Thursday, December 24, 2009

She sun shines on everyone

As we look forward to a family Christmas and our only real day off in the year, we are also very busy putting together food orders for our customers. Those who are not able to come out due to icy weather will find that their purchases are delivered by neighbours. Local village Christmas cards are being delivered by the children while they raise funds for the Youth club and sheep can be seen huddled on the frosty hills.

Since we bought the shop our lives have been busy focused on bringing our values and beliefs to the fore and reaching out to the next level from self, family to community. Personally I would have liked to share more of the journey to this point but with limited energy my writing has often found itself in the background. I also found it difficult to write about voluntary simplicity while many in the world seemed to have to change their way of living in a drastic way.

We have introduced a variety of local produce in the shop and some wholefood ingredients as well as having some variety for those who are on wheat free, gluten free and dairy free diets. We continue to seek out local producers whether they be very small, small, medium or large in a bid to create food relationships that serve us all. That means touring the local farmers markets, trying the products at home and getting an opinion from every age range. As we receive feedback, we provide the producers with feedback, whether it be good or a growth point for them to take on board but as where communication is often lacking from wholesalers, we want to know why the person decided to create that particular product for the marketplace, what their passion is and how we can help them with growing their business.

Besides my posts about the garden, the shop and my personal reflections I will from time to time highlight a small company whose product we carry to take the circle one step further.

What remains is for me to thank every one of you for reading my blog thus far and for all your comments which have changed a monologue into a dialogue.

The words by Ghandi

‘ Be the change you want to see in the world’
have been a guiding light to me and 2010 may well be the year where you feel the call to be the change you want to see in the world as together, with small actions, we can indeed make a difference.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dairy Farming in West Somerset

In Charles Hodson's third report, he shares the diary farmer's point of view in our area.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A glimpse into our world

A community has many gifts and talents and we were recently filmed as part of a series of reports by CNN International about the effects of the credit crunch in our local economy.

Who would have thought it?

You can see the 3 min video report by clicking the link here.

People, planet, profit appears to be a (k)new concept.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thunderstorms and the cost of work

How much exactly does your work cost you and how much do you need to earn to live?
If some people in the world subsist on less than a dollar a day, why do we need more? It is of course not that simple and everyone will have a different answer. Balance arrives when we reconsider Maslow's hierarchy of needs and where we are in the process of reaching our own individual potential ( self actualisation).

Thank you Ceridwen for your comment yesterday.

Personally - I have had enjoyable work on the one hand and I have had paid work on the other hand - but the two have never coincided and I have given up hope by now that they ever will.

Employers are steadily imposing: health hazards at work (on people who never previously expected it)/antisocial hours working/micro-managing peoples time/cutting salaries in real terms or maybe even physically cutting them - and so a high proportion of extra people have been put in the position that the World of Work has now become unbearable. The "cost" many of us are having to pay to earn that steadily decreasing amount of money is becoming higher and higher - and too high for many of us to "pay" any longer.

So - since you have found "your place" then - enjoy.

The question I ponder over is where exactly are we on Maslow's triangle as a result of the financial crisis? What are the consequences to businesses and people?

The credit crunch effect has been like being hit by an enormous thunderstorm. Its effects are not just felt in business, on balance sheets but have an aftershock effect on each person on the edge of the epicentre and it questions our perception of normality.

So just as your sight can be distorted and vision impaired by sheets of rain, hail and thunder, and the feelings associated with that, there are also opportunities to rise from the ashes.

There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. ( danish proverb)

So far many companies still in the running have done all they could to minimise the effects on staff by cutting bonuses, outings, luxuries yet at the same time ensuring that all the rules and regulations they have to abide by by law are satisfied as a lawsuit would push them over the edge. This increases tension.(So if you are still in the storm, it is gathering dark clouds and more rain is forecast.)
Add to that that assets have reduced on everyones balance sheets, and you can see that the pressure is on for survival of the fittest with opportunities for others. Business costs are still rising and profit margins are still being squeezed and people are feeling that intensely.

