About the blog…

 In Huelgoat forest

 

Welcome to my blog.

It’s an account of a 42 year old Yorkshireman’s attempt to live off the land in rural Brittany. Motivated by a sense that most sophistications of 21st century life in the West are (at best) endangered, I’m going to attempt instead to cut it as a 21st century peasant and eat only what I can grow  – or what I can barter for with that produce. It’s something most of the world does, and always did, but to me it’s as alien as a moon walk.  

Why (oh WHY?)? 

Sometime in late 2006 I saw a graph which plotted the growth in UK house prices. You didn’t have to be a genius to know that this particular hike wasn’t going to lead to a sunlit plateau.

On the basis of that graph we sold our terraced house in North Yorkshire and moved with our four young children to the remnants of an old farm in deepest Finistère, Brittany. The smallholding, Kervéguen, has a few good acres (generally too steep to be of interest to tractor drivers or their cows), some outbuildings and a view which instantly quells any second thoughts about living here.

Three years on, and the disquiet I felt looking at that graph is now mainstream schaudenfraude: most days you can find an article in the press proclaiming (at least) the end of Western civilisation. Usually accompanied by adverts for baldness cures. I don’t know if these prophets of doom are just the estate agents of the apocalypse, but when the UK accrues debt at slightly more than £6000 a second it seems like a good moment to stop reading and to set about something practical. Something that existed long before credit default swaps… subsistence farming.

I’m not sure when feeding ourselves became such a mystery. Did we relinquish the ability to survive without hair straighteners, or was it taken from us? Anyway, to my knowledge, no one in my family has been a farming type for at least four generations. I intend to roll back all that hard won progress and live like a peasant before the macro-economy makes it mandatory … a peasant’s life is probably more fun if you choose it, don’t you think? 

Why ‘Rural Idiocy’? 

It’s something Karl Marx said: 

“The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.”

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I’m attracted to Marx’s quote because it expresses the exact opposite of what I discovered 161 years after he wrote those words. The civilising forces he lauded seem to be the same ones that I’m trying to reverse by our family’s return to rural living.  Nowadays there seems to be a broader disenchantment with this ‘rescue’ among the sensate public too, or at least that’s how it appeared on Newsnight last night…  

Conversely, it’s clear that the peasant life is something many people around here are very pleased to leave. Coming to think of it, as a species we seem to be pretty gloomy at either end of the scale of “progress”. It’s all a bit confusing. I’m sure I won’t provide definitive answers but, for me, this project represents an effective means to pose the question: is there a way to experience the freedom of self-reliance … and be happy? Does a broadband connection + self-sufficiency in food = contentment? Or perhaps, more pressingly, will I starve??

I am very aware that the success of this project will be nothing compared to that of people who succeed in feeding themselves from the land without having had the luxury of choosing that life. Given my resources of time and land I’m not presenting this project as particularly extreme or difficult. Just difficult for me! And hopefully interesting, and even relevant, to others too…

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Why wait so long to get started?

 My faltering experience in growing plants and animals for food thus far suggests that it’s a future-based activity.

For example,  if you want purple-sprouting brocolli – and who wouldn’t? – you sow it in spring one year and eat it in late winter the next.

In Brittany, bitter experience has taught me that every single inch of soil to be planted in the growing season needs to be prepared meticulously by the end of March to free time for fending off the terrible, inevitable Weed Armageddon thereafter. Thus far, our land is everything but prepared!

In the interests of thrift, sufficient animal stocks need to be bred, not bought. Goats have to be brought into milk. I need to discover what a beehive is. That kind of thing…

Preparation will be key. I intend to avoid starvation if at all possible. I had considered starting this thing  in October 2010, but I think surviving – or otherwise – the potentially difficult winter and spring months will provide a better finale…

Exceptions to the rule 

During the period 1st June 2011 to to 1 June 2012 I intend to live off our land.

Unfortunately, I can’t envisage producing a few essential food items in that time so I’m allowing myself a supply of the following:

Flour

Tap water

Salt

Olive oil

Sugar (maybe)

These purchases will have to be produced or processed in France, preferably Brittany, to qualify.

I’m also considering the possibility of bartering my produce for the produce of friends and neighbours, which seems to be a suitably peasanty thing to do.