Castle Across the Pond

Castle Across the Pond

by William Castle of Shropshire, England

This article is comprised of a compilation of letters originally published in the Home & Shop Companion newsletter offered by Small Farmer’s Journal, free of charge, to anyone who gives an email address. SFJ

Castle Across the Pond

May 10th

This last week has been hot with clear skies and bright sunshine, definitely straw-hat weather. I am a keen and consistent wearer of hats, a cloth cap in winter and a straw hat in summer. In between, there are a few weeks when I’m not sure what to wear, but I do need some head covering as I have got to that stage in life when, if the growth on the top of my head was a cover crop, you’d be thinking about ploughing it up and starting again!

With one of the cover crops in the field I have a similar situation. Usually the vegetable patch would come out of winter with a healthy stand of overwintering rye and vetch to be ploughed in before growing vegetables, but this spring, due to an injured shoulder last autumn, there were only weeds growing, so besides getting the ground ready for sowing vegetables I needed to establish a green manure in two of the four beds.

Castle Across the Pond

Because I already had the seed, I sowed winter oats. Spring oats might have been better, but I need to be careful with my outgoings this year, and I remember on the farm where I learnt to work horses, they sowed winter oats even in spring, partly because the straw was stronger so it remained more upright, making for easier cutting with the binder. The first patch of oats which was sowed in the last week of March is doing well, but the second patch, sown only ten days later when the ground was already drying out fast, is less good and had a heavy infestation of weed seedlings, mostly redshank. I did try harrowing the worst part of it last week, but the oats were still too small, and the weeds, only an inch or so tall, were too well established for the light harrow to knock them out. So last week I took a cultivator through it to kill off everything. I am not sure what I will do with the oats in the other patch yet, but there are several options. If they get too much weed competition early on, I can plough or cultivate them in, in which case I would probably follow with a bare fallow to reduce the weed population. Left for longer, I could plough them in when very leafy to put some nitrogen back into the soil or wait until they are stalky to increase the soil carbon. Or I could cut them for oat hay, or wait until the grain is mature and harvest them by hand. I have wanted to try feeding the horses oats in the sheaf, straw and all, so perhaps this is the year to do it. Normally I feed sugar beet [without added molasses], soaked over night before feeding as it swells up considerably, and micronized linseed. Both are fairly high in protein, so are particularly suitable to keep some weight on my old horse, but if I can grow more of my own feed it will reduce my feed bill.

The dry weather over the last six weeks has also meant that the growth of the vegetables has been slow. The potatoes in the field are not showing yet, but a few days ago I took the horse and cultivator down the furrows to loosen the soil and to tackle the weeds, and then ridged them back up again with the ridging plough. Growing next to the potatoes, the onions started from sets are now three or four inches tall.

In the roots patch, which this year is on the sandiest part of the field, and was the last to be ploughed and sown, the swedes are up, as is the mustard marking the parsnip row. The always-slowto- germinate parsnips are nowhere to be seen, no beetroot either, and the mangels are still few and far between. In farming, and in life, there is a balance to be found between action and patience. In general, I am better at getting on with jobs that need doing than waiting patiently for things to happen. But after four weeks, enough time has elapsed for the slow germinators to have appeared, so with no rain forecast, for the first time in ten years I have been carrying buckets of water and have been using a watering can in the rows to give them some help.

In the garden at home where there is a supply of water, things are looking better. In the greenhouse, the tomatoes planted in the soil are growing away nicely and will soon need tying to canes, while the ones to go outside are getting quite big enough for their pots, and the courgette [zucchini] which I like to get started early and get to cropping early, really need planting out. I sowed the courgettes in small pots in early April, and now they are in 12” pots, which I have been putting outside in the day to harden off and back in the greenhouse at night. I’ve hardened off tender plants for years, but only recently found out that the hardening off process lowers the water content of the leaves and increases the thickness of the cell walls, so the plants are tougher, which makes sense. As of today, cold air is coming down from the Artic with the potential for frost at night so I will have to be patient and keep the courgettes and tomatoes inside a little longer.

If you, like the tomatoes, have to stay indoors a little longer too, I wish you more patience than I can sometimes muster and the motivation to get on with those things that you can still do.

Castle Across the Pond

May 18th

Traditionally here in Britain, the month of May offered a lightening of the farmers’ workload, with all the spring sown crops in the ground, ewes and young lambs out on the spring grass and the cattle yards empty after they had been turned out to charge about for a mad half hour before settling down to eat. Of course, that was not, and is not true for every farm, there being many cow herds that are still calving, and for those who grow vegetables, either on a field scale or in market gardens, May is a busy month.