Companies are reacting by monitoring and trying to push people and resources as far as they can. If profit is your number one, then you have to squeeze and it hurts somewhere. Other companies have so far managed to restrict cuts to their direct costs as well as assets and not their staff but the next step is to tighten up on costs in the staff department. Problem with that is that people do not feel valued, end up demotivated, stressed, get ill, and feel a mix of emotions that tip into the negative. (Thunder and lightning comes to mind as well as crashing rain. Whatever the weather you are likely to get soaked.)
People on short term contracts do not get their contracts renewed or staff are put on shorter days and if you have targets they are likely to be unforgiving.The result is that people are asked to work harder for less reward and tensions rise.

So what can you do if you are feeling undervalued, working as hard as you can but are facing a tough time. You probably wonder how you will manage if your job is cut from 5 to 3 days,or worse case scenario if you lose your job.In that case it is hard not to take if personal and to panic. From personal experience I would say that panicking is a normal response. (Umbrellas are now useless and you are truly soaked.)

If you are still standing in the rain I urge you to stay on because this is where you are going to need to focus in the madness because you either will find shelter or get soaked to the skin.

There is a balance between time and money and although voluntary simplicity allows us to gradually adapt to more time, less money the above scenario is probably going to floor some people because as where a downshifting path is a gradual process of adaptation the credit crunch is drastic and brutal and more painful.

First of all, it is extremely uncomfortable but if you can,check where you are, what your priorities are and start finding a solution that works for you. My experience with ME/CFS is simply that frustration is energy draining and the planning of slow, persistent actions creates a very slow path to progress.

Being an optimist,it is my personal opinion that there is no such thing as personal failure, just feedback even in a critical situation.

The overall difficulty is compounded because when consumers start reducing their spending, it increases the effects on businesses as lack of consuming reduces orders etc etc etc see above.

Is there a way forward you ask? How long before the situation turns around and sunshine appears?

The point to remember is that there are certain elements in this picture that you can build on and others that are beyond your sphere of influence. Believe me when I say it is hard to see sunshine during a thunderstorm.

“Just as the tumultuous chaos of a thunderstorm brings a nurturing rain that allows life to flourish, so too in human affairs times of advancement are preceded by times of disorder. Success comes to those who can weather the storm.”

-- I Ching No. 3

As ships wrestle in stormy weather the sight of a lighthouse makes you long for home. You could be battling crippling waves to reach that light, but surprisingly the light is incredibly bright. Find your lighthouse and point north.

What sets humans apart from animals is the ability to work together to find a solution and really all hands on deck are needed now.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Profit or yield?

Happiness is working in a shop.

If you are wondering whether we are still enjoying what we do, the answer is a resounding yes. Apart from relentless days, weeks, months and years of working without a significant break, the life of a shopkeeper is a happy one with some surprises. It has been a transforming experience in more ways than one. 3 years ago we simply could not see how we could re-enter a working environment due to health issues until we realised that combining our strengths and working with our weaknesses as a family we could make a valid contribution to society. Family businesses are the oldest business model in the world and despite long working hours the rewards go beyond mere profit. Its an opportunity to try ideas, to involve all family members in business discussions and to get a broad view across the generations. It constantly amazes me how when we put a challenging situation on the table, many solutions arrive from all participants and we can then decide how challenges can be solved. If you want to know how to market toys to children, what better way than to take a 10 year old to the wholesaler and let him choose products for that market share. It also provides an educational tool to discuss how businesses work. If you want to understand the challenges faced by teenagers in their shopping habits, you only need to ask to receive an answer. Website design can be discussed with family members who grasp html..

When the going gets tough, we can work together as a team, each with our own individual roles to continue to serve customers. Each team member’s skills are valued and respected and their weaknesses offer opportunities for personal growth through mutual support and encouragement. A sense of humour helps.

