Digging for Victory with the Land Army

MCFly badgered Ben Cashell, organiser of “A Reasonable Cause“, into writing about his conscription into a “Land Army.”  The views expressed are his own, not those of MCFly.

Last month I went and planted some Garlic with the Kindling Trust’s, Land Army. This is a venture that they have set up to counter two needs. The first being the difficulty and loneliness of being an organic farmer, long hours , lots of weeding and not much if any profit. Who knows why you would do it?

The second , allowing people like myself to have the opportunity to view and learn something about the growing process and to get a chance to tip our little toes into this wonderful cycle that feeds us.

For me this was particularly needed as I had spent the last few days doing a wee tour playing with a chap called Jake Mattison who was supporting Emeli Sande a very talented lady who happened to be number 1 at the time. Before you gag at my name dropping , my biggest contribution to the tour was a brown note( sonic boom) that I would reliably provide at some point during our sound check.
Playing the cello, (my pick-up), and big monitors are not a winning combination, unless you work for Huggies.

Anyway, back to the garlic. On a beautiful November morning we (the land army) headed off to Moss Brook farm which is somewhere in the vicinity of Warrington. When we got there we arrived at the few fields, compost toilet and a stunning hawthorn bush that make up Moss Brook farm. We met Tom/Rob, (could never remember his name) one of the main growers at Moss Brook who settled an ongoing argument over whether hectares or acres were bigger by very handily informing us it was acres.

He proceeded to give us a tour of Moss Brook which is the only vegetable grower in the area, a serious crime. This area is perfect for growing vegetables and feeding Manchester with produce from its own doorstep. Instead it is used for maggot farming, horses, chickens etc. and you really can’t blame the farmers as there is no point trying to grow vegetables unless you can produce vast quantities to produce any kind of a profit.

If the Council are any way serious about their pledge to reduce the city of Manchester’s emissions of CO² by 41% by 2020 from 2005 levels, this might be a good place to start. Instead of vast tax cuts and grants given to big business, give some money to the farmers to make it a more inviting prospect to grow Veg. Instead of subsidies currently given for pesticides which drain the last bit of productivity from the soil, why not use 20 per cent of that to get people who are out of work to work on a farm? That might also help the council with their second aim to engage all individuals, neighbourhoods and organisations in Manchester in a process of cultural change that embeds ‘low-carbon thinking’ into the lifestyles and operations of the city.

But I digress; back to the tour. He started off by showing us some of the fields. We began with a type of spinach that I had never seen before that is less energy intensive to grow and very tasty.

A terrible crime for an Irish person to admit, but I had never seen potato plants and I was amazed at how pretty the plants are that produce the humble spud. We walked past a field that was not growing produce but was sown with clover and vetch to put the nutrients back into the soil – a staple practice of farming before the overuse of fertilizers.

Our job was to plant a load of garlic which is to be harvested next year. Apparently garlic is planted during Winter as the frost benefits the growing process, I am not sure how that works but it sounds good. We had boxes of the Isle of Wight’s finest, which is where the good stuff comes from.

So to be a garlic planter, what you need to be able to do is:

break up a bulb of garlic
whack the cloves in a bowl
find a stick for measuring ( very important the stick)
then hopefully plant them in a straight line so that the tractor can come along and harvest them
get cracking

Part of the joys of The Land Army are the people you meet and the conversations you have. I discussed Swiss Immigration policies, Scottish masonry and whether or not men should make cakes. (Craig, we are still waiting for your Victoria Sponge…)

Our wonderful grower Rob was on hand to answer any question you could think of about organic growing, or garlic. For example; why they hadn’t used their own crop from last year to sow the garlic instead of the Isle of Wight variety? Apparently it is for prevention of disease as it is better to use a different variety as it stops any disease that might have been in the previous batch from becoming too prevalent.

It felt good after worrying about audiences, getting to places on time and feedback, just to have to worry about pushing the next clove of garlic into the ground. There is an appealing rhythm to it that is very relaxing. It is perhaps not the best for your back and I imagine my waxing lyrical might have been different if it had been pissing it down but those things aside it was good craic.

After a spot of soup and a wee test of the aforementioned compost toilet, we got back to the garlic.
There was a different variety to plant after lunch which was a real bugger to prise open and left your hands red raw, but we finished our containers and planted 5,000 cloves of Garlic.

We set off back to Manchester a little bit more informed, sore and excited to see the garlic at some point next year. For anyone reading this, I would highly recommend volunteering with The Kindling Trust, going out and weeding, planting or whatever they have in store for you. It is a grand experience which will take you out of your comfort zone and you will pick up a story or two.

Ben Cashell

[At the next Reasonable Cause night, on Wednesday January 25th 2012, you can have the dubious pleasure of super-brief discussions facilitated by Arwa Aburawa (on “The Middle East and Climate Change”) and Marc Hudson (on “how to get involved in climate action in Manchester”). And the actual pleasure of music from Riognach Connolly – Honeyfeet, Sarah Louise Higham and Ben Cashell.
£4/£3 at Kraak Gallery, 11 Stevenson Square.]

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About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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