31/05/11 Going Green

Yesterday I had a number of extraordinary experiences brought to me via a place and, let’s say, two people.

I’d just recently been told that I was no longer going to meet the person in Nairn for hospitality seeing as wot he’d buggered off to Spain.

I received an email from Donnie Macleod of Macleod Organics suggesting that, if I had the time, I should pop up and visit him.

When I was but 4 miles from his farm I thought I’d give him ample warning of my arrival. At the time he was away at a couple of schools explaining just what a cow does, amongst other things.

I was met by Tom, his son in law, and really from that point my life, my outlook and what I took to be my understanding of certain inalienable truths, began to change.

I was escorted into a kitchen/ dining room where I was greeted by a group of folk. I spilled my story to the two interested Americans, Tom, an Irishman from Gallway and a Hungarian. There was a young French guy sitting at the table too – but he looked like he understood as much English as I did French.

“We’re Wwoofers,” the American woman smiled.

Go on, guess….

I found out that they were working on Donny’s organic farm as part of their travels. Open, friendly, interested…

Lunch appeared – baked beans, salad, fried eggs and a salad leaf that had obviously just been harvested.

I have, since I was a young child, been opposed to the idea of egg yolk blending with the tomato sauce of beans, or any other product for that matter.

It was hardly a bush-tucker trial, was it?
While I was chatting to the Wwoofers, Tom sneaked off and weighed my backpack on his vegetable scales.

“What do you reckon?” he smiled.
“I dunno, Ive never really thought…” my pants ignited, “30 pounds?”

“27 kilogrammes!” he laughed.

Instead of basking in the glory of my superhuman strength I recounted the story of the slight woman me old mate Derek and I had encountered in a pub on the earlier stages of the walk. Being boys, we’d left our backpacks just lying for folk to trip over.

“I’ll put them round the back,” said the small lady.

“Watch out, they’re heavy,” I said manlyly.

She picked Derek’s up with a,”That’s not too bad…”

While we sat and watched she picked mine up with ease with a little smile, “You’re right – this one’s quite a weight…”

Tom showed me around the organic farm – they have poly tunnels growing any manner of salad produce you can care to imagine, they grow berries, they raise chickens that actually live outside.
I’ve encountered chicken barns that claim to produce frree range eggs where the chickens never actually go outside. The big doors of the barns are opened during the day – but the chickens seem to choose not to go outside, they appear agoraphobic.

“That’s because they’re fed inside,” Tom said matter of factly.

Of course. Obvious really,”Ours are fed outside – every morning they all jump to get outside…”

They were fine looking chickens.

The chickens in the big barns that I’ve seen weren’t.

“Taste this,” Tom handed me a leaf.

“It tastes like English mustard…”

“So it’s called…? Mustard leaf…”

There goes my MENSA membership.

“So, do you put any chemicals on your crops…?”

Tom told me that to keep their organic status they didn’t put any artificial fertilisers, insecticides or herbicides on their produce.

“We don’t want to either,” he explained,”Why would you eat anything that you have to wear a full hazard suit to handle?”

When you put it like that…

Donnie arrived back on the farm, and Tom handed me over. I was immediately positively disposed to this man who appeared to have happy staff, happy chickens and produce that had flavour.

He made me a coffee while he explained the work he’d been doing with some 3-5 year olds that morning.

“You’ve got to make it into a pantomime,” he smiled his warm sparkly smile as he re-enacted some of his earlier lessons with more than a flavour of “behind you” throughout.

I remembered the news reports where some children didn’t know where meat came from…

“These kids were pretty good – they did struggle a bit with butter though,” he told me,”I ask them what farmers do?”
I smiled vacantly – I’m not falling into any trap here.

“The children say – farmers look after animals…”

I nodded, similarly vacantly, they do, don’t they?

“So I say, yes we do – but why do we look after animals?”

Eventually my 5 year old mind kicked in – yes, of course, it’s all about the production of food.

“So I ask them if there’s any food that doesn’t come from a farm…?”

Of course there is… there’s the…er…I mean, there’s the…there must be something…

So that was me pulled in to his lessons – he fell easily into the role of teacher – I fell into that of the willing pupil.

