April 30, 2012

Parallel Worlds

With both girls asleep upstairs (and it is still early evening) I sit outside with a glass of wine and a dim sliver of moonlight hardly able to see the keys on my laptop straining forwards in the only place where I can receive clear reception from my dongle. Half an hour passes just like that. I realise how seductive this screen can be, causing me to lose all awareness of my beautiful surroundings, completely missing the vast night sky reaching out above the rooftops with only a slight breeze to remind me that I am somewhere other than our stuffy flat in town. Half an hour is more than enough!

This is our third consecutive night at the farm, due to the May Day bank holiday... and I already feel totally at home. The week gone by has seen the return of twenty something degrees and bright sunshine, long distance views and clear balmy evenings.

I have finally managed to eradicate the sombre dark red tones in the living room of the flat with a coat of thick white, something to neutralise the space and enable some sensible planning. The previous owner was ever so proud of her earth pigment paints with which she decked the whole farm for less than fifty euros! Yet in compact indoor spaces they simply serve to highlight the blemishes of mediocre plastering and only add to the sense of run down loveless neglect that pervades the entire interior of the flat.

Outside the walls come to life with the terracotta pigment and look like they have been that way for years, somehow almost Mediterranean, especially in this light. The austere grey plaster beneath that remains visible in sections captures the recent memory of life under Communism where everything looked similar, unified and homogenised by a mean average of human need and collective intention.

Out back the boys (Flo and Patrick, our self professed ‘knecht’ willingly slaving away for us for a couple of months, fed and watered into the bargain!) have been tirelessly preparing the ground for our huge polytunnel, given to us by a friendly young biodynamic farmer ten kilometres north of here. We met him on our first visit to this area just over two years ago and he has proved to be a great ally and friend.

This plastic dome is now the one aspect of our farm you can easily spot from the top of the hill, yet just hidden enough to remain this side of being an eyesore. In an ideal world we would have installed a big glass house with self ventilating windows in the roof which would have looked magnificent from any angle. Sadly, this is well out of our budget.

The polytunnel is crucial to our operation at this stage, set to house the thriving tomato plants that have been lovingly nurtured from seed suspended from the windows of our flat in town, now desperate to snuggle into the earth and stretch out, to grow and bear fruit.

Our neighbour to the southeast, beside the stream, has shown real interest in our endeavours and has no objection to the view of the poly tunnel from his garden below. He is quick to offer a small generator to assist the drilling of the frame, as well as his two fat sheep to graze our lush, overgrown pasture.

After breakfast this morning we set off to continue preparing the ground for the tomatoes in the polytunnel. Just as we round the back of the barn we see a tractor in the field above with a huge metal arm reaching metres either side, spraying a thick shower of what we guess must be fungicide onto the grain crop that stretches north and south above our enclosure. The smell is immediately perceptible. I quickly go indoors with Maia, before taking her for a walk away from the farm, furious that it is not customary to inform inhabitants of imminent spraying and saddened by the fact that so many land workers still find it necessary to pollute the soil, wildlife and groundwater for the sake of large monocrops that require little human interaction, defying the laws of nature and leaving the land depleted and inert. Can we really call these crops food? Is this what is left of the culture of our land?

Our work has only just begun, but our vision feels all the more necessary now. When the grain crop is finally harvested, two and a half hectares of that field become ours and at last we can begin the slow process of nurturing the soil (and the culture of our farm) back to life.

Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @ www.porkandgin.com

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