What does the future hold in these uncertain and changing economic times? There are definite changes in supply lines as some suppliers go out of business, products are withdrawn and choice reduces but overall it is a never ending process of adaptation. We cannot anticipate completely what our customers want and when we fail , we see it not as failure but as feedback to consider change. We can see some of our suppliers struggling in this economy and we can see how that will affect our supply lines but by supporting local suppliers and by strengthening relationships with local suppliers we aim to create an interdependent local economy.

Someone’s output can become someone else’s input creating a circle of resources. Big businesses tend to rely on surveys and on secondhand information but to us having direct contact with our customers and suppliers informs us on their views on the products we offer which in turn can inform our business strategies.

As an example we recently were approached to market a new local muesli and before we agree to stocking a new item we take it apart and each family member gives some feedback. Is it local, what are the consequences of its packaging, what is the shelf life, where will be put it, what is the best possible price? Each team member has a view and brings some valid points to the discussion.

One of the best comments made by one of our sons was how lovely it was that work could be enjoyed. He had observed how many people are sad, stressed and unhappy at work and how he was not particularly looking forward to becoming a ‘groanup’. Seeing us smile, happy and contented in our work despite our challenges has given him a different perspective. That is simply a fantastic moment to remember and worth getting up for.

That is a bigger investment yield than profit.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

For the love of books

As the nights draw in and TV just really is not an option, I can be found in a rather tatty chair next to the wood burner, cosy hand knitted socks on my feet, a small glass of damson gin and a good book.
How do you go about getting books to read without spending a lot of money?
I recently joined readitswapit, an ingenuous way to revolve your books and exchange them for other reading material. Its really simple, you list your books, you make them active and people send you an email when they want to swap with you, you look at their list of books and if anything grabs you, you just swap. You send the book in the post and you receive your reading material in the post. When you have read the book you can make it active in your swapping library and so it goes on.
The result is that I now have 9 new books to read which is promising.
A definite alternative to the library and no addition of stuff on the shelves. And if your interests have changed you can go and explore a whole new world.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The art of giving

The house is beginning to look a little larger and warmer. I am avidly watching freecycle noticeboards and surprisingly I usually can come up with some way of granting someone's wish for a weird and wonderful object that has been lurking in some dark corner of the house, unwanted and unused. Now my children are reaching teen years it seems absurd to hold onto a travelcot and small bikes and when I offered a selection of lego my boys were heartbroken. When the question of ' and when did you last play with lego' received no answer they did realise that indeed it was OK to give some away to a child who really had no lego and would have liked to build something.

Life does not stand still and our desire for change of stuff is inherent. My youngest son has a room that literally could be packed in about 10 mins. His prize possessions are limited and he is very limited in his needs and wants. We looked at the sale of cricket bats as he is a huge fan and astounded me when he said : Not bad but if you just manage to change the grip on my bat, it will look brandnew'. At least one convert to an unstuffed life.

A shoebox scheme is being organised and putting together a box of useful presents is a good way of sharing resources. I have knitted a series of hats that will keep teenagers warm and cosy in foreign countries.

It surprises me the amount of items sold on Ebay and sent to a good home. The money raised has been used to microfinance entrepreneurs in other countries via Kiva. Giving the use of money to someone who needs it to enhance their living standards seems a lot more appealing now than a pair of black trousers.

Now if I could only find a home for the snake bed that was left behind by the previous owners although I am sure it will be on someones wishlist.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sheet mulching- blog action day

The last months have seen me on all fours examining the soil in our garden, in particular in the raised beds. It is indeed teeming with soil life and as a result the plants grown in it seem to be healthy.

My initial gardening efforts were childish, in that I really did believe that sticking seeds in the soil would give me great beans, cauliflowers and courgettes. My children have over the years come home with a bean plant in a cup and not surprisingly 2 out of 3 have died through neglect. This exercise is given to them to establish what plants need to reach their optimum potential.