In my field vegetable patch, some parsnips are finally through, but still scarcely any beetroot despite having watered the rows. Today I had Lucy pull the saddle back harrows down the potato ridges. For my few rows I usually use chain harrows because they live at the field, but they only just tickle the tops of the ridges, whereas the saddle back harrows are much more effective. Otherwise it has been the garden that has needed most attention. We have had two nights with frost this week and because I had not expected the first one, it knocked back the early potatoes, but they will recover. Now we are past the cold spell, I planted out the larger zucchini plants and have started hardening off the pumpkins and the outdoor tomatoes, which are getting tight in their pots. Overall, the vegetable garden is looking better; the only remnants of last year’s vegetables were a few leeks that were sown over a year ago, but as they were sending up flower stalks, I dug them out. About three quarters of the garden is now sown or planted, the rest having been worked to a rough seedbed so the weeds can germinate in readiness for whizzing round with the hoe while they are small.

Castle Across the Pond

With the spring rush of outside work behind me, coinciding with a slowdown in the workshop while I am varnishing a viola, this is the first time I have been able to catch up with other things. Like many small businesses, farms included, when there is a spare moment, I have been doing my accounts. I had left it for two months, but it didn’t take long because our outgoings since March have been minimal, with the family income since the lockdown also being reduced. This is not a complaint; it is just the reality, one reality, there being many others in a similar situation and many much worse off. At least here in Britain, although the politicians were catastrophically slow to understand the threat of the virus and incompetently slow to take preventative measures, since March the Government has been paying 80% of employees’ wages for anyone unable to work, with a similar scheme for the selfemployed. While it lasts, it is keeping businesses afloat in readiness for working again and providing families with some income. Nonetheless, there are increasing numbers of people relying on food banks, demonstrating just how many live on the edge, only just able to survive in good times and unable to build reserves of money, food, and health to get them through the tough times. But it is not just people in poverty that are facing difficulties; even in a rich country like Britain not many people have savings and the costs of living, particularly for young people, are onerous. If we ever thought that our economic system was fair or fit for purpose, let alone compassionate, or even efficient when we include the effect it has on the environment, the present crisis confounds that belief.

The shame is we could do so much better, but it would have been so much easier to reshape the system when things were on more of an even keel. As a society, we are acting like the farmer who only ever mends his fences after the animals have got out, so we face twice the number of problems and have to tackle them all at once. At least we now know that the fence is broken, and perhaps, rather than running around like a hamster on a treadmill, we might sit down and think about what we really need to do. After all, as humans, our superpower has never been to run fast to catch prey or run away from predators, our real strength is in thinking things through and cooperating with each other. Present circumstances are forcing many of us to start that process, at least on a domestic level and with our businesses, but we are also going to need to work differently within our communities by working more cooperatively, helping others, and gaining the reciprocal benefits which comes from giving.

That reminds me of a conversation from when I went to the Pennsylvania Horse Progress Days in 2011, well, the day before during the tour of Amish businesses, to be precise. At one farm, standing outside the entrance to an old stone barn, an Amish man, I guess in his mid-fifties, told us about a group of experienced farmers who had come together to help younger farmers in the community. As part of that group, he explained how they would talk through problems and offer advice, and then he paused for a moment, as an understanding and accepting smile spread across his face, and confessed that although he had joined in so he could help others, he actually felt that he had gained more from this experience than he had contributed.

Castle Across the Pond

June 8th

I was going to try and take it easy last week, but I’ve only been moderately successful. With growing, with farming, and with life, it is often better to get on with things now to make life easier later, following the old proverb, ‘a stitch in time, saves nine.’

