I am a peasant (19 days to go…)

by Max Akroyd

My promise to eat from our land from June 1st has worked wonders.

On countless occasions it’s got me outside when I was too tired, uninspired or downright lethargic to contemplate it under any other circumstances. Every bed on that ocean-sized field has now been cultivated (to some extent) and, despite May’s rampant efforts, I’m still afloat. Which is a novel feeling at this time of year and entirely attributable to the commitment I made here.

Moreover, I have convinced my biggest critic – myself – that I really couldn’t have worked any harder. Other people would have done it differently and, most probably, better. The field still looks like a field to me – although more nice people are saying more nice things about it now. After a couple of years of effort, the soil is, in places, doing more smiling than snarling!

If you pick a task which has an absolute relationship with the effort you put in, it’s very rewarding to stagger towards the conclusion of the first chapter… But before getting any further into this dry subject matter, here’s some nice things I probably won’t be eating:

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If you want to give nature a good laugh, show her your plans: none of this proud progress means that I’m where I hoped to be. I’ve failed in part due to circumstances beyond my intelligence to control – mainly lack of money and rainfall. I have no cow, no goats in kid and a dearth of early crops – all of which impairs the possibility of self-sufficiency. The all-encompassing effort required to roll out a year’s worth of eating has been almost too much for this man on this scale and has baffled any attempt to get off to a particularly flying start.

Sometimes I wish I’d never used the term self-sufficiency. That fundamentalist creed belongs to those hearty people who thresh their own grain, make their own soap and make underwear out of nettle fibre. Instead, I am a peasant who – along with my family, the love of a good woman and comfortable pants – realises he only cares about growing and eating the best food. The fact that this gastronomic pleasure is only available to the poor man at his gate, rather than the rich man in his castle, makes it an even more beautiful concept to me. I always think of this (re)discovery as like stumbling upon a neglected, overgrown, but golden road.

(As well as association with the nicest people, it’s no exaggeration to state that this blog has allowed a humble life purpose to be distilled out from all the other noisy and confusing fractions of modern life).

Anyway, what is to be done? Under my own terms, I was always allowed a shortlist of essentials; flour, olive oil, salt and sugar. I kind of assumed the continued ability to eat my good woman’s cakes and buy in spices and such to make chutneys and other preserves. Reference was also made to bartering for goods produced by other rural types.

With just over two weeks to go, it’s high time to tidy up the rules and put them before the committee of commenters!

In addition to sticking to the aforementioned rules, I’m proposing that any money I make from my land, from the sale of food grown on it to the proceeds from working holidays, can be used to buy in things I can’t grow (over and above the aforementioned shortlist). Such revenues (net of tax) would be calculated a month in arrears – so I’ll have May’s money to spend in June and so on… Expenditure in this regard will be accounted for, not out of some odd need to confess, but because it might be interesting to see what food products rise to the top of the list of priorities and to invite discussion of alternatives.

In time, I hope this amendment will allow the project to become a family-wide experience and mean that I won’t be eating nettle soup on my own indefinitely. I think this way of organising household income would be recognisable to my peasant forbears, too. Anyway, let me know what you think.

So, the struggle is almost over and the next chapter can begin. I’ll be announcing the final fate of this blog soon. In the meantime, anyone want to buy some strawberries?