Tag Archives: peak oil

Meeting Gordon Brown

Last week I left my cosy brown rice world (centre) for that of Gordon Brown’s (right pic). An invite from the prime minister was hard to resist. I was not alone. A hundred other members of the British Society of Magazine Editors turned up at number 10 Downing Street for the reception.

The prime minister’s short talk featured self-deprecating anecdotes.

I’d heard him tell some before at a previous reception also organised by the society.

April 2007. After his talk, Gordon Brown, then-chancellor, went on a fifteen-minute steered-mingle round the packed reception room. I introduced myself.

“Elisabeth Winkler from the Soil Association. We were disappointed you did not include agriculture in your green budget.”

I explained how organic farming reduces farming’s carbon footprint because it bans the use of oil-guzzling artificial fertiliser.

He changed the subject by commenting on the growth of farmers’ markets. I furnished him with a figure: farmers’ markets now number over 500. He nodded, echoing the stat.

The trick in these conversations is not to wait for Gordon to give encouraging nods and smiles. You have to deliver your message regardless.

Fast forward to last week – I failed to listen to my own advice. I only got to press his flesh and give my name and rank.

I really wanted to say: if you want an easy win, Gordon, forget GM. It’s uneconomical for farmers and unpopular with the British public.

But I fell under his spell and let him pass.  Listen, I can’t be superwoman all the time.

In his talk, Gordon Brown’s only mention of the current financial crisis was to tell us to blame the Treasury if we did not like the wine (joke). Despite the prime minister’s unwillingness to engage in the topic – and William Green, editor of Time Europe, tried hard enough – the credit crunch cropped up in every other conversation I had.

Several editors asked me if the recession would affect organic farming’s future.

I said organic farming sales had not faltered in the last recession; indeed Green & Black’s organic chocolate launched during that dire time.

And another thing, I continued, food prices are linked to oil. The price of organic food has the potential to become lower than non-organic food because organic farming uses less energy than non-organic farming.

Then I skedaddled down the road to Central Hall, Westminster, where the Soil Association’s new president, Monty Don, was giving the charity’s annual lecture in memory of its 1946 founder, Lady Eve Balfour.

Lady Eve was a cool cat who believed in caring for Mother Earth. She set about proving organic farming is better for the soil than agrichemicals. Food should be eaten as close to its source as possible, she said. Way to go.

Monty Don encouraged us to become organic vegetable gardeners. You can’t get more local than that.

Afterwards, in the Soil Association reception (organic wine, this time) several growers expressed concern that Monty’s message undervalues their skills. It’s the opposite for me: trying (failing) to grow veg has made me value the farmers more than ever.

Monty Don has reservations about the word organic, calling it “an albatross”. He is good with words (I headhunted him for Living Earth, the Soil Association magazine). Later I found myself at the bar with Monty and his wife Sarah. I said: “It’s not the word that’s the problem but the bad press associated with it. Like feminism,” I added (as a feminist).

Monty said the word ‘organic’ can make people feel guilty.

Is organic a good or bad word?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Starhawk and pot luck

It’s not every day you meet a witch. The American pagan peace activist and writer Starhawk was giving a workshop on a nearby farm. We all bought a vegetarian offering for the shared lunch (see above).

Food brings people together and if everyone brings a dish, it’s not hard work to feed 30. The tastes may be pot luck but they miraculously get on well.

Starhawk shared with us some magical methods for keeping our spirits up while saving the world. She said, try to be in nature every day for fifteen minutes. Take time to wonder at how that leaf falls or green shoots burst out of a cracked pavement, and use your physical senses to ground you.

Radford Mill Farm was the perfect setting. We closed our eyes and heard the wind in the trees and the birds, calling. We opened them and walked barefoot on the wet grass. We felt the sun on our backs and saw the sky. I felt like a cooped-up chicken allowed to go free range.

Green activists live with the doom-reality of an impending environmental crisis but they are remarkably upbeat, probably because they are doing something to make the world a better place.

Starhawk’s talk was organised by Sarah Pugh, the Transition Bristol maven. Transition Culture is about getting self-sufficient so when supermarket shelves are empty and petrol pumps are dry, we have by this time learnt to grow our own veg (and guard our allotments from the marauding hordes?).

Our vegetables will have to be organic when oil is scarce. Non-organic farming relies on oil to make chemical fertiliser in factories. As oil prices rise, so does the cost of food. Organic farming has no need for gallons of oil. It makes its fertiliser on the farm, courtesy of the sun.

Radford Mill Farm is converting to organic and is set on making it a community affair. The official term is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA for those in the know). Originally from the US, it’s about sharing a farm’s responsibilities – and rewards. You commit in advance, with cash or in kind, and in return get a share of the harvest.

When the going gets tough, we will need our family farms more than ever. Adopt one now!

Below is a picture of Starhawk listening to Siobhan, a co-founder of Tribe of Doris, the UK’s most prestigious cultural festival. Here’s a tip for keeping cheerful: if you want to learn to dance or play music and can live under canvas for a convivial few days over the Bank Holiday weekend, then that’s the festival for you. (And don’t forget Climate Camp next week).

Spinach soup thickened with couscous

Spinach soup

I would be useless in a post-peak oil world. What would I do without my electric blender?

My teeth are troubling me so I made this spinach soup soothing with the help of the handheld machine. Its on-grid whirls fashioned the soup into a luxury item.

Here’s how I got there. The washed organic spinach leaves, stalks and all, went in a large pan. Spinach cooks in the water it is washed in (no need to add more) but do put a lid on to retain that moisture.

Once the spinach was cooked soft and waterless (drain to make sure), I added butter and immune-boosting garlic to frazzle in the meltedness.

But how to thicken it? I could have used flour but what is life without risk? So for the first time I sprinkled a smattering of couscous (I used organic kamut) to thicken a soup. I let it cook for a while then added a mugful of water, slowly, stirring all the time.

Reader, it worked. The couscous made it creamy.

Encouraged, I snipped in organic sprouted snow peas as a garnish.

The organic produce came from Bristol’s organic supermarket, Better Food, which is well-pleased, I imagine, with Sunday’s announcement as a finalist in the Observer Ethical Awards 2008.

Fluttering in the background is the Tibetan flag. Apparently it is illegal to fly in its home country, so it’s getting a workout on my balcony.

The distance between two places

As we walked down the lane where the wind bends the trees west, I said to Mike:

“Travelling from Devon to Bristol doesn’t seem a long way now. A hundred miles, that’s two hours by car, and twice that by train. But what happens when the oil runs out?

It could take days to reach my family in Bristol (my girls, my sister, her girls). Let alone London (mother, father).

In my mind’s eye, I see corroded petrol pumps, and military guards at the train station preventing travel.

“It’s like a disaster movie in my head,” I said. “And the thing is, it could be true.”

“The real disaster is not enjoying what you have now,” said Mike.