We spoke about my walk – and I told him how excited I’d been to see a fallow field further down the road. I extolled the wonders of the natural order of things as I talked, unknowledgeably, about crop rotation.

He smiled benignly at me, “That’s not crop rotation – they’ve put Roundup (A herbicide/insecticide) on the ground – it kills everything so they can grow their crops artificially afterwards. That’s why GM foods are so bad.”

“Why are GM foods so bad? Surely they’re not much different to what Mendel was doing all that time ago with his peas…?” A little bit of knowledge…

He smiled his smile,”Mendel wasn’t crossing different species or plant types – he was breeding the strongest bits of certain peas with the goal of developing what he wanted…”

He went on to tell me that it’s all about the immune system. When we eat a carrot – we don’t become a carrot because our immune system doesn’t allow it. With GM foods they have to weaken the plants immune system to allow for alien DNA to be implanted.
They do this by giving it a virus. E-coli, he tells me. They also put in a marker chemical by way of an antibiotic so, when tested, it’s easy to tell that a plant is GM. The antibiotic they use is the same one we use to treat meningitis.
Hmmm….thoughts like “Don’t overuse” and “complete the dose” flooded my head.

Apparently, the most common genetic modification that’s inserted into a plant is the one that prevents damage from Roundup. So, we can devastate the local ecology with this all-encompassing weed/ insect killer allowing for these adapted plants to grow.

It doesn’t feel good? Don’t we need bees to…?

He told me how all GM crops are patented. That didn’t feel too surprising. In the States, he explained, Monsanta – one of the companies who produce GM foods – will drop small Roundup bombs on random crops.

Why on earth…?

If the Roundup kills the crops – all well and good – if it doesn’t then clearly these are GM crops. If the farm hasn’t bought GM seeds from Monsanta et al then the company will sue them – even if the plants seeds have been blown onto the farmers land.

Good Lord.

We talked about organic food and the benefits of not using chemiclas – 25% less carbon emissions from the soil and no artificial nitrogen which is 38% worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

He feels that organically produced food can provide sufficiently for the people of the world. I suggested that it was other, mainstream, farmers who were adversely effecting his goal.

Not so, he tells me. It’s the chemical companies. Providing oil-based fertilsers and herbicides is big business. As such, he explained, it is in their interest to belittle the positive aspects of organic food and the negative effects of farming using artificial means.

Surely the media…? I gaped.

Donny went on to tell me that the Green Party had been all about positive action. Many of us will remember the Rainbow Warrior as members of Greenpeace climbed onto oil rigs and chased after whaling ships. Whatever happened to…?

Spin doctors and very close control of the media was his answer. Alistair Campbell started a culture of leaking stories to select members of the media. If reporters wrote about the wrong stories then they wouldn’t receive the governmental leaks – and, as such wouldn’t be needed by their particular news company…

What the…? But we live in a democracy…we have freedom of speech…er, and stuff…er…surely….

“Do you remember the Iraq war?”

“Er, yeah…?”

“Do you remember how the Rainbow Warrior and 2 other boats blockaded Plymouth harbour to prevent the frigates going out?”

“I, er….nope…”

“There was a media blackout on it…”

“Oh…”

We talked about Fair Trade.

“Surely, anything without the ‘Fair Trade’ logo has been traded unfairly…”
I felt niave, and out of my depth.

He told me how he’d gone to a Costa coffee boutique where they’d been selling Fairtrade Coffee for only 10p extra. He asked for the good coffee but refused to pay the extra on two counts.

First of all, there was no way that every 10p was going to the fairtrade cause.

The manager agreed.

Secondly – he pushed the unfair trade argument. Surely we should be promoting the fairtrade movement by placing a tax levy on anything that isn’t.

As such he believed that the none – fairtrade products should subsidise the fairtrade.

Still the pupil.

“Have the bad guys won? Don’t you find it hard fighting your cause again and again against what must feel like the teeth of a gale?”

No – he insisted – there are enough good people out there to fight back.

With that, he handed me a newspaper http://www.positivenews.org.uk

He’s right you know.

A Wwoofer – what’s that then?

Willing Worker On Organic Farms

Previously a much older entity – Weekend Workers On Organic Farms.

As I was leaving his granddaughter turned up. I left them playing and laughing together.

Walk a green mile

Chris

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