During the month of September, we are going to try to live off produce grown, reared, and sourced ‘locally’. This experiment is, then, about food. But we hope that it is more than that. In the first place we want to define what we mean by ‘local’, a much abused term in the food industry, and more widely a term which is both embraced and eschewed in equal measure. Can we define ‘local’ spatially, or is the concept more complex than that? Secondly, if this project is about food, the interest for us lies not just in the eating (although we shall certainly enjoy that part too) but in the story of how produce makes its way from field to plate. Looked at this way, we are more concerned with learning a little more about the people who provide our food, their animals, crops, and soils, and the relationships that develop between these four cornerstones of agriculture.
No particular socio-economic agenda drives this project although some will see in it echoes of many. Is this, you might wonder, about green politics, the slow-food revolution, concern for food miles, or the organic movement? In small part it is about all these things, of course, but what we really want to do is to go beyond the immediate and use this month to explore the fundamentals of building and sustaining communities, issues that have concerned people over several millennia. What we hope is that what we discover will help a historian and an archaeologist to understand what one Japenese student of ours described as ‘past-people’, that is those we study in our academic lives.
This is not an exercise in self-sufficiency or back-to-basics. The media attention we have received has invariably described the project as the return of the ‘Good Life’. It is no such thing. We will continue to use mains water and have at our disposal all the usual modcons such as refigerators and cookers. Yes, it is true that we grow a few vegetables ourselves and have five hens and a rooster, but we are far from being able to live off what we produce. Really we are dependent on the community around us and what it can provide if we are to survive. It is this need to make new personal connections and to find out what is or is not available that will provide, we hope, greater insight into the workings of our surroundings and which will start to reveal the essence of the place we inhabit. This we will use as a starting point from which we can project back into the past. Along the way, of course, we will be faced with difficult contemporary decisions: can you live, for instance, both locally and organically? And if not, what choices does one make?
We hope this sounds interesting to you and that you will continue to follow our progress on this blog. We would be delighted to hear from you. We know that many people live this way ordinarily. We feel a little like frauds as a result. After all, we intend to do this for one month only (although that may change) and we have, moreover, chosen a rather fat month to do so. In September nature provides. As one correspondent remarked, ‘it would be tricky in April (the Hungry Gap)!’
To feel a little less fraudent, we have made it as hard as we can be really restricting the area from which we can source our food. Our initial idea was to limit ourselves to the parish of Upton. It was clear very early on that this was not going to be feasible without unnecessary privation on our part. So we have extended our range (but only by a little – really to include a dairy and nothing else). So the radius we have set ourselves is a radius of two miles from our house.