Originally the definition of a farm was the smallest landholding that produced a taxable surplus. Peasants were untaxable units, largely self-sufficient and therefore economically uninteresting to governments of any colour, only working to earn money (expand the economy) when they needed cash or crops failed. Curiously most farms are now seen as needing subsidies, wrecking the definition of the words, and distorting their relationships with society beyond reason. Maybe governments have the opportunity to revise their suppression of peasanting (and suppressed it is, through planning, health and safety, and retail laws designed to favour farms and companies and virtually outlaw peasanting). Producing for yourself is the highest value end of production, as you are the farmer, manufacturer, retailer, and often tax collector, therefore quadrupling many items value. Can peasanting compete with mechanised, computerised, globalised production? In order to explore reinventing peasanting in 21st Century UK, in 2009 my family bought a 2 acre bracken and bramble patch.
Field Diary 2009-2018
It is a north facing slope which we only go to when work is slack, so the veg we grow there has to be pretty independent. Potatoes and pumpkins have worked out best. We planted 5 apple trees which are beginning to give quite a lot of apples now.
There are enough wind blown trees around the perimeter to get most of our firewood from. We have planted a range of trees with mixed success. Ash is now suffering from ash dieback, the alder grew fast and has been coppiced but we didn't protect the stumps well enough to prevent them being killed by grazing deer. The Chestnut is now of a reasnable size for fence posts which I will now coppice because squirrels have chewed the bark off the tops of the trees but I will pay more attention to protecting from the deer with brash cages.
I planted some willow beds which give us enough wands for our art projects, and I have planted some to create living walls and and a dome. And some wych elm which are growing well and should be ready for bark stripping in a few years time just as they get elm disease and would die back anyway, the bark is excellent for chair seats.
I began brewing about three years ago using hawthorne berries, birch sap, apple, and rowan berries which I like very much and hope to brew enough for family consumption soon.
I normally do a couple off charcoal burns a year using an old oil drum and have made several attempts to plank or get planked larger trunks.
I spread our stove ash around the trees and any rubble from work I am using to gradually improve the entrance track.
Half of the field is now a wildflower meadow which is grazed for a couple of weeks a year by other people. There are slow worms and grass snakes.
Peasant Audit so far
Peasanting is struggling to pay the minimum wage. But most trips to the field we're taking waste over for land upgrade (stove ash or rubble) and coming back with food, bodging or arts materials, and the 'wage' has improved each year. Because I enjoy most of the activities, I guess it works as a hobby that pays something rather than something you pay for.
From an environmental audit point of view, it's more productive than a bracken patch (lovely low starting point). I think it's getting to be as productive as if it was grass and you kept sheep on it. It's hard to imagine anyone planting crops on due to the slope and north aspect. From a bio diversity view it's more diverse than a sheep field or bracken patch.
It's biggest CO2 and cash gain is probably that it keeps me too busy to want to fly away on holiday.
Conclusions Dec 2014
The harsh reality is that any work which requires the mechanically unenhanced hand of man is going to be hard work and cost ineffective. There is 10,000 man hours of labour stored in a �100 barrel of oil, that's 1 hour/1 penny. This is obvious when you saw wood with a bow saw and then chain saw. Now even chainsaws have become uneconomic for harvesting wood and only economic where big machines can't go.
Planning permission and govt regulations have been designed over centuries to marginalise or outlaw peasantry. All regulations regarding permissible land use, permission to build necessary infrastructure, site inspection regimes, Health and Safety requirements, sale of produce, and tax regimes are all based on mass production, and all are awkward, time consuming, expensive for the small producer. (2018 update - to frack my field in a fracking zone I would have to do less paperwork (and I would be garunteed success), than if I wanted to try and put up a shed and change the entranceway (which would be refused).).
However peasanting gets us more produce from this area of land than a farmer would. With the globalising economy there is a possibility that if I eat something, someone else won't be able to. So if natural resources are dwindling and coming under pressure from climate change and population growth, a peasanting renaissance is a very logical solution. Owning land or a garden without producing something or increasing bio diversity becomes a rude use of the global resource. Land use, lawns and concrete yards are moral issues in waiting.
Culturally there is the issue of intentionality. According to witchcraft practice, tools should be made by the user, ideally without using machines, because hand made items show more intent and determination, and therefore power. Peasanting provides the raw materials and skills required for the self made. Anyone doubting the value of the self made should visit an anthropoligical museum such as the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, or make a hand made Christmas card. Sometimes intention is more important than cheap and easy (cheap and easy's good as well though sometimes).
For checking out other peasents in the Forest, Yorkley Court Farm's not a bad place to start -