That phrase is certainly relevant to growing plants and tackling weeds. In the field the potatoes are now through, they emerged only a few days after I had harrowed down the ridges with the saddle back harrows, and a week later I went back with the ridging plough and ridged them up again. Then this week I hoed by hand along the tops to cut through the thistles. I don’t usually do any hoeing or hand weeding in the potatoes, but thistles aren’t much fun when lifting potatoes, and I definitely don’t want them to go to seed. I used Lucy to row up the ridges, though if I had an acre or more, I would have used both horses. Since she was going well, once the potatoes were done, I got out my Pioneer single row cultivator and went between the onion rows. I prefer to use Molly when cultivating the vegetables for the first time because she walks better; once she knows where to go, that’s where she goes, whereas Lucy will quite happily step sideways into another row or on top of the plants. Nonetheless, hoeing the onions went well, even with the narrow rows, which on the narrowest setting only left an inch on either side of the cultivator. When I came to the other vegetables I had to stop a few times in the first row because the small plants were difficult to see, but once that row was done, I could at least see where I had been before, but I must admit that we did wipe out several carefully nurtured beetroot plants. In this situation it is easy to see why some people choose to cultivate with one person driving the horse and another steering the cultivator. If you are primarily a grower of relatively high value crops for human consumption and come to horses later, you probably want to make sure you don’t knock out any precious plants, so you do the job with two, which in a market garden also gives more people a change from hand work. But if you are principally a horse user, you want to get the horse going right, and if you are growing swedes for animal feed for example, a few hoed out plants is a price worth paying for a horse to learn his job. It depends on your priorities, I suppose, whether you make the decision for the short term or are brave enough to work towards an easier future.

The vegetable garden at home is now in summer mode, with the greenhouse staging empty, now that the French beans and replacement brassica seedlings are planted out, and the basil and cucumber are planted into the greenhouse soil. With the squash plants I am trying something different this year. Usually they take their place in the ‘heavy feeder’ bed along with potatoes and zucchini, but because I have planted some tomatoes outside this year, there is less space, so the squashes have gone in the furrows between the early potatoes. Whether the potatoes will provide too much competition, I don’t know, but they will only be there for a week or two before we start to eat them, and the squashes will then have the run of the place.

The big difference this year between the field and garden has been water. In the garden we have piped water, and although in desperation I have watered the rows of root vegetables in the field by hand, until this week that is about all the water they have had. May this year was a record breaker, being both the driest on record and the sunniest of any month on record. Although a record is by its nature a one-time event, this spring [March, April and May] has also had the most sunshine on record, following the wettest February ever, and in the Artic, temperatures in May have been as high as they have been here.

As inconvenient as it is on a farm, the forecasters say that no single bit of weather can be attributed to climate change, but they have long predicted more frequent and more severe weather events, just like we are starting to experience now. Their destructive potential is no surprise; about twenty years ago I remember a politician saying we needed to start planning to alleviate the future effects of climate change, but perversely, he completely dismissed the possibility of changing practises, habits and policies to reduce the problem!

A stitch in time? You’ve got to be joking!

But maybe, just maybe, the things we have learnt to value since lockdown – our families, clean air, the nurses and care workers, the neighbours who do our shopping, and most importantly, our connection with the natural world – may mean that we start sewing those overdue stitches, to mend communities torn apart, to reconnect wildlife habits, to link farmers with consumers, integrate business with the needs of society, rebuild depleted soils, and to confidently expect and demand that power acts with responsibility, intelligence and compassion. But as that short sighted, dogma-stricken politician demonstrated, it won’t happen if we use the same mindset that caused the problems in the first place.

June 15th

As I was walking to the field this morning, I was thinking about what I might write here, but when I got to the field, I stopped thinking about it. As soon as I saw Molly, I started to watch how she was standing, moving and breathing as I gave her a feed, then half watched Lucy as I swapped some cultivator tines in preparation for the potato rows. I then harnessed her, moving deliberately but not that slowly, in the manner we are both used to, yoked her to the cultivator and did the potatoes, then swapped the tines again to do the other vegetables, and never once during that time did I think about this letter. It’s one of the great things about working with horses – your mind is occupied, by the horses, the surroundings and the work, so when it is all going well it is a relaxation, sometimes perhaps a meditation. Especially now, in this time of change, uncertainty or fear, returning to an absorbing preoccupation like working with horses is a relief from those actual, possible or imagined realities. It’s also one of the reasons I started writing these letters, as a different focus and a distraction, both for me and for anyone who cares to read them.

Nonetheless, it doesn’t make the news go away. On the television yesterday they announced figures showing that the British economy in April was down by 20%. This is not really a surprise, but stark figures amplify a stark reality. The economy has obviously hit a very big dip in the road, but is it too early, or are we too scared to call it a depression? The word itself is scary and heavy with meaning, particularly in America, recalling the hardships of the 1930s, though nowadays our ‘memories’ are often vague family recollections, or images we have seen on film. For us in Britain, the depression of the ‘30s has less resonance because the 1920s were already pretty tough too, the economy having already fallen by 25% in the three years up to 1922. Nonetheless, it was a hard time for everyone, including farmers.

