A day out at Chagford Show

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Yesterday I went to our village's agricultural show, now in its 119th year, celebrating the skills, crafts, and lore of the local farming community, and its central place in life on the moor. Reflecting on the nature of community, I was reminded of this passage from "The Common Life" by essayist Scott Russell Sanders:

"The words community, communion, and communicate all derive from common, and the two syllables of common grow from separate roots, the first meaning 'together' or 'next to,' the second having to do with barter or exchange. Embodied in that word is a sense of our shared life as one of giving and receiving -- music, touch, ideas, recipes, stories, medicine, tools, the whole range of artifacts and talents.

"After twenty-five years with [my wife] Ruth, that is how I have come to understand marriage, as a constant exchange of labor and love. We do not calculate who gives how much; if we had to, the marriage would be in trouble. Looking outward from this community of two, I see my life embedded in ever-larger exchanges -- those of family and friendship, neighborhood and city, countryside and county -- and on every scale there is giving and receiving, calling and answering.

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"Many people shy away from community out of a fear that it may become suffocating, confining, even vicious; and of course it may, if it grows rigid or exclusive. A healthy community is dynamic, stirred up the energies of those who already belong, open to new members and fresh influences, kept in motion by the constant battering of gifts. It is fashionable just now to speak of this open quality as 'tolerance,' but that word sounds too grudging to me -- as though, to avoid strife, we must grit our teeth and ignore whatever is strange to us.

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"The community I desire is not grudging; it is exuberant, joyful, grounded in affection, pleasure, and mutual aid. Such a community arises not from duty or money but from the free interchange of people who share a place, share work and food, sorrows and hopes. Taking part in the common life means dwelling in a web of relationships, the many threads tugging at you while also holding you upright."

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Prize-winning sheep

In an interview in 2004, writer and activist Terry Tempest Williams also spoke of the value of putting down roots in an increasingly peripatetic world:

"It just may be that the most radical act we can commit is to stay home. What does that mean to finally commit to a place, to a people, to a community? It doesn't mean it's easy, but it does mean you can live with patience, because you're not going to go away.

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"It also means commitment to bear witness, and engaging in 'casserole diplomacy' by sharing food among neighbors, by playing with the children and mending feuds and caring for the sick. These kinds of commitment are real. They are tangible. They are not esoteric or idealistic, but rooted in the bedrock existence of where we choose to maintain our lives.

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"That way we begin to know the predictability of a place. We anticipate a species long before we see them. We can chart the changes, because we have a memory of cycles and seasons; we gain a capacity for both pleasure and pain, and we find the stregnth within ourselves and each other to hold these lines. That's my definition of family. And that's my definition of love."

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Words: The passage above is from "The Common Life" by Scott Russell Sanders,  published in his essay collection Writing from the Center (Indiana University Press, 1995). The passage by Terry Tempest Williams comes from an interview by Derrick Jensen in Listening to the Land: Conversations about Nature, Culture, and Ethos (Chelsea Green, 2004). All rights reserved by the authors.

Pictures: Chagford Show, 2019. I've blurred the faces of the children displaying their sheep for privacy's sake.

The Chagford Show

A prize-winning cabbage at the Chagford Show

On Thursday, Howard, Jenny (my lovely mother-in-law), Tilly and I went to the 115th Chagford Agricultural and Horticultural Show, one of our favorite events in the local calendar, where we watched dog, pony, and horse trials, admired tractors and vegetables, listened to local music, ate locally-grown food, caught up with village neighbors and friends...and where I was able to thoroughly indulge my inexplicable passion for sheep.

Here are some of my pictures from the day.

Prize-winning vegetables

Prize-winning peas

“Imagine if we had a food system that actually produced wholesome food. Imagine if it produced that food in a way that restored the land. Imagine if we could eat every meal knowing these few simple things: What it is we’re eating. Where it came from. How it found its way to our table. And what it really cost. If that was the reality, then every meal would have the potential to be a perfect meal. We would not need to go hunting for our connection to our food and the web of life that produces it. We would no longer need any reminding that we eat by the grace of nature, not industry, and that what we’re eating is never anything more or less than the body of the world. I don’t want to have to forage every meal. Most people don’t want to learn to garden or hunt. But we can change the way we make and get our food so that it becomes food again -- something that feeds our bodies and our souls. Imagine it: Every meal would connect us to the joy of living and the wonder of nature. Every meal would be like saying grace.” 

- Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals)

Prize-winning herbs

Home-made local wine

Prize-winning children's drawings

Prize-winning flowers in the children's section

“Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other. It is a sign that we don't need a lot of money to be happy -- in fact, the opposite.”

- Jean Vanier (Community And Growth)

Friends serving tea at Chagford Show

Husband, hound, and a vintage tractor

Steam-driven tractor

Dog competition at Chagford Show

Carriage-driving competition

The passing traffic at Chagford Show

“If we are looking for insurance against want and oppression, we will find it only in our neighbors' prosperity and goodwill and, beyond that, in the good health of our worldly places, our homelands. If we were sincerely looking for a place of safety, for real security and success, then we would begin to turn to our communities -- and not the communities simply of our human neighbors but also of the water, earth, and air, the plants and animals, all the creatures with whom our local life is shared."

- Wendell Berry (The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays)

Prize-winning young cow

Prize-winning calf

I'll be out of the studio over the next week due to family commitments, and back to Myth & Moor again on Tuesday, September 1st. Wherever you may be, I hope the end of your summer (or winter, for those of you Down Under) is a good one.

