As promised, I had a blog post ready for this week about compost but as ever I’m overtaken by events.
While attending the AGM of the excellent Land Workers’ Alliance this weekend, Kate McEvoy of the no less excellent Real Seed Collection gave a talk (an excellent one, as it happens) about the impending EU plant reproductive material regulation, which reminded me that the deadline for amendments to the regulation is as soon as 4 December. So, readers of Small Farm Future, please get your pens & placards handy!
I won’t reiterate here all the complexities and implications of the legislation, largely because the Real Seed people have already done it much better than I could here. The Soil Association also have a good page about it here, including a couple of links to their horticulture guru Ben Raskin’s blog posts about it. Do have a look at this stuff and consider writing to your MEP if you can. There’s also an Avaaz petition here.
Pro-agribusiness folk like Steve Savage have written at length on the advantages of plant patents, and there’s certainly a worthwhile debate to be had around that. But that’s just one aspect of larger global moves, which seem much more thoroughgoing in the EU than in the USA, to take the capacity to husband food resources out of the hands of ordinary people. And that, in turn, represents a professionalising mode of thinking in which the myriad and un-regulatable activities of the millions offend the bureaucratic tidy-mindedness and control-freakery of the few.
We’ve seen it with the Potato Council blaming amateur gardeners for problems with late blight, and with the National Pig Association’s opposition to swill feeding. Generally, I think these bodies doth protest too much, tending to blame the little people for problems in their industries that are largely caused by their own unsustainable practices. But even where small-scale activities do increase some risks, I think it could be a price worth paying in order to keep people personally connected with the food system and aware of its vicissitudes. Has anybody done a cost-benefit analysis, for example, of allowing swill-feeding, ignoring the special pleading of the meat export industry, improving swill quality through agricultural extension, saving vastly on food waste and grain/soya production, and valuing the reconnection of people with their social ecology? I don’t think so.
Anyway, getting back to the Land Workers’ Alliance AGM, not the least of its pleasures for me this weekend was dancing and singing and feeling connected with other folk who are working the land in and for their local communities (though I have to admit it took me a while before I felt ready to strut my stuff on the dancefloor – purely on account of my wellies, OK?). It made a nice change from rancorous blogosphere debates, at any rate. Cynics may dismiss that kind of thing as mystical or romantic nonsense, and of course we do need to think open-mindedly about things like plant patents, biosecurity and agronomic science. But part of the problem we have around food in modern society is the way that too many people have forgotten both the joy and the heartache of bringing food out of the soil, and have come to rely on other people to do it all for them at minimum cost to themselves, while too often deriding those that do it. ¡No pasarán!