For decades up until 1920, farming in Britain was largely based round the Norfolk four course rotation, but now there was no money in growing cereals, cheap frozen meat came in from around the world, and the market for draught horses was swamped by the extra foals bred during the war, not to mention the competition from motor lorries. The crisis in farming provoked mixed reactions. Some farmers who lived as country gentlemen cut out their tennis, fox hunting and drinking, and did some work for a change. Others, particularly those with high borrowings, went bust. Throughout the country, weeds proliferated as farmers neglected or abandoned growing root crops, the part of the rotation when weeds could be tackled with the horse hoe and teams of men with hand hoes. With the root crops mostly gone, so went the arable sheep flocks which ate the swedes and kale, fenced behind woven hazel hurdles which were laboriously pulled up, moved and reset every day. As farm workers left or were pushed out and cereals became unprofitable, farmers let the land tumble down to grass, and kept a few cattle and sheep, whilst fields became overgrown with scrub. In desperation, landlords offered farms for no rent at all.

Many farmers managed to struggle through the depression by not spending money, letting their farms become dilapidated, eating produce from the farm and selling a few animals and perhaps a few eggs. Others carried on by being on top of their game, working hard and intelligently and by running a very tight ship. Even so, there was a great reluctance to use newer methods. Two furrow ploughs for example, remained rare, despite being capable of doing the same work in half the time, with half the manpower and three quarters of the horses.

The farmers who did best, however, were those who were both efficient and flexible; if there was no money in grain, then feed it to pigs or poultry and fold them over grassland to eat insects and weeds and fertilize the soil. If non-perishable goods were being imported, move to perishable produce such as milk, eggs or vegetables. If you couldn’t sell at wholesale prices, then sell direct to the consumer. Another trend was the move to ley farming, where instead of growing a one-year grass/ clover ley in a four-year rotation, the species rich pasture was down for three or four years, followed by three years of cash crops. This saved labour because the land was ploughed only three times every six or seven years, the grass was more productive, it suppressed weeds better and provided more fertility for the subsequent crops.

Amongst these changes, the twenties and thirties also saw the use of portable milking bails so the cows were milked outside in the fields, precise rationing of feedstuff, farmers delivering milk and other produce door to door, the increased use of semi digging ploughs instead of long mouldboards, a move away from the plodding Shire to the more active Clydesdales, Suffolks and Percherons, and fewer dual purpose cattle in favour of beef or dairy breeds. With many aristocratic estates being broken up and sold, some tenant farmers bought their farms, and the availability of cheaper land and livestock allowed many young people to go into farming.

Whether the solutions from ninety years ago are relevant today is another question. You could argue that farming has become so efficient that there is nowhere to go, but I am not so sure. It depends on how you measure efficiency. Admittedly modern farming is often efficient per person, but the longer and harder natural processes are pushed and suppressed, the less efficient it becomes per dollar. In terms of energy however, the balance sheet is crystal clear, modern farming is downright inefficient because it takes five calories of energy on average to produce just one calorie of food, even when you disregard the direct energy gain from the sun.

What I am sure of, is that as the economy changes, so do a farmer’s decisions. When income can no longer support large outgoings, the economy of a farm has to rely on the farmer’s skill and the ecological efficiency of a farm, but isn’t that just what good farming is all about?

Castle Across the Pond

June 22nd

Over here, we don’t reckon on cutting hay before the middle of June at the earliest, and even then, the grass is often not yet in flower. This year, however, a few farmers did cut for hay at the very end of May. I did think about it myself, but I have a bit of difficulty getting my head round the idea of cutting so early, because the ground is not as warm as in June or July and there is still a lot of moisture in the grass to remove before the hay can be stored.

Anyway, I wasn’t quite ready, it being the very end of May before I found time to check over my no 9 mower, and by that time the weather had already turned wet.

There was a bit more to do than normal, as a couple of jobs had been neglected at the end of last year, because I had flu and had expected to take a late cut on the reseeded pasture, but I didn’t in the end. Despite having pushed the mower under cover, by the time I came to put the mower away there was already rust on the cutter bar, so the first job was to go over it with a wire brush and an abrasive cloth. I paid particular attention to the outer shoe and the steel grassboard because I know that smooth movement over the grassboard makes for fewer blockages, and then I rubbed it over with an oily rag. This last part took only a few minutes – if only I had done it after mowing last year! Then I checked all the bolts. Along the cutter bar they were good and tight, but others, including those going through the wood of the tongue needed a quarter turn. I also checked the bolts holding the wheel centres to the hubs, because on this mower with pneumatic tyres, the wheel centres are separate from the rims. Then I put some Shropshire air in them to add to the Illinois air that was already in there from when I bought the reconditioned mower a dozen years ago. Turning to the tongue, I did a visual check of the neck yoke, making sure both nuts securing the bolt through neck yoke were tight, because the last thing you want with any piece of equipment, is the neck yoke coming loose. Then I put the eveners back on, which I also use on the small plough. Swapping between implements is an extra job, but it is a good opportunity to check for wear on the bolt that holds the eveners, and through which all the force of the horses is directed.

