Digging for Victory
One of the joys of farming is that there often isn’t a right way to do it. Two farmers will do the same thing in entirely different ways and both of them seem to work well enough. Somethings work on one farm, with its soil types and climates, but don’t work too well on another farm. I know hill sheep farmers in Cumbria, what works on one bit of a fell won’t work on the other bit of the same fell. But still, people who obviously know better tell us how we should do it, even if their experience is reading a blog post. One recurring comment/plan/idea that I keep coming across is that what we ought to do is get rid of farming. I saw a tweet from George Monbiot. Apparently farming is the most destructive activity to ever have blighted earth. Actually he’s right, if it wasn’t for farming, George Monbiot (and many others) would have been a short lived hunter gatherer who died in his early teens, malnourished and eaten by worms while he was living and vultures when he finally died. But the idea appears to be that people would have a plot of land on which to grow their own food. So let us take part of the UK as an example as to how this could be done. For the blessed who don’t know it, the South East England is the third largest region of England, with an area of 19,096 km2 (7,373 sq mi). It has a total farmed area of 1,137,000 hectares or 2,809,588.acres. Now we have to remember that more than 40% of the region is covered by protective designations. All sorts of things such as Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, there’s one National Park with talk of a second, and there are areas designated as ‘Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.’ Now obviously some of this overlaps, but about a third of the region is recognised as having ‘national quality landscapes.’ There’s all sorts. There is chalk down land, woodland, heath and clay vales. Now remember virtually all this is currently farmed to keep it as we want it. Somebody will run a few sheep over it, or a few cattle to make sure there are still rides in the woodland, or whatever the environmental managers want. But they’re not going to want thousands of people digging it up to grow vegetables on, so I think we can discount 40% of the farm land from our calculation. So this leaves us with 1,685,752 acres. Now back in the 1970s John Jeavons and the Ecology Action Organisation found that 4000 square feet of growing space was enough land to sustain one person on a vegetarian diet for a year, with about another 4000 square feet (370 square metres) was needed for access paths and storage. I read a description of the typical Jeavons garden. It is densely planted with maize, wheat and millet. These provide the carbohydrates and also a lot of bulk for the compost heap. Over half the garden is given over to these crops. This is fair enough, these are the crops which will feed you. Another third of the garden is planted to high-calorie root crops like potatoes, parsnips and turnips. These are crops which store well over winter and will produce a lot of calories in a comparatively small area. Finally you have a few small beds of vegetables, things like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce and broccoli. Note that John Jeavons did his work in the USA, in the UK it might be important to substitute some crops, perhaps more Brussels sprouts and suchlike which also can cope with our winters. But let us return once more to the South East. Really we have to throw in half of London as well, as the other half can travel north to their allotments. Apparently there are nine million people living in in south east to which we have to add 4.5 million Londoners. How much land will they need? Well traditionally in the UK, with local authorities there were 16 allotments to the acre. They were supposed to be 302.5 square yards. But Jeavons needs 740 square meters per person. This is 885 square yards. So in simple terms the new allotment is going to be the same size as 2.93 of the traditional ones. So that will be about 5.5 to the acre. So our 1,685,752 suitable acres will produce 9,271,636 allotments where we need 13.5 million. If we just give them to adults, assuming they will feed their children, (so on your 16 th birthday you’ll be put on the list for an allotment,) then probably everybody in SE England and London can have their own allotment. Admittedly there’ll be no farmland (other than a bit of environmentally managed livestock grazing,) but everybody will have their land and be fed. Obviously it could be difficult assigning allotments at the start of the programme. You’d probably just have to start with each village and then each town, assigning land around them, and using London to fill in the gaps. But once the system is settled, when you are 16, you will be assigned the next allotment to come free in your area. Obviously some areas could fill up more quickly, but you could be issued an allotment in another area if you don’t want to wait. Whilst I see teething problems, it’ll work really well. Obviously there will be no need for food shops. But it doesn’t matter because those who worked in them previously have their own allotments so they’re just as well off as everybody else. Indeed there’s no unemployment, as if you’re cycling thirty miles to your allotment, balancing a tub of night soil and urine on your handlebars, and then thirty miles back every day, you won’t really have time for a job anyway. So the unemployed now have the dignity of labour. It will hit the NHS, but there again will we need one? If everybody is vegetarian and travels everywhere by bike, people are going to be screaming fit and live forever anyway. It’ll hit the funeral trade but look on the bright side, the last contribution you make to your allotment is when they bury you in it. Now it’s entirely possible that we will need people to do administration and to keep order and provide policing (as it’s inevitable that antisocial and counterrevolutionary elements will take the easy way out by stealing from the allotments of others). The people appointed to these positions won’t need paying, after all they have an allotment. But obviously their work will eat into the time they have for tending it. To allow these large hearted people to serve the state without going hungry, it would make sense to just legislate that other citizens will work for a day on the administrator’s allotment. It’s only fair. Indeed, if the citizen has to work for two days on the allotment of one of the Servants of the People, it’s still a lower rate of tax than we pay now. When you think about it, it would make sense for the citizen to always work on the same administrator’s allotment. Otherwise the administrator is going to spend more time explaining how she wants the allotment tended than she is going to spend on her work. It would be reasonable for citizens to be assigned permanently to her service. It makes sense to give these assigned citizens a name, they’re cultivators, so perhaps we should use a Latin term derived from that root and call them Coloni? After all, ‘serfs’ is so triggering.
What do I know? As the expert.
As a reviewer commented, “
This is in the same league as Herrick, absorbing you into a different world, with its trials and tribulations making a background for the occasional moment of hilarity or joy. Hats off to Jim and his ilk, putting food on our tables despite our unwillingness to pay a decent price for it. I am frequently outraged that I live in a society which is prepared to pay more for bottled water than milk, and drowns the country in plastic in the process.
Jim manages to get this across without ranting and then uses his wry sense of humour to leave you howling with laughter at a series of events that a mere townie could never have imagined. Thanks for letting me into your world Jim – I am now committed to changing my behaviour and paying the extra for local, seasonal produce.”
allotments, Knowing your place, serfdom, Servants of the People