So it is with humans. We have a finite life, start of as seedlings that need nurturing and as to whether we reach our optimum potential is going to depend in what soil we stand and what growing conditions we find along the growing seasons.

Global warming will create challenges of sorts that will be beyond our control as a result of decades of using fossil fuel energy and every positive action we can create to counteract the possible effects of that on our growing medium in the garden can only reap benefits.

Permaculture helps to create a synergy between the growing cycles and in Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemingway a whole chapter is dedicated to the building of soil life. We have the initial elements of creating compost and mulching the beds with compost but he also suggests sheet mulching. So lets see if in this garden we can harnass the creative energies of soil life to the benefit of all.

Sheet mulching starts off with a layer of cardboard and is topped with about 30 cm of organic compost. If you do this in autumn, the mulch will rot over winter. We have an area that currently hosts but weeds and over the next weeks I am going to give this method a try which will give me a comparison to a raised bed. I will grow the same plants in it over the season and we shall see what results we get.

Ingredients needed are :

  • cardboard, old clothing, newspapers
  • lime, rock phosphate,bonemeal, rock dust, kelp meal and blood meal
  • straw, hay, leaves, seaweed, ( 1 strawbale in my case)
  • 2 feet of compost
  • a layer of rotted manure
  • topping of straw, woodshavings, seagrass

By composting in place the soil organisms are not disturbed and an intact subterranean ecology develops. Its worth a go and perfect for an autumn project.

First I need to do some networking and go for walks on the beach to find some ingredients.

Pictures to follow.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Personal power : Our fantastic life sustaining energy system.

Personal power : Our fantastic life sustaining energy system.

What the world eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio is a coffee table book with a difference. It identifies 30 average families in 24 countries and creates a photo of the family with a week’s worth of food. The results are worth considering : the family in Bhutan eats meals made up of fruits, vegetables and rice which look barely enough to feed a family of 7 adults and 7 children. The family of 4 people in the USA has a diet almost completely made from processed and packaged foods. And many countries in between. They all have some energy.

If we could compare health statistics in both countries we might find that there really is a correlation between our health and what we eat. The reason we eat is to create a constant energy cycle that enables us to function in the environment we inhabit and make a contribution to the overall well being of the planet.

Everyone does the best with the resources they have , but do we really?
In heating our homes for instance, we use energy to heat the space around us first ( from the outside), instead of looking at ways to create energy from the inside.

Our bodies have a need to process energy just as much as any energetic entity in the world sphere but the way we get our energy and the way we use it has changed over the last century.The most muscle power used in a working day may be to get up and move a computer mouse.

Over the last few years, I have been looking at how my body processes energy and whether it is possible to manage that at all and have come to some startling conclusions. The food we used to eat provided a quick fix of energy followed by a real low and left my body to adjusts its energy supply by slowing down and demanding a fuel that would create boosts of energy from outside. This however slowed down the processing of slow releasing foods, slowed down my metabolism. To start a fire you would find paper, firelighters to boost the flames and then you hopefully would find logs that burn slowly releasing a constant temperature into the room. Different types of trees give out different heat exchanges. The same principle applies to the food we eat and how our bodies process that. Firelighters on their own will give you a spark but nothing else and to get your fire going with big logs is going to take a very long time. When we do not eat sufficient quality calories, our bodies start storing energy in fat cells ( in case the situation continues) and our metabolism slows down to stop us burning so many calories. As you get fatter and your circulation reduces, your body gets colder and you will find a need to seek out heat from the outside.

When our bodies function at peak, we do not feel the cold so much and we want to generally keep moving so that we create our own heat using the resources we have personally. It all changes when we age or when we become ill because energy is required to fight infections and protect our own planet.

Looking after you own physical, mental and spiritual body will go a long way to look after the planet in the same way.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Sunday, October 04, 2009

What fuels the need to buy?