Castle Across the Pond

After greasing and oiling all round and checking the oil level in the gearbox, I adjusted the tightness of the knife clips on the knife, tight enough to keep the knife snug against the guards, but loose enough to move freely. To make it easier to pull the knife past the inner shoe as I adjusted the clips, I made a small loop in the centre of some twine to go over the ball on the knife end, so I could pull from a distance. Finally, I put the correct spanners and a stick in the toolbox, along with two spare guards, a hammer and an oil can, so all I need is a penknife and two horses and we’ll be ready to go.

The other bit of preparation, which is also a tidying up activity, has been to take manure to the field. Because Lucy tends to get most of the work, I have been using Molly to get her fit enough for cutting hay and moving the manure with the sled. I know it is not as quick or efficient as using a tip cart [what you might call a dump cart] but it spreads out the work, and gives a steady pull so is ideal for building fitness. My sled is the tool I use most often, for moving hay occasionally, for firewood, manure, fence posts, hedge cuttings, ploughs and harrows. It has a removable dashboard so long stuff like the plough can go on it, and removeable sides and end board for loose materials. It is a handy size for a single horse, the floor is 3 x 4 feet, though if I were to make another, I would make it a bit longer. In the vegetable patch, I have had to decide what to do with the two green manure sections, both sown to oats about ten days apart. The earlier one is already going to seed because of the drought during May, so I will cut it soon as a carbon rich green manure, cut it for hay or harvest the grain. The later sown section, however, has a lot of weeds which started to flower, so Lucy has been grazing it down, a small section at a time, though after the first couple of days the novelty of oats has waned and she tends to go for the grass first. What I do with it next, I am not quite sure, but I’ll keep you posted.

Castle Across the Pond

June 25th

Starting to mow hay is something I still greet with a certain amount of trepidation. I am not worried about the horses, they have been doing this job together for eight years, and I am not especially concerned about the mower, though if the grass gets blown or rained down it can be hard work, and slow if you have to cut a lot of it in one direction. My apprehension is really about committing to the task, because once the grass hits the ground, you have to make hay, no matter what the weather does. My unease usually lifts after a couple of turns around the field, because by then the decision is made, I know the mower is working, and the horses, after walking through standing grass on the first turn, know where to go, when to stop just past the corners and, with a bit of help with lines and voice, ‘gee back, gee whey back, Lucy a step,’ how tightly to turn and line up for the next swath.

After the wet of early June, the forecast on Sunday the 21st gave four dry days, increasing in temperature each day, so on Monday morning I cut the grass under an overcast sky with a moderate breeze, ideal for the horses. Once cut, I rested the horses while I greased up the turner, yoked them up again and turned the hay to expose the thick stalks to the air and then tedded it to allow the wind to get through the swaths. The wind did the rest of the work that day, with the temperature scarcely getting over 20ºC [70ºF]. I don’t mind a slow start with drying hay, as the wet grass will still get dryer, even without a lot of heat or sunshine, and without withering up the leaves; it’s later on when you want to push the moisture content down that the heat and sun really helps. My old neighbour always liked to have bright sunshine when he baled, ‘baling in the sunshine,’ he called it. And that is what we got, with temperatures in the high twenties [above 80ºF] on Wednesday and Thursday.

In Britain, especially in recent years, the windows of dry weather for hay making can be few and short, but like this year, I am often the only one out mowing on a cool cloudy day, everyone else starting a day later. It does sometimes make me question my judgement, but compared with putting hay into big bales, my method of storing it loose is slower, so the earlier start helps.

With the hay in the barn, the pressure is off, but since I only cut half the hay in hope of the rest gaining some bulk before cutting, in a couple of weeks’ time, there will be a repeat performance. But it’s good to have the barn at least partly full of good hay before the end of June.

