Sunday, 10 August 2014


The little patch of Shropshire we're looking after
Ruth and I live and work on a beautiful hundred acre hill farm here in Shropshire, Treflach Farm. As well as acres of pasture and arable land there's a variety of woodland, from a lovely ancient area, to orchard, to recently planted mixed woodland. We're both so glad to be living out in the sticks amongst the birdsong and rustle of leaves. The access to land we have has made an enormous difference to the sustainability and quality of our way of life, though we still have a long way to go towards some of our goals.
We do some days of work on the farm in lieu of rent for accommodation and the use of the plot of about a third of an acre in the photo above. We also look after the orchard, polytunnel and veg gardens intensively and give some time to the whole farm in various ways.  I hope it's the sort of arrangement that may help a lot of people, farmers and individuals, make the transition away from a fossil-fueled destructive way of life to something regenerative.
If you think about it, everyone relies on some kind of access to land, it's just that for many of us our food, energy and stuff come mostly from elsewhere in the world. Powys in Wales only produces 5% of the food it consumes, that's only possible with cheap energy. So how do we get better access? Only a few people have the capital required to buy a small holding or farm and develop it. Farms are always short of help and will require more and more manual help as we power down. The work-in-lieu arrangement is a way for people with no capital to move towards long term low-impact living. I guess as more people work in this sort of way patterns and guidelines will emerge to help project owners and workers come to fair, practical arrangements as have been established in the WWOOF network, striking a balance between the workers being fairly rewarded and the owners getting a fair amount of help. It's sad when things don't work out and from my experience it's generally because of poor communications, people not making practical financial and work arrangements and not writing them down, and of course, personality mis-matches.
This is probably our biggest success here on the farm. Ruth and I generate almost no waste. The compost loo and compost heaps recyle the bulk of our waste back into the land. Metal we recycle with the farm recycling. Glass waste, of which there is surprisingly little, we generally keep for future storage. Plastic, of which there is a lot, as we still buy a lot of supermarket food, we mostly keep, packing it up for insulation. That leaves the occasional item we can't deal with ourselves that goes to landfill. It's a far cry from living down by Brighton where the five of us put out two wheelie bins for landfill a week. That's all the whole farm produces in two weeks, including the food business.
I'm surprised at how much time and work it's taking to produce more of our own food. Even after three years in the gardens and orchard here we're still getting loads of stuff from the supermarket. It's not just sorting out growing stuff either, there's all the storage side of things too and how to deal with the gluts of a few products that you tend to get from time to time. Ruth's been putting a lot of energy into preserving, jam making and, very importantly, brewing and wine making. Imagine the quality of life without a glass of cider from time to time...
As you'd expect, we keep warm with a woodburning stove and logs from the farm. At least half a dozen big trees came down in the winter storms so there's plenty of fuel out there at the moment, it's just a question of chopping it up, bringing it make and storing it, which all takes time and fuel for tractor and chainsaws. I'm determined to get a better supply organised than we had last year when we were scratching about latterly and soon ran out of dry stuff. We're planning to be much better insulated for this winter too, partly thanks to our waste plastic. For the long term I'd like to burn much less and burn it at a higher temperature too as smouldering logs give out a lot of tars and toxins into the environment.

We're keeping warm with wood but haven't escaped from fossil fuels altogether. We're still using calor gas for cooking and water heating and we're on the electricity grid through the farm's supply, though the farm does have a 20kw PV array. We have a car and still use petrol which I'm very uneasy about, especially with current events in Gaza. I wrote a post about complicity here which I don't imagine will be very popular. I don't think people generally understand just how much the whole industrial way of life is wrapped up in fossil fuel, the degree of change which is coming our way whether we like it or not, or that we all have individual and collective responsibility for everything. By all means let's protest about fracking but let's all make the transition away from fossil fuels too. So for myself that means developing small scale methane and other systems for cooking and water heating and finding alternatives for car travel. I find we have to take it one step at a time though or it just gets overwhelming.
So what other things do our lives revolve around and to what degree can they be produced through access to local land? Shelter, clothing, medication, art, fun, it can all be done (and will have to be done) with what's around us, though maybe not as we know it now.  More soon.

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