Slow Food

by Penny Armstrong -

The month of May is busy round the clock with lambing, ground preparation, sowing and planting. As the days get longer most of our time is taken up with progressing the fruit and vegetable production, but there are animals to be looked after too. A big part of our household self sufficiency is to do with meat and egg production.

At Turriefield we heartily support the Slow Food ideal: the farming of plants, seeds and livestock with the goal of providing sustainable local food using small-scale traditional systems. The opposite of the globalised intensive production of meat and crops so widely used today.

Our Slow Food year starts in January with the first hatching of chicks just after the Christmas break. The hens are ready to lay by May and this year they caught us out. Their first eggs were spotted by pupils from Anderson High School's ASN department on their day trip yesterday. We could argue we were distracted by lambing, another slow food activity. This year we've had 30 lambs and they will be bouncing about the park (field) until October.

Unfortunately for them, it is the boys of both the chickens and sheep that find their way into the freezer and grace our table as a home grown curry (more about that in another post), or other wonderfully tasty dish. The chickens taking a full 5 months to reach a good eating size, compared to the 37 days of the forced supermarket bird.

Yesterday the latest 'heavy plant' arrived ready to turn over some new ground for more vegetables. They are working their way to becoming next year's bacon, ham and sausages. A six month process that also takes many hours of preparation in the kitchen after slaughter and butchering.

Many people expect us to be vegetarian. It would be in keeping with the principles that are generally assumed to under pin the reducing fossil fuel use and creating a more sustainable future for the planet. But we're not, with good reason.

We use the land on the croft as productively as we can. Some areas are just not suitable for growing vegetables. Where the land is shallow and stoney, but reasonably level and sheltered, we can do a lot to improve the soil and make it work for crops. But exposed inclines with poor soil can be more productive and energy efficient by being used for grazing animals. The debilitating impact of global meat production and consumption results from the intensive nature of farming practices, the greed of big business and meat eaters themselves. This has been eloquently discussed at length by Simon Fairlie in his book 'Meat, a benign extravagance'*.

In Shetland we are lucky enough to be able to buy small scale, locally produced, grass fed lamb and beef. Intensive production elsewhere in the world involves large farms and industrialised feeding in concrete floored sheds. The feed itself, requires manufacture and is usually corn or soya based. Greenhouse gas emissions from the animals and all stages of this type of production are problematic and unsustainable. All that before we even consider the welfare of the animals, housed in small pens, kept inside without the opportunity for natural behaviour.

We try hard at Turriefield not to buy into globalised meat production. If we don't produce it, or get it form a local source, we do without. It has been a long time since we had any salami because we've not yet managed to create the right conditions to cure the sausage before it goes mouldy (our atmosphere is too damp). Eating out can be difficult, but living so far out of town and with so much to do we don't go out much! For many years we have made our own 'takeaways' and the fact that they taste so much better than the bought ones makes that choice easier.

It has taken Alan and I nearly 20 years to be able to produce so much of our own food and give up other things. But there are some things we are just not prepared to give up, like hot chocolate for instance. We use Shetland milk but it is debatable how sustainable, or climate change friendly the cocoa we use, or the soya milk I need, is. Even though it is organic it is shipped across the world. It's all about the choices any of us make, how much we'll give up and how far we're prepared to go. We choose to eat meat partly because we enjoy it and partly because we would have to buy in other protein if we didn't. Lentils, soya protein, quorn all come from outside Britain and often further afield than Europe. We have eggs, loads of eggs, but there only so many ways you can eat eggs before I get bored. Locally produced cheese is good, but I'm dairy intolerant so that's out. We make choices that suit us and our lifestyle, but continue to look for ways in which we can reduce our food related carbon emissions.

Choices and making changes with buying and eating food is not easy in a society that is set up for fast food, consumerism and profit. Whenever we run our Carbon Classroom courses or talk to people about what we do, we stress that the important thing is to find out more about food production. There should be no judgements on the choices people make, just encouragement and support to learn about the bigger picture. Once you have the information what you choose to do is up to you. Even small changes with your buying and eating choices are effective. Small changes by many folk can add up to a big difference. Then quite often, you find you want to do more.

* Meat , A Benign Extravagance. Simon Fairlie, Permanent Publications, Hyden House Ltd. East Meon. 2010.

Posted in: Growing Food