affair. Between the lines of the songs and speeches, you could spot a certain swelling.
Periodically, Springs break out. In recent times, we’ve had the Arab Spring, before that the Prague Spring of 1968, back to the “Springtime of the Peoples” revolutions of 1848. Often, the liberating openings of a Spring dries; always a Fall. But to say, as I’ve heard it said, “it ends badly” is like drawing a full stop on the seasons: there is no ending, happy or bad: we have to keep going.
An English Spring is an outpouring to behold, worth all the withering, false starts and split ends that precede and follow it. At Hawkwood, the whole scene runs green, a naïve backdrop to the riot of colour, from the fruit blossom, ancient bluebells and ended kale; all giving their everything to the love of worker bees. Asparagus and rhubarb grow before our eyes, drawn up by some higher calling. Here, and every elsewhere, we – land workers all – weed and mow, redefine the Old Ways; and reunite sweat and soil. That “deep and ancient freedom” rises again.