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putting my money where my mouth is
First of all, I want to say a massive, heartfelt thank you to everyone who has so generously pledged to support my writing with a paid subscription. I can’t express how much your support and encouragement means to me. I also understand that a paid subscription is not for everyone, so don’t worry, I’m not going to hide everything behind a paywall, I offer my words first in the spirit of gift to whoever might find value in them. I will, though, when I figure out how to turn on payments, also add something extra and more personal for those who can and choose to reciprocate by giving me that extra support. My aim is to publish fortnightly for now. While my obligations to the farm and livestock will of course always take priority, your support will enable and encourage me to dedicate time and space to write consistently, and perhaps even find some space to work on bigger writing projects that are always floating in the back of my mind. For that, I thank you.
Alright, on with the Challenge…
The aim of our farm is to feed us from the land we live on. A little while ago, I read that Tara, of Slow Down Farmstead, and her husband, Troy, had set themselves a challenge to eat exclusively from their own farm for one year. I have followed Tara for years, first on Instagram and now here, she is a treasure trove of wisdom, and generous with her vast knowledge and experience as a nutritionist and farmer. If farming, health, homesteading, or eating food are your thing, do check out Tara’s Substack (worth every cent of a paid subscription ;)). Slow Down Farmstead’s 100 acres are well established and they’ve been producing the majority of their own food for a long time. We’re not quite there. But, it gave me an idea: to eat exclusively locally. And I mean food grown from local soils and local pastures, not just baked or processed or bought locally.
For one year (to start) all our food must be produced from the soil up within a thirty-five mile radius of where we live. It’s meant to be a challenge, to make us really think about where every item of our food comes from, without room for laxity, and deepen our connection to the source of our sustenance and our community.
But, it’s actually not that difficult, we know because we’ve done it before, without really trying (and it is how everyone ate, not all that long ago). A few years ago, for health reasons, with Husband’s unwavering support, I embarked on an exclusively animal based diet. For about eighteen months we lived (and thrived) exclusively on all kinds and cuts of meat and organs, fish, eggs, and dairy—no vegetables, grains or plant foods of any kind. I credit that time, and the fact we still now eat majoritively animal based, for now being able to keep up with the physical demands of our off-grid life, hauling water and heavy loads daily across the hill, building a home and running the farm—my livestock are my life, my health, not just my livelihood. But, that is a story I might tell another time. Here, my point is that by default our meat based diet naturally cut out exotic fruits, out of season vegetables, flours and grains, etc, that are imported from warmer and dryer climes than ours, and easily obtained everything we needed to eat from local farms and butcher shops. Ireland with its emerald green fields is known for growing prime pastured beef and butter in abundance.
Of course, one doesn’t have to be a hypercarnivore to eat locally. Even as we began to add some fruits and vegetables back into our diet, high on a local eating buzz by then, it was easy to source a wide enough variety locally, or at least Irish grown, seasonally, with some limitations on things like fruits and grains.
There is a lot to be said for eating seasonally and from place, integrating the substance of the land we live on into our bodies. Food is so much more than the sum of its known nutrition; it is all the magic and synergy of soil and sunlight harnessed in collegial service with the hands of those who grow it. To eat foods grown and produced locally is to consume an amalgamation of climate, land and culture that nourishes the soul as well as the body. I am interested in how our activity impacts the land, and also in how living from the land impacts us, the profound benefits to our physical health, and the profound sense of groundedness and belonging when our blood and bones are built of the fruits and flesh and labour of the land we live on. We are not separate from our environment; we are grown from it, and for it. In Becoming Land pt 2, I wrote, “Terroir describes the taste of place… The unique environment of a location affects the flavour of the grapes grown there and the wine produced. But it doesn’t just apply to grapes and wine. If you have ever eaten spuds grown in your own backyard or raw cheese from a local dairy or beef from a local pasture, you have tasted the terroir of that place. Even the scent of a flower within its species is specific to its locale, its chemical makeup being unique to the available nutrients, cofactors and stressors in its environment. …Animals adapt to place by consuming and integrating with the plants that grow there, to become part of their place, plant and animal made of the same soil and rocks and winds and rain, one with the land they live on.” So when we eat from place, “then we, too…are made of the same soil and rocks and winds and rain, …and we become the land…” and we, too, will be robustly adapted to our environment. The seasonality of local produce, and eating without waste, particularly when it comes to animal foods, ensures all round nourishment.
We have set a thirty-five mile radius, give or take, because that seems to me a reasonable distance to easily obtain and transport fresh foods without refrigeration or excessive food miles (on West Cork byroads that’s about an hour’s drive in any direction, encompassing a good few small towns and farmer’s markets, some coastal, fishing towns, and very, very many small farms), we can, with a little thought, find everything we need to eat within that radius, probably much closer. And, most of all, we have set that distance for convenience, because Husband’s place of work is about a thirty-five mile drive away so it’s easy for him to collect some goods from that area as he’s there anyway or on his way home (he’s also sometimes gifted vegetables from the gardens at his work and it would be both rude and wasteful to refuse them on the grounds of it falling outside of our home locale). We rarely travel further than within that thirty-five or so miles, and if we do, we’ll make an allowance to eat from the locality of wherever we go—”when in Rome…” as the saying goes. We are also allowing ourselves two “luxury” foods each: my vices, coffee and cocoa; he has coffee and tea. It is these imported indulgences that we could live just fine without, where we cannot know the communities or conditions in which they are grown, where I insist on organic and fairtrade. When it comes to the staple foods that nourish us daily, I choose knowing my farmer, over a label.
For the food that delivers my sustenance, that builds my bones and blood and connects me to the land and Life, I would rather give my cash directly to a human whose hand I can shake than a faceless, corporate owned supermarket chain, or the multi-trillion dollar import-export trade with duties paid to a corrupt government that kowtows to bureaucrats in Brussels who may never have set foot on rural, Irish soil, and seems hellbent on disconnecting us from the land, our communities and our source of sustenance. There we go, the anarchist in me is out; food is political, there is no escaping it. We are voting with every meal, and I know what kind of world I want to live in—the one I am striving to create in my own life and advocate for, one built of strong local community, real human connection, and belonging to the land. And it is this kind of hand to hand connection that strengthens and solidifies communities.
So, this is me putting my money where my mouth is. We start in earnest tomorrow, June 1st. Will you join us? We have been eating predominantly from our own farm and locality for years. It's not going to be a big stretch for us to drop the few conveniences that have crept in, but it will require a little more thought and effort to procure everything we don’t grow ourselves from within our thirty-five miles—and if it isn’t grown locally, we go without. I will go into more details on what this will look like for us next month.
I’m curious, what grows in your part of the world? How would a locally based diet and food system look for you?
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The People’s Food & Farming Alliance https://the-pffa.org/about-us/