Preserve By still
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.