Castle Across the Pond

July 6th

I started putting out bags of new potatoes for sale at the gate this week. Last year I used the plastic box that I usually keep my account book and receipts in, but it wasn’t ideal, because the paper bags got damp from the potatoes when the lid was on, and when left slightly open, the rain got in. Then the lid blew off and cracked it, so it no longer works for selling potatoes. So a couple of days ago I went to town, where I could have bought another plastic box, but I didn’t, I bought some tongued and grooved boards instead, came home and made a box with legs and a lid. The wood probably cost three times as much as a plastic box, but it is a better solution, it looks better, the air can move round the potatoes, and it is darker to keep them from going green.

About ten years ago, I grew twice as many potatoes and sold most of them in 20kg sacks to a greengrocer [vegetable store]. I got less than half the price I get from selling them in small bags at the gate, and for the relatively small quantities I had, it seemed to take as long to harness and unharness the horse as it did to unearth the potatoes, and I had to take them into town, so now I grow half as many and lift them with a fork. It is a constant predicament for the smallholder or farmer, whether to grow enough and have the right equipment to sell on a bigger scale and shift a lot of produce cheaply, or to keep everything small scale and within your own control, or whether to just grow enough for yourself. The other thing about producing just for your family is that it saves you money at the retail price, because that is what you would otherwise have to pay. And that can mount up; when we kept three pigs each year for example, selling half the meat and keeping half, it saved us about £600 [$800 -1000] each year, excluding labour, compared with buying the equivalent pork and pork products.

Castle Across the Pond

This year’s vegetable garden is now contributing to the family table, the early potatoes are nearly finished, and we are eating broad beans, salads and zucchini. The pumpkin family of plants and the outdoor tomatoes are not liking the cool weather much, we’ve had continual areas of low pressure since we did the hay, but the tomatoes in the Mediterranean climate of the greenhouse are doing well, about four feet tall with many tomatoes, though still all green. The soft fruit is also producing, though I couldn’t quite believe my eyes on seeing ripe blackcurrants two weeks ago but the hot dry weather must have brought them on more quickly. Picking the first of them after turning hay, the sunshine bringing out that strong blackcurranty smell, took me straight back to my childhood summers, hiding under the bushes, avoiding the stinging nettles, picking berries into wooden fruit trays lined with newspaper, box after box, which my mum would turn into the yearly supply of jam, or bottle them for blackcurrant crumble, eaten with Jersey clotted cream in the winter.

Back in the present, in the outside world, there is a gradual opening of the lockdown here, restaurants and pubs now being allowed to open, and travelling is allowed between some countries without travellers having to go into quarantine. People in the city of Leicester, however, are going into stricter lockdown as there has been a growth in cases there. The pressure for businesses to get back to work has been steadily increasing, and now that many can return, they are having to work out how to carry on whilst keeping people apart as much as possible. But there are other businesses that will not return. Even a local dental practise had gone into liquidation, and I expect there will be many others. It makes you realise how many useful businesses were functioning on the very edge, and if we lose too many of them, our lives will be poorer for it. On the other hand, many village shops and farm shops [stores] have seen a 50 to 100% increase in business as people avoid travelling to bigger centres and mixing with larger gatherings of people. I also heard of a group of famers producing specialty products who usually sell at markets and fairs, who joined together to start a drive-through facility on an industrial estate. Whether these changes will continue once people feel safer is anyone’s guess, but hopefully the local connections and the quality of produce will remain attractive enough for the small retailers and farm stores to continue and thrive.

On a larger scale, our Government has announced a big investment in infrastructure, to give the economy a kick start, sort of modelled on Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s. The idea is to get the economy moving again, and part of me thinks it is a good idea. But I also have reservations, because rebooting the same old system will just give us yet more pollution, cheap and nasty goods, climate change, disenfranchised minorities, and gross inequalities in income and influence.

For me, any genuine new deal needs new thinking, from the ground up, not just to get money moving, but to solve the problems that the old economy caused in the first place. And the key to that is quality, not quantity, not just trying to squeeze out the maximum profit by using cheap materials, cheap labour and cheap manufacturing, but putting in skill, intelligence, time and effort to produce stuff that will last, that can be fixed or taken apart, melted down or reused when it is worn out.

Luckily, [though it is not just luck because many of us have worked and planned for it] those of us on farms, ranches and smallholdings, with small businesses or with small gardens, have the autonomy to choose quality, at least some of the time, which in the end will save time and money, and, like my potato box, give us the satisfaction of having made a good decision.

Take care and stay safe, William