At a farmer’s fair in Krakow, South Poland, in early May, I spoke to a Romanian peasant. He was demonstrating clay pot making using a foot treadle to spin the plate upon which the pots were being formed by his deft hands.
I remarked how attractive I found this technology due to its lack of reliance upon any electrical power source. He nodded, saying “No other power required.” The conversation swung to the need to remain independent; independent of state and industry controlled sources of power. Because being dependent upon centralised power, be it energetic or political, means always owing something to someone or something; whereas to be free of such a burden enables one to form strategic relations where one pleases.
This form of sharing creates a natural form of interdependence with fellow humans, rather than dependence on governments and corporations. He nodded again.
A colourful troupe of Gorale (Polish mountain farmers) were stamping their feet to the rousing notes of a merry fiddle while weaving a circular pattern through and amongst each other, shouting out in occasional bravura. My Romanian friend was looking-on, his non-treadle foot tapping out the folk song’s rhythms. After a little he turned towards me and said “The farmer is the future.”
Now this struck me as a very profound statement. Many may well cynically laugh at such an idea. In those peoples’ minds is the notion that food will always magically appear from … well … somewhere – and that farmers, that is ‘real farmers’ like the Romanian and Polish peasants, are an anachronism, a romantic back-drop, a picture postcard of a time gone by.
The majority of people in Westernised societies have long since abandoned any attempt to source their foods from anything other than the most convenient and/or cheapest supermarket stores that carefully screen-out any correlation between the end product and the grower. That, after all, might shock the buyer into realising that there still are some human hands involved in the process whereby they acquire their daily meals. It’s much more comforting for them to imagine that their beloved supermarket somehow spirits their daily needs out of some super hygienic, sanitized, forever sunny, manicured Astroturf garden.
The Eastern European peasant family farmer does not know much about what goes on in the corporate run, European Union subsidised, monocultural deserts that churn-out and almost endless supply of nitrate induced, vitamin depleted and pesticide protected – so called ‘foods’. He will not know what the majority of Westernised consumers dump into their trolleys on the way to the check-out desk, car boot and home freezer chest.
This farmer does know, however, that a very strange thing has happened to people over the past few decades. Something that seems to have taken them away from values which, to the good farmer, are pretty much sacrosanct. Values like never wasting valuable resources and living from the fruits of one’s labours. About independence and love of a way of life in the open fields, open air, one that somehow keeps one always close to God.
All be it that this life pits man against hardships mostly unimaginable to the upwardly aspiring higher waged supermarket shopper. A shopper fretting that she must negotiate the precinct without her recently manicured hair suffering any distortion from the unexpected shower of rain that has afflicted the roofless car park. Ironically, that shower of rain, a few drops of which might land on her precious head of hair, is about as close to nature as this lady is ever likely to get … in her cosseted perpetual suburban sunrise.
What the peasant farmer knows – and the consumer doesn’t – is that this shower of rain is actually a vital element in the nurturing process in which he/she is engaged; growing the foods that will feed the family, and if all goes well, providing a small income from the sale of any surplus.
What this farmer also knows is that, at any time, the crops and animals under his care might be taken by drought, flood or disease. Might be threatened by wild animals, thieving individuals or interfering officialdom. This farmer lives day in day out with a perpetual level of uncertainty, which becomes so ingrained that it ceases to cause the sort of fear fuelled anxieties that haunt the urbanite. Instead, it becomes an integral part of the way of life.
There is wisdom in this insecurity, because life is uncertain and unpredictable, and trusting to a degree of fate is part and parcel of our natural response to challenges that spring-up without due warning.
The foundations of the supermarket society upon which our regular shopper’s aspirations depend – is predicated upon a continuous and uninterrupted increase in the acquisition of wealth. It soon becomes apparent however, that the material source of this wealth is not infinite, but finite; and that callously extracting these finite materials as though they were infinite does much damage to the fabric of the planet and brings much pollution to its vital arteries. So much so in fact, that by the beginning of the twenty first century, alarm bells have been ringing on an almost daily basis, warning of an unprecedented crisis lurking just around the corner – unless substantial remedial action is taken.
Yet no one seems to know what form this substantial remedial action should take; because no one who participates in this consumer driven way of life believes that ‘they’ could possibly be contributing to a fast approaching global crisis! No one, that is, apart from our peasant farmer, who does not suffer an insatiable hunger for material gain, but nevertheless remains caught up in its consequences.
This farmer must pay the price for other’s insistence on living in the profit driven, fossil fuelled fast lane of unsuppressed greed. A lane that ultimately leads to global ecocide. He will not be approached by those who depend upon the ‘quality control’ technicians whose role it is to scrutinize the sanitised products which line the supermarket shelves.
To these consumers, the farmer is a strangely primitive being who provokes a tremor of fear; almost disgust. Consequently, he has no buyer for his home grown carrots and beetroots; his orchard cherries, his free ranging chickens and eggs. Neither will his wife have any buyer for the fresh milk she lovingly extracts from the docile farm cow. This milk is, after all, too good to ever get into any supermarket display cabinet.
So with no one coming to the door to purchase the fruits of their labour, our farmer regretfully goes off the farm in search of some part time job to help support the family’s needs. The farm activity contracts, producing just enough to feed the family. While the younger generation abandon ship in favour of earning their livelyhood in another place, another country and another way of life – the one that is mining the finite wealth of the planet as though it were infinite.
Then, one day, some shocking news comes across the airwaves of the world. News that the majority of foods on sale in shops and supermarkets are unsafe to eat. That they are the cause of multiple sicknesses and unprecedented rates of cancer and heart disease. Epidemics are also spreading round the world that can no longer be controlled by conventional medicines and which the compromised human immune system is now too weak to fully resist.
A few days later it is admitted that normal resources of water have become largely undrinkable due to high levels of pesticides and hormones which have heavily polluted the rivers and streams that run through the desert-like, agrichemical soaked monocultural farms, whose produce still lines the supermarket shelves.
In hundreds of cities and towns, panic breaks out. People desperately seek advice as to what to do and where to purchase safe foods. The big chain stores try to reassure their customers and the mainstream media calls for people to be calm and listen to the advice of government. But the story is out and the old platitudes cease to have the desired affect.
Chaotic scenes become widespread as people become engaged in panicked attempts to stockpile what they hope are ‘safe foods’. However, the truth is that no one knows what foods are safe or not safe. What water is pure or polluted. What storekeepers are honest or lying. No one had ever thought that anything like this could ever happen; so preoccupied were they with their materialistic concerns, consumer preferences and nine to five jobs. It never occurred to them that they could be collectively complicit in triggering a global crisis of unprecedented proportions.
At least, almost everybody.
Not long after this announcement was aired, a group of people nervously gathered outside our farmer’s house. A woman with two young children knocked tentatively on the door; while some of the others were more openly agitated and even threatening.
The farmer came slowly to the door and opened it.
“What do you want?” he said.
“I want to know if you can sell us any safe food” said the lady
“My children are hungry and someone in the village said that on your farm the food is still not poisoned.”
The farmer stood silent for a while. Others shouted out “We need food!”
Eventually he turned to his wife “Well” she said “You had better let them in.”
Montage: Claire Palmer
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