I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America, from Folsom cave to now. I spell it large because it comes large here. Large, and without mercy.
Charles Olson “Call me Ishmael”
Perhaps our most serious cultural loss in recent centuries is that some things, though limited, can be inexhaustible. For example, and ecosystem, even that of a working forest or farm, so long as it remains ecologically intact, is inexhaustible. A small place, as I know from my own experience, can provide opportunities of work and learning, and a fund of beauty, solace, and pleasure – in addition to its difficulties – that cannot be exhausted in a lifetime or in generations.
Wendell Berry, “Faustian economics”
Yesterday the rain continued and looks set to keep us off the allotment for some time, so we were pleased to be off to Shaftesbury to spend the night with friends. My phone tells me that I spend at least an hour a day gazing at it, and yesterday I probably spent more because we were away from the laptop where I can easily spend hours at a stretch. Is that shocking? Well, the phone is my newspaper, my letter box and my principle research tool when I’m away from the books, and yesterday I took a series of peeps at the World Organic News website that collates all sorts of useful material from around the world.
But I found myself getting restless about the blogs where people have an abundance of land. Just imagine the privilege (and responsibility) of working several acres organically and never having to make either/or choices about what can be grown. If the work of tilling that we do is significant for turning the world away from its wasteful and destuctive habits, does that mean that having more land is more powerful than having almost none? My head says “of course not” but the heart says “hell yes! – if I owned all the land in the country/world, I could turn things around in a decade”.
So I want to wave the flag for small plots. Our 250 square metres gives us a lot of healthy pleasure and good food. If we had some factor – say ten – times as much, it might be more fun for us and it would certainly give us a surplus to sell. But what if we argued for, say a hundred times the acreage of allotment land to be made available but kept the standard size at the traditional 250 square metres – enough to feed, (it was said), a family of four. That could mean a hundred families (however you want to construe the word) engaged with the earth and benefiting from from the exercise and the food.
As we drove back from Shaftesbury today we passed an organic farm – my guess is that it extended along about 2 miles of the road. Terrific stuff! I was thinking, but then I saw two enormous tractors parked in one of the access roads, and I wondered what was happening to the fragile soil habitat in this beautiful Wiltshire downland. No doubt there are huge benefits to be gained from the efficient organic farming of large amounts of land but that’s only when you count financial benefits above societal and cultural benefits.
In this time of crisis (the word derives from the Greek crino – to choose), simple questions about “what factors should we add to the financial in order to come to a concept that genuinely constitutes “profit” need to be thought about and answered.
Anyway, apart from that we managed to fit in three galleries with one opening night and a convivial meal with friends. I love it when an exhibition forces me to think seriously, and the two artists exhibiting at Hauser and Wirth in Bruton have sent me home full of questions. If you look carefully enough you’ll see three musicians playing in the background of the Berlinde De Bruyckere works. They were improvising using the works as inspiration. It was beatiful. The other exhibition was by Takesada Matsutani and again forced me to think hard about the way we make aesthetic decisions. While we were there we spotted Charles Hazlewood, the conductor, it’s a good place for people spotting!
Then later we went to Messums Wiltshire where we were welcomed to have a look around even as they were setting up two new exhibitions – how unusual is that? next we went to the opening night of a show at the Shaftesbury Arts Centre and met two of the founders of “Common Ground”, Sue Clifford and Angela King who set the charity up with the late Roger Deakin (read his books, they’re tremendous). They were celebrating the decision of Shaftesbury Council to put in a bid to buy back the piece of land called “The Wilderness” in the town.
So by the time we’d done all that we didn’t eat until late but we ate too much and drank too much and went to bed exhausted and stirred up. It’s the only way to be!