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

Winter Solstice Revels, Dartmoor-style

Winter Solstice 2010

This picture was taken two nights ago at what may well be the nicest, and certainly the most magical, Solstice celebration I've yet been to. The weather set the stage with Siberian snow, then friends and neighbors provided the rest: a bonfire of two giant Yule Logs burning brightly in a snow-covered stone-wall-bordered field, mulled cider, music (both Celtic and gypsy), and a great deal of laughter to see us all through the darkest night of the year.

That's artist Rima Staines on the accordion above, artist & folklorist Thomas Hine on fiddle, runic jewelry designer Jason Hancox on drum, mythic poet Tom Hirons on clarinet, and Thomas' wife, writer Lunar Hine, and baby looking on.

Howard joined us with a second accordion, and sang a haunting Celtic duet with artist Susie Yorke. (It was Susie who snapped this picture, by the way -- used here with her kind permission. ) Dogs and children ran through the snow in packs, young Tilly (being the sociable critter that she is) in raptures among them. All in all, a thoroughly enchanting night. Many thanks to Jason and Ruth, our hosts, for helping us mark this mythic turning of the year.

Snow tree

The snow shows no sign of leaving us soon, our car is still buried in a snow drift, and our end of the village is still largely impassable. We're stocked up on food, thanks to a kind friend with jeep (bless you, Nick Baker), but there are presents that won't make it through the post in time, both ones we're expecting and ones I've sent out. (I'm so sorry folks; I tried!) Nevermind. Our daughter made it safely back home to the village from London yesterday, and that's all that really matters: we're all here, safe and sound.

Howard has filled the house with boughs of holly and ivy gathered from the woods, and last night I made the kiffles (traditional Christmas cookies from the Pennsylvania Dutch side of my family) while corny Christmas tunes play on the stereo. The snow has slowed the world around us down into a place of white beauty, soft contours, and silence.  Tilly is glad that her family is all under one roof again. So let the holidays begin.

The view from my windowThe view from my studio window.

Here's a kiffle recipe that is close to the one handed down through generations of women in my family. (Sorry, the exact family recipe's a secret!) It takes a lot of work, admittedly, but I aways think of my mother, grandmother, and great-aunt Clara -- all of them gone now -- while I'm kneading the dough and that makes the task both a sacred ritual and a pleasure. Use 8 oz. of ground walnuts with a tsp. of sugar for the filling, though, not prunes or apricots -- that's sacrilege! And they should be made only at Christmastime...making kiffles at any other time of the year is just so...wrong.

Rolling the doughRolling the dough

Kiffle douggKiffle dough

Kiffle fillingKiffle filling

Finished KifflesThe finished kiffles

Of poems, leaves, and pie

The Green Woman by T Windling

Some years ago a friend of mine here in the village had a birthday party for which she requested that her guests bring pies to share. I thought about bring a shoofly pie from my Pennsylvania Dutch childhood -- but not only is this something of an acquired taste, it also would have required me to actually cook...and I'm not much of a cook, and even less of a baker, at the best of times. I solved the problem by bringing a Poetry Pie instead: lining a glass pie plate with a "crust" of autumn leaves, filled with acorns, small pines cones, bits of lace and sundries and small scrolls of paper tied in red ribbon: each little scroll containing a poem hand-written in gold ink. Each party guest could then choose a scroll from the pie (I'd made sure that there were enough for all), and whatever poem they found inside "belonged" especially to them. It was food for the spirit, the sweet taste of language, art and dessert rolled into one.

All these years later, I still see poems from that pie pinned to bulletin boards all around the village....

The poem I've chosen for today, "Aunt Leaf" by Mary Oliver, was in that pie.

Painting above: my rendition of The Green Woman