When deciding on a purchase, we can differentiate between a need and a want as a first step, but we rarely consider the consequences of our buying decision at the point of purchase. Also, we often do not recognise the factors that have created the need.

As we run a family business, time together is at a premium and we considered a family holiday away from home and business. After consideration of what each person’s expectations were of a holiday, the majority decided a skiing break would be very enjoyable. This was followed by a lot of research, places we could go to using trains instead of planes( ecological consequences), type of accommodation etc and the financial costs of such a trip. The end result was that a week skiing would set us back £ 5000 by the time we had rented equipment and acquired the appropriate wardrobe. Thinking about your purchases does take some fun out of it; it slows the process and leaves time to consider.

We then tackled the situation differently and asked the children to decide if they each had £ 1000 whether they would actually be spending it on a week skiing and the answer fascinated me. There were three resounding negatives to that equation. Each young adult could find a better way of spending that money, from newer technology that would give year round joy versus a week’’s holiday to saving the money or spending it on keeping warm this coming winter. The end result was that the need for a week’s holiday was shelved and gained a new perspective. We grew in our understanding of what motivates each family member and how easily society can offer us a fix by creating a need to buy a possible temporary solution or even an escape.

Even if the brochure tells you that the holiday will be less that £ 400 per person, such a holiday can escalate to £ 1000 per person.

Another example is the need for a new games console. If we dig a bit deeper we can understand that the need has arisen because there are arguments between brothers on sharing equipment and that games are more expensive for one type of console than another. The need can be satisfied by buying a new games console but could be managed by helping them to set boundaries as to their usage of the existing games console and by finding other free leisure pursuits. By asking the children to look at their perceived solution and its consequences we ask them to look deeper at what exactly has prompted this need that demands an instant fix to be purchased. As each buying decision is openly discussed at our dinner table, we all gain a better understanding of what drives us to buy. We can see a genuine need to stop the anxiety, frustration and unhappiness created by a lack of sharing and peer pressure.

The consequences of a haircut can mean the need to spend 10 mins each morning washing your hair, then applying a rather expensive gel but then heck I know all too well that at 14 image is very important. Just who created the need I wonder?

It is unlikely that we can stop our children buying into a consumer orientated society but if we can give them tools that give an insight into establishing whether it is their need that drives the purchase or an instilled need by society, then they can make a responsible purchase in the full knowledge of the consequences. I believe my generation lost sight of that.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vanishing bees

The bees are disappearing. Our local beekeeper tells us that it has been a disastrous summer for the bees and is not sure what is likely to turn it around. If we have no bees, are other insects next?
What value can be placed on keeping plants in our own eco environment that will support insects and its biodiversity?
Some plants that support bees are as follows :
Annual coreopsis
Annual scabious
Bee sage
Common poppy
Corn chamomile
Corn marigold
Devil's bit scabious
Field Woundwort
French marigold
Greater knapweed
Lesser snapdragon
Meadow clary
Mexican hat
Round-leaved fluellin
Sea holly
Spiked speedwell
Sweet William
Tobacco plant
Viper's bugloss
Whorled clary
Wild clary
An opportunity to see the vanishing bees documentary in a town near you.

Monday, September 28, 2009


The autumn weather is simply wonderful and we seem to have long forgotten that the summer was a cold affair this year. I seem to have been busy with life, health, shop, school holidays and took a bit of a blogging hiatus. The longer I live in this village and the shop, the more I feel a sense of belonging to the place that surrounds us.The vine seemed to grow no matter how many times I tamed it and despite that the grapes are small and sweet.
A solo pumpkin has been creeping along the way in search of sunshine and many small fruits were eaten by slugs. The sunflowers that should tower behind the pumpkin patch never got going this summer and any tomatoes received a dose of blight.
Marigolds that should have flowered months ago are enjoying the limelight. The world seems to reinvent itself on a regular basis in our environment.
There is a general feeling that after years of downshifting we have found our zone, a place where we can breathe, where we can develop in tune with the life rhythms around us. The house is beginning to blossom too and more work is needed to support its structure and yet it amazes me how the spirit of the house that seemed to rebel at the beginning is also showing signs of mellowing and enjoying the care we give it. Living in a historic house is like being a caretaker of its historical content and demands respect and understanding.