A lamb at Chagford Show

Sheep at Chagford Show

Sheep at Chagford Show

Sheep at Chagford Show

Sheep at Chagford Show

Sheep at Chagford Show

Ram and sheep at Chagford Show

Sheep at Chagford ShowPicture descriptions are in the captions. (Run your cursor over the images to see them.)

Want to name a goat?

Well, here's your chance . It's one of the inducements offered in the Chagford Community Farm Crowdfunding An illustration for ''Heidi'' by Jessie Willcox SmithCampaign...along with the satisfaction of supporting the Local Food Renaissance here in south-west England.

The charming video above explains the campaign...and gives you a glimpse of the countryside and community that makes Chagford such a magical place to live. Go here to learn more about the nonprofit Chagford Community Farm  (a.k.a. Chagfarm, founded by brothers Davon and Sylvan Friend)....not to be confused with the Chagfood Community Market Garden (a.k.a. Chagfood, about whom I have posted before: here and here), although the two groups often work together.

Whether you're local or not, if you have the funds and believe in the cause of "local food for local people" (and food education for children), please consider contributing to Chagfarm's crowd-funding campaign (and/or spreading the word), which will help Davon and Sylvan to improve and maintain this wonderful nonprofit community farm. You can always come and visit the goat you name (or request a picture!), and there are a number of other pledge inducements as well.

Jenny and Fran at Chagfarm

Tilly's opinion of goatsThe drawing above is an illustration for Johanna Spyri's much-loved children's book Heidi by Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935). The photographs: goats Jenny and Fran (from the Chagfarm website), and Tilly's opinion of goats.

Food Revolutionaries

Lovely veggies (photo from the Chagfood blog)

Saturday was Food Revolution Day (sponsored by the Jamie Oliver Foundation), with people all over England joining together to celebrate the beginning of the growing season and to promote locally-grown foods, and food education. The folks at Chagfood, our local Community Market Garden, participated by hosting an Open Day, so we trundled along to visit the newly planted fields, with Howard's mum, brother, and nephew in tow....

Herb garden and veg field beyond

Herb garden


Gypsy caravan

Young plants in one of the poly-tunnels

Kid's table


I've written about Chagfood in a previous post -- and about Samson, a Welsh-cob/Dartmoor-pony cross, who helps to plough the fields and haul boxes of produce into the village:

Sampson and EdEd Hamer with Samson

Sampson drawing the ploughSamson ploughing, with Ed Hamer & Chinnie Kingsbury




Food is important in our household...and I say that as someone who spent my youth basically living on popcorn and coffee, god help me. But art-making requires mental clarity, steady reserves of energy, and the physical strength for long periods of concentrated focus...all of which become a good deal harder to maintain once the blush of youth has passed (especially for those of us with medical problems to complicate the matter). As we climb into our 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond, all that age-old, boringly practical advice takes on fresh relevance: we actually do need good food, good sleep, and good exercise to keep those interior motors humming. When we ignore these things, and run ourselves down, art-making suffers. Or slows down. Or stops.

Sometimes when young people ask me for advice about embarking on careers in art professions, they're surprised when I put "take care of your health" (i.e., don't live on popcorn and coffee) at the top of the list. But creative work takes stamina. Concentration takes stamina. And the natural stamina of youth, alas, simply doesn't last forever. If we're in the arts for the long haul (and we are, aren't we?), then we need to do all we can to make sure these good bodies we inhabit will last a long while and serve us well. Good food. Good sleep. Good exercise. There are no shortcuts.

And if the food is local, organic, and delivered by a horse named Sampson, so much the better....

Howard Gayton, Terri Windling, Sampson at Chagfood's Food Revolution DayHoward, and me, with Samson.

The Chagfood GatesThe Chagfood gates. All are welcome.

Photo credits: Some of the pictures above come from the Chagfood blog, the photo of me was taken by Howard, the others were snapped by me on a cloudy Saturday afternoon here in the hills of Devon.

Ed, Sampson, and Chagfood

I've often described the Devon village I live in as a town full of artists...but it's also well known here in the West Country for its strong and lively "green" community, supporting organic farming, permaculture, the slow food/local food movements, recycling, composting, eco-building, and other sustainability issues. 

A few weeks ago, the Guardian newspaper ran an article  on "Chagfood," the Chagford Community Agriculture project run by young local farmers (inspired by the Levellers and the Diggers), with the help of Samson, a four-year old Welsh cob/Dartmoor pony cross.

Sammy & Ed come into town "Chagford is about as lovely a village as you could ever hope to find," writes  journalist Carole Cadwalladr. "It's almost absurdly picturesque with its ancient stone buildings and village green bounded by fields and streams and the wild, dark hills of Dartmoor looming overhead. It's hard to imagine how it could be any lovelier. And then Samson comes clip-clopping down the road pulling a cart loaded with freshly picked organic produce. Honestly. It's so ridiculously bucolic that I expect Miss Marple to come flying around the corner on a bicycle."

Later in the article she notes: "My suspicion was that Samson's real purpose was to give the project a rural cute factor, but this was before I met Ed [Hames] and realised that this isn't some whimsical hobby, it's part of a greater philosophical framework. He's a boyish 29 years old, and might not look like much of a revolutionary, hanging out, growing cabbage and onions in a field in Devon, but he's a proper ideologue. On the one hand, Chagfood is about providing local, sustainable, seasonable produce, but it's also part of his wider mission: extending land rights for all."

Read the whole article (here) for an interesting glimpse at another side of our village. Related links: the Chagfood website & blog, The Land Magazine, and the Reclaim the Fields organization. And if you're anywhere near Chagford, go visit Chagfoood and say hello to Sampson. He is awfully cute, and I always love seeing him heading up to town with his cart full of flowers and veggies....

Chagford Community Agriculture