Pre­serve By still

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature -

AU­TUMN is the time trees are just about to lose their leaves, flow­ers set seed, leafy peren­ni­als, rhi­zomes and bulbs rest their roots, and there is a flush of fruit and abun­dance.

It was vi­tal for our an­ces­tors to save this glut and many meth­ods were used to pre­serve food for win­ter in­clud­ing dry­ing, salt­ing, cold stor­age and fer­men­ta­tion.

The an­cients also dis­cov­ered ‘spir­its’ and their re­mark­able prop­er­ties: they make you feel re­laxed and eu­phoric, were a good way of mak­ing wa­ter safe to drink, and a ve­hi­cle for mak­ing long-keep­ing, eas­ily trans­portable medicines.

They also learned to dis­till beau­ti­ful fra­grances like rose, laven­der and or­ange blos­som.

It is pos­si­ble to­day to re­learn these an­cient arts by be­com­ing an ar­ti­san or home dis­tiller. A cop­per Alem­bic still will help you turn your ex­cess fruit into brandies, grains into whiskey and aro­matic flow­ers and plants into fra­grant wa­ters and es­sen­tial oils.

The ur­ban-ru­ral di­vide is of­ten talked about as if some­thing needs to be done, or as if some­one is do­ing some­thing. We hear about some chil­dren re­port­edly suf­fer­ing 'na­ture deficit dis­or­ders', and more and more peo­ple seem to be glued to lit­tle screens with ad­dic­tive graph­ics.

What hope is there of them im­prov­ing their ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment on which we all de­pend, and their un­der­stand­ing of how the food they buy, in ever-more-ridicu­lous amounts of pack­ag­ing, is grown?

While some peo­ple can still claim a coun­try con­nec­tion – the aunt or un­cle or grand­par­ent liv­ing on a farm – many are now more than one gen­er­a­tion re­moved from that as­so­ci­a­tion, and some of their chil­dren are al­most en­tirely ig­no­rant of the sources of the phys­i­cal ne­ces­si­ties of their lives. Milk is man­u­fac­tured in a fac­tory (sadly no longer so far from the truth); meat comes in poly­styrene wrapped in plas­tic and whether it was once part of an an­i­mal which had a good life or not is ir­rel­e­vant to most; veg­eta­bles and fruit are al­ways uni­form in size, al­ways per­fect and ev­ery­thing is avail­able year-round.

Per­haps it is some­thing we, as peo­ple who live on the land, grow our own food and have an­i­mals around us, could do more about?

We need the ur­ban con­sumers of the foods we pro­duce to un­der­stand the ba­sics of pro­duc­tion. While we don't all pro­duce food for the wider pop­u­lace, if we live in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties we cer­tainly de­pend upon that pro­duc­tion for the sus­tain­abil­ity of our lo­cal towns and the var­i­ous ser­vices we take for granted.

Af­flu­ent con­sumers are be­com­ing much more choosy about what they eat but the in­for­ma­tion upon which they base those de­ci­sions is of­ten in­com­plete or flawed. Ur­ban peo­ple have, in their grow­ing num­bers, the po­ten­tial for strong in­flu­ence on what will be ac­cept­able farm­ing prac­tice in fu­ture years.

When I be­gan farm­ing 20 years ago, af­ter liv­ing for 13 years in Auckland, the va­ri­ety of mis­un­der­stand­ings held as fact by many ur­ban peo­ple seemed mildly amus­ing. But I be­lieve that mis­match could have a greater im­pact in time, es­pe­cially given the gath­er­ing strength and reach of the in­ter­na­tional an­i­mal rights move­ments. Even a quick read of many an­i­mal rights publi­ca­tions will show you how flawed they are in their ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of how or­di­nary farms con­duct their ac­tiv­i­ties, and how in­for­ma­tion from over­seas may be fudged to ap­pear to ap­ply to our farm­ing meth­ods here, when it does not.

This was all thrown into greater fo­cus for me with the screen­ing of TVNZ'S Sun­day pro­gramme late last year (also en­ti­tled ‘ Down on the Farm’) show­ing some ap­palling be­hav­iour by sev­eral covertly-videoed men to­ward bobby calves. The calves were picked up in the pad­dock, thrown into var­i­ous forms of trans­port, then biffed about like bags of flour by truck­ies when they reached a pet food pro­cess­ing plant, all while still very much alive.

At the time I con­versed with and lis­tened to a num­ber of peo­ple dis­cussing the is­sues raised. All were sick­ened by what was shown.

But those out­side ru­ral life ex­pressed sur­prise and dis­tress about another is­sue raised in the pro­gramme. The com­men­tary ac­com­pa­ny­ing the footage ap­peared to con­cen­trate as much on the ‘cru­elty’ of re­mov­ing calves from cows, as it did on the bru­tal­ity of the ac­tiv­i­ties filmed.

I am de­lib­er­ately leav­ing the def­i­nite

have griev­ously mal­treated an­i­mals in their care also only serve to sup­port the at­ti­tudes of an­i­mal rights ac­tivists. Even pos­i­tive main­stream me­dia at­ten­tion is usu­ally on sto­ries about peo­ple who farm rather than on how farm sys­tems work.

As ru­ral dwellers we have easy ac­cess in our mail­boxes to a raft of in­for­ma­tion about farm­ing (as­sum­ing you re­quest the ru­ral news­pa­pers), even if we're not ac­tively en­gaged in com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity. A year or three ago one of the ru­ral papers asked that city cafés take their publi­ca­tions to make it pos­si­ble for their cus­tomers to be­come more in­formed about where their food comes from.

But per­haps we need to en­gage our city kin more ac­tively? If you have city chil­dren as vis­i­tors, en­gage them in con­ver­sa­tions about an­i­mals, how they live, for what va­ri­ety of pur­poses they are farmed and how their pro­duc­tion is scaled up for the mass pro­duc­tion of the foods city peo­ple eat. Have them un­der­stand the hows and whys of farm­ing so the next gen­er­a­tion of adults can make in­formed de­ci­sions about their world. Ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the cute­ness of eyes and soft­ness of coats never goes amiss in en­gen­der­ing com­pas­sion, but don't let that be all they learn about your an­i­mals.

If your live­stock are pets, be­ware of con­vey­ing the idea that such treat­ment is ap­pro­pri­ate on a large scale. It is not help­ful to a wider un­der­stand­ing of farm­ing; it can make even good farm­ing prac­tices ap­pear harsh, and does not help your city co-work­ers and friends un­der­stand the re­al­i­ties of farm­ing and where their food comes from. I am not sug­gest­ing live­stock can­not be pets, but if some­one be­lieves that all cat­tle should be treated in the same way, for ex­am­ple, it's not re­al­is­tic.

Farm­ers pro­duce food for the whole pop­u­la­tion and we all have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure they do it in ways which are hu­mane, and that the reg­u­la­tions around an­i­mal wel­fare are en­forced by Act of Par­lia­ment on our be­half. But the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion who can in­flu­ence those reg­u­la­tions must have the knowl­edge to fairly judge whether or not farm­ing sys­tems fit their ex­pec­ta­tions. As life­style farm­ers, our par­tic­u­lar un­der­stand­ing from in­ter­ac­tions with small num­bers of live­stock and our ex­po­sure to the com­mer­cial farm­ing world puts us in a unique po­si­tion to reed­u­cate an ur­ban pop­u­la­tion who have for­got­ten where their food comes from.

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