Monday, July 07, 2008

The Scarecrows of Whatfield Suffolk in the Global Food Economy

A week away from the internet, and most other media, is a refreshing joy which I intend to extend. But while the cat's here, let the mice seer.

As I wandered through the arable farmlands of Suffolk on my bicycle, I came into a village and was greeted by a large doll sitting in somebody's garden. It was brown-faced with woolly hair and probably 4 feet long, and I thought I had passed through a time warp into a gollywog-loving age.

As I progressed, I found that several more houses had large dolls in their front gardens, all in different clothing, constructions, and colours, in various attidunal poses and with props. I began to imagine that I had come upon some retirement village for an order of lunatic witches. One memorable exhibit had two dolls sitting on a tandem bike, but that memory is a reflection of the mental bias of a proper cyclist.

The village at this end was a few twee chocolate-box cottages, some with thatched roofs, evidently inhabited by affluent retired upper-middle class types. The more modern,dowdy, apparently council-built part of The Street was not participating in the doll display.

Eventually I came upon a doll of a publican with props such as a bar, keg, stool and towel. Everything became clear. There was a sign/advertisement:Make a scarecrow, any style and display it in your front garden, from 28 June onwards until this weekend.

For this was the weekend of the village fete, and surely enough, what remains of blue-rinse culture (for that generation has nearly all died off) was driving in cars to the village fete, on the green by the school, with the requisite marquee. It is wonderful to see a village where community exists at all, and see evidence of the Church of England helping it along.

But wonderment is seldom left alone on Love and the Planet. I could have just used a digital camera to copy some images of these modern scarecrows onto the Internet for some Americans to ape. This would be too common, too lazy, and not what blogs are about.

No, no, because, today Gordon Brown, our beloved and sage Prime Minister whom has been manager of the United Kingdom economy since 1997, finally told his country "to stop wasting food", and to "waste not want not". I shall not waste my vomit on his contribution (and that of many Guardian readers, I want to add) to the wasteful globalized economy that Britain has been party to, where all manner of waste has been sent to the dump, the tip, to landfill, and worst of all, to China and Bangladesh etcetera where they have permanently poisoned with pollution hitherto organic human ecosystems. So let me hurry along.

Scarecrows in Suffolk. Well.... my examination of the fields I saw in Suffolk revealed that they are 99% arable (no livestock), and most commonly growing, in order of quantity, wheat, oats, oilseed rape, broad beans, turnips/swedes/beets, potatoes. Almost all the fields are industrially farmed, with large fields worthy of tractor management. I never saw one person in any field I passed, although I passed at least one tractor on the road. Interestingly, by the end of June, the oilseed rape was already in finaly ripening stage - all the leaves were gone and the plants were down to taking what was left in the roots and stems and putting it into the seeds. Why is this interesting? Because with nearly half of the summer season (see my earlier posting for an understanding of how summer should obviously be defined according to day-length) left to go, vast acreages are already spurning the energy that reaches Britain from the sun.

Scarecrows? What crows? None of the fields had much sign of insect life or soil life. The broad beans were the most unblemished plants I have ever seen, with nary a blackfly upon them, let alone a ladybird. Most of the wheat fields appeared to be the same commercial seed variety. The hedgerows provided just enough tree cover to fool the ignorant into believing they were living in a conserved rural landscape. How many crows do you expect to find here?

So now Whatfield, which clearly was named after its Fields of Wheat, has perverted what was once a useful and necessary activity into a community-building aesthetically pleasing fun activity.

Waste not, want not? The wealthy and retired middle classes invaded the rural settings of England. They saw the rural economies transform into the Tesco Economic Model of production, distribution and consumption. But now the best that they can do (and believe me, most villages in England are ghostly shells compared to Whatfield) is to make dolls if ever the crows should come back.

People who don't know where food comes from, will never give a damn about saving it. It is considered rude to tell people not to waste food, because in Britain they consider wasting time to be a greater crime than wasting food. Yet all the time they save is spent sitting in their cars, or on their sofas, or on their office chairs, producing nothing, while consuming the earth.

So it is, but not so be it. For so shall it not be. Recession? Bring it on. A global economic system runs on a global financial system, and only a few people in the global financial system have already triggered a global banking crisis. Just a few farmers could trigger a national food crisis. Scarecrows were once the ultimate definition of food security. Now food security depends on global capital flows, GM seed, globally manufactured pesticides and fertilizers, and keeping the rest of Evolution at bay (lest a fungus, virus, bacteria or insect should suddenly arise that wipes out the mono-culture wheat or rice around the world faster than you can say "call an agricultural scientist").

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