Despite the credit crunch we move forward with our business idea, supporting local producers such as the Exmoor Smokery which provides fresh smoked fish, cards by local artists, as well as being a window for local talent. The next window display will be a ' nice' Halloween scene. Life is full and every day I am reminded of Mother Theresa's quote as we rise at 6 am to walk out into a very peaceful and quiet village square, before the village wakes up to the smell of our baked goods.

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Growing up

The pergola surrounding the garden is a growing space that still merits investigating. The vine was seriously pruned a few weeks ago. I reduced the fruiting shoots to 2 leaves beyond a truss of grapes to create a more open framework. I will most probably take 2 cuttings and replant the old vine in a new spot and see whether we can generate a better growth plan and fruit in the next few years.

The pergola hosts a fantastic rose of which I know not the name but clusters of pink roses as big a posies hang down and shower us with scent and colour.

The two pots hold 2 cucumbers which hopefully will also trail up the posts. I have acquired some boating rope which I intend to coil around the pergola to enable some climbers to hold onto something.

Growing space in the garden can be vertical as well as horizontal.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Summer colour

The garden is a glorious sight to behold at the moment, hot and humid, full of colour and goodness. Its an organic garden with fruit, vegetables and flowers mixed together in order to maximise variety and minimise damage.
And yet, my gooseberry bushes are being munched by a small green caterpillar. Thrushes eat the strawberries and strip some of the bushes. I am happy to share as it is my hope that this will be repaid by eating insects and others that damage the garden. I am of the belief that in time, the ecosystem in my garden will balance itself. In the meantime, I observe, make notes and document changes.

There is a certain magic to the garden. The more love it receives, the more it shows its glorious colours and delights which in turn is a reason to spend more time in it, adore it even more etc etc.It is a constant inspiration to me both in colour and texture and how in a small space, such variety can be grown and enjoyed. A lot of pruning, weeding and hard work goes into it but whatever you give your garden will be returned in many many ways. The garden is defenitely more alive, with creepy crawlies, with birds and buzzing insects.
Salad crops are abundant, strawberries shared with the birds, blackcurrants ripe, gooseberries for the picking. Courgettes starting to bear fruit, and the corn is ripening too. Its a work in progress and I love spending time in the garden. It is possible to get a high return from a small space.
Most of all, there is some healing and therapeutic value in the creation of the garden, based on the fact that the whole is more than the parts within it. The creation of this garden started with a neglected space, very overgrown bushes and now we are seeing the fruits of the labour poured into it. I wish you the same magic in your garden.

Monday, June 22, 2009

On planet earth

An elusive matter, time, flying past. It has been quiet on the blog but not in my surroundings.My need for quietude, rest and peace is greater than it has ever been not just because my energy is limited but because I often reflect on who is in the driving seat when it comes to the activities I undertake.
I have questioned how I have formed my goals in life, the ones I followed as a young adult and how easily it is to follow everyone else and lose your authenticity, the element that makes us unique. What happens to our personal power when we give away or even lose our uniqueness Over the last month I have observed how my boys make choices in their lives and some are influenced by peers, some are influenced by society and sometimes there is a glimpse of an authentic human being. Those moments are rare and need to be savoured. As unique human beings we can make our unique contribution to this world, but as clones and uniform personalities our need to compete will be greater. Between young men there is definitely a need to lead and be the best, a lot of jostling and fighting and yet when you highlight that they are all good at something and if they only worked together they would really be worth following, they look up as if I am living on another planet. Maybe I am?

