Sunday 31 July 2011

Where are we coming from

I need to write a piece sometime soon about our philosophy, but before I do that I feel like the first step is where we're coming from. Of course in Kasia's case the simple answer is about 3km north of Orchardy Haven, although we met a long way away from there and we've been on interlocking journeys...

Henry at 8 months in front of cabbages
Me first then. I actually grew up in a house in the country surrounded by land that my great aunt bred Guernsey cattle on. When my mother found that she was pregnant her aunt offered her the house, so we moved from London and she went off at the age of 66 to travel around the UK and Ireland in a horse drawn caravan! She rented most of the fields to a local farmer friend, but I did grow up with the descendants of her chicken flock, and my mother kept ducks for the table and each year a couple of larger animals: tamworth pigs were our favourite, but also lambs, calves and goats. Eventually she expanded to try a commercial rabbitry, and I was too young to know the details but it went wrong and that was about the end of our home-reared meat - that and the night a fox got into the chicken coop and slaughtered the rest of the flock...

This isn't the space for my life story, but skipping forward to 1996 I got involved in local community work where I lived in Leeds, established Hyde Park Source in 1998, Rasa Advocacy Project in 2003, Advocacy Action in 2005 and Hungry Snail Food Co-op in 2009. I think that the key link between these enterprises is passion for social action. I gained this from my mother, and I also knew from a very young age about the problems of modern chemical based farming. By 2007 when I met Kasia (she was living next door to my mother at the time!) I had pretty much accepted that mine was to be a city-based life, reacting to the needs of the people around me, although I have always dreamed of being more isolated and self-sufficient.

There's also a lot of philosophy and (self-)education that came in and around these years which I'll doubtless refer to later, but now it's Kasia's turn. Her family have been farmers for generations in rural north east Poland. She grew up in a house her grandfather built, and where he still works at the age of 83 along with Kasia's brother. The family are quite self-sufficient in many things still, keep pigs and chickens and cows, grow vegetables, and grow grains and root crops for the animals. Four generations are still living there together. Kasia was adventurous and studied Occupational Therapy in Łodz, and has always practised traditional crafts including ceramics, basketry, crochet and a variety of home and country crafts learned from her mother and grandmother. Working with people with learning disabilities and mental health problems, as well as young offenders, Kasia got degrees in Special Education and then came to England to learn the language.

It was clear to me before I made my long term commitment which led to our marriage, that living with Kasia would ultimately mean moving to Poland. She has rekindled my interest in the land and what I call hand-work. Our garden and home have been transformed into an oasis of calm and beauty. We have a developing allotment. Kasia has been enjoying working as an art teacher in one of the more challenging local high schools. We've both been volunteering in the Craft Centre at Pennine Camphill Community, and we've been occasionally helping out at other good places like Old Sleningford Farm, Cobden and Edible Cities in Leeds, Middlewood Trust, etc.

We have a lot of skills and ideas to bring towards our future life at Orchardy Haven, and a deep commitment to the planet and people. More about how our philosophy will shape that dream soon...

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