Last summer, we woke up one morning on our market garden site (yes I know we’re not allowed to live there – just don’t tell the planners) to find a young roe deer buck lying on our track which had clearly died there overnight. Puzzled, we asked wildlife expert Simon King, who lives nearby, if he could figure out what had happened. He diagnosed a kill by another buck, showing us the wounds where the horns had penetrated the abdomen.
Never ones to look a gift deer in the mouth, we then butchered the animal – its abdominal cavity was a terrible mess, with ruptured intestines and extensive torn tissue. It had obviously been a brutal encounter and we felt for the deer, which must have suffered a painful death. But you could scarcely imagine more ethically-sourced meat, and we got about four generous and highly delicious family meals out of it (plus a huge plateful of offal which didn’t go down quite so well). An example of nature’s economy in action – in which, as environmental philosopher J. Baird Callicott puts it, value doesn’t pass from hand to hand like money in the human economy, but moves in the form of energy from stomach to stomach.
Simon placed the deer’s entrails on the ground and set up a trailcam alongside it. You can see for yourself what happened next on his blog.
Looking at the episode from Callicott’s ‘nature’s economy’ perspective sets you thinking. The chances of a tasty carcass pitching up like that on our doorstep were pretty remote. And even then, it took us quite a while to get the whole thing butchered. You can understand where all those Garden of Eden type myths come from, with their notions of feeding at will from a bountiful nature – a topic on which Callicott has published a superb essay, surpassed only in its insight and sophistication by a similar offering from a certain Chris Smaje.
Out of Eden, though, humanity has had to go looking a bit more actively for its food – initially by gathering and hunting, then by farming, and finally by intensive gardening. I’ve posted on this blog previously about returns to marginal labour and competing visions of the agricultural future. Could it be that future ‘sustainable intensification’ will turn out not to involve ever larger and more high tech tractors micro-managing uniformly high yielding transgenic crops, but a neo-peasantry (OK, let’s call them market gardeners so as not to scare anyone) micro-managing their endogenous soil nutrients through long hours of labour so as to squeeze every last bit of nutrient out of their domains? Perhaps you could look at the market garden and the roe-kill juxtaposed on our Somerset field as two extremes of human provisioning. Or else you could look at them as two examples of exactly the same thing – deer and humans enacting the same ultimate struggle to wrest a livelihood from the land so as to survive and reproduce.