'Leadership is an attitude, not a position'

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Simply washing up

John Bull, Watching Televisions Washing the Dishes Washing-Up Up Magazine, UK, 1950
John Bull, Watching Televisions Washing the Dishes Washing-Up Up Magazine, UK, 1950

Washing dishes has been much simplified. Actually as with washing clothes I have discovered that it has been made specifically complicated and that as a result we would do anything not to wash up.
Initially families needed little crockery and a set of 6 plates would have been sufficient for most. Washing up liquid was soap based and it was a daily ritual in which women cooked a meal and quite often men would help their wives do the drying of the dishes. At that time, some conversation would take place about all kinds of subjects after which the adults would sit in the main sitting room, he with a book, listening to the wireless etc.

Washing up liquid became a detergent and with it harsher on hands. It was effective and to make hands softer when doing the dishes, someone invented rubber gloves to enable the lady of the house not to have to touch the dishes or water or detergent. As television became more popular, and washing up became a chore, someone invented a machine that would do the dishes instead. Good plan, thereby cutting out the gruesome chore of washing up. With it however came the need for electricity, a more intensive chemical product to wash the dishes and more crockery.

I used to use the dishwasher a lot, with 3 children and poor health at one time it was a necessity. One day, the dishwasher got blocked and we were forced to do the washing up. I noticed that using ecover washing up liquid, the need for gloves was superfluent. If it was kind to the environment it was also kind to my hands. I seemed to use less crockery and everything washed ended up in its rightful place in the cupboards, ready for its next use. We timed the amount we spent together doing the dishes and it never amounted to more than 20 mins. The dishwasher at best used to take 139 mins to do the cycle.

You can make up your own mind about how it fits in with your family but as adults we quite like to have a chat over the washing up of dishes and it helps to bring the day to a conclusion. There is no longer a smell of dishes in the dishwasher and I am wondering what all the fuss was about, why did I ever want a dishwasher. Oh yes, for convenience......

Not using the dishwasher has resulted in savings of rubber gloves, dishwashing tablets, electricity and maintenance on dishwasher. Strangely it feels liberating.....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Edible flowers

Viola Cornuta
Viola Cornuta "Violet Flare" (Horned Violet), Evergreen Perennial

There are many flowers that we usually cultivate for their ornamental value but surprisingly some can make a wonderful addition to your salad bowl. It makes a green salad look very special indeed.
Here are some to try raw.

Violas are pretty with pastel colours, they are easy to grow and have a delicate flavour.
Borage- pull the blue flower away from its hairy base.
Calendulas - rip the flower apart and spread the petals in your salad.
Chives - break the purple globes up and spread the petals in the salad.
Nasturtiums - these have a strong and peppery taste but add very pretty orange colours to the feast.
Rocket - when the plants start to bolt, leave them in the ground, strip the leaves and the flowers as they have a really hot peppery flavour.

Later in the season courgette flowers offer an opportunity to be fried in a tempura base.But I am ahead of myself here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Planning for food

Last week we created tee pees to create growing areas for climbing plants, beans, cucumber, marrows and sweet peas. The starting point is very much to find what is available in the surrounding garden that may lend itself to be reused in a different way.;making something new out of something old and giving it a second lease of life. Whilst creating the raised beds, we reluctantly had to cut down an aged clematis that had got out of hand but this year, the dead stems provided just the right material to weave into the tee pee structure.

Creating a small forest garden has meant investing in some plants, shrubs and trees and most of that work has been going on over the last few months. As the growing season gets seriously under way, I seem to be in the garden every day, checking on the seedlings, plants and herbs to see what is available, where there are gaps and if anything is in competition with the garden.

Today has been a day of transplanting cucumber and courgette seedlings into larger pots, harvesting some herbs for tonight's omelet, shoring up the potato plants, and marvelling at the peony blooms, planting gladioli bulbs. Awaiting in the wings are sweetcorn and small seedlings of the heritage bean varieties; lazy housewife, bi colour and trail of tears. I am switching to heritage seeds in an effort to grow our own and collect the seeds at the end of the growing season. This will mean less dependency on hybrid seeds and some experimentation will go on with regards to yield and suitability in the garden.

The purple sprouting broccoli plants, phase one, are setting seed which has prompted me to sow next years crop. Its a busy time, the strawberry plants are showing flowers and gooseberry clusters, raspberries, cherries, apples and pears are forming on the trees. Amazing what variety a small space can provide.

Evenings are still chilly and are spent spinning a yarn from Devon Alpaca and merino whilst knitting a nice shawl to cover shoulders later in the year. A woman of a certain age must have a shawl! I am planning to spin and knit sufficient yarn to make 6 pairs of socks, 1 sweater, 1 shawl and a couple of hats and gloves. The garden will also provide some plants that will help me dye the yarn. A lambs fleece of texel/dorset has been promised by the end of May.

Some painting is going on. We make it a priority to engage local craftsmen so the windows have been made by a local carpenter and fitted with double glazing. The window replacement program is ongoing and very much depends on funds. The priority windows were the ones that had rotted and were unable to open as well as the ones that, when closed, had the ability to make the curtains blow into the room, all indications of draughts. Maybe next winter we will be warmer!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pigging out

Brown Pig
Brown Pig

The biggest waste factor in our shop is bread that really has to be fresh to sell. The boys are crying out here for fresh bread.....instead of yesterdays rolls in their lunch box or, bread pudding, bread and butter pudding or even a mean pear bread and butter pudding made with stale croissants ( really yummy). As I am intolerant to bread it really is a challenge.

I spread the word that if anyone had a pig, I would be happy to provide some bread in return for a couple of sausages at the end of the journey. Fair exchange: the pig gets to indulge in day old bread and eventually, the boys ( who are not vegetarian) will be the happy recipients of great sausages.

As we pay for commercial waste by the sack loads it seems fitting that not only the local chickens have a treat from the shop but the 3 Old Gloucester spots get a treat too. Little do they know!

The pigs have a take away bucket that gets filled daily.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Salads to come

My preferred way to grow lettuce is to start with some seeds and when they have small leaves, I transplant them into above trays. At the same time, I start off the next batch of interesting leaves. The aim is to eat leaves, not only because they are delicious but my lettuce leaves require taste, colour and texture to tempt the taste buds.

Above our the following :
Lettuce Aruba, purple oak leafed lettuce.
Mustard red frills, tasty, good and ruffled leaves
Black seeded Simpson - large crunch hearting lettuce
Reine de Glace a lettuce that continuously provides leaves, pick outer ones as the rest grow.

In the seed pot at the moment :
Merveille des quatres saisons
Summer rocket.
Green oak leaf

Just finished:

Friday, May 08, 2009

Blooming May

The clematis is in full bloom, a perfect hideaout for a few bird houses in its leaves.
Tulips and wallflowers bring a burst of sheer colour to the potager. I grow them in pots as the slug are keen on them.
Pansies to bring smiley faces in a small corner of the rockery.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Painting with vegetables

Rocket leaves, not only beautiful in leaf structure but makes a mean salad, as well as a tossed green with pasta.
Sprouting broccoli ready for the picking. Just in the hungry gap. Splendid leaves for a risotto.

Red Chard provides a fabulous display of colour contrasts between red and green.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Honesty - hanging on

My grandmother used to say that plants arrive in people's gardens, quite often the ones they need in one way or another. The newbie on the horizon is this splendidly beautiful plant, called honesty. Honestly, I had no idea but as it grew it developed the most spectacular purple flowers.

Common honesty is an old-fashioned dual-purpose plant, grown partly for its fragrant bright flowers in spring and early summer, but also for its unique seed-heads, oval and translucent, gleaming with an eerie silver light and coveted by dried-flower arrangers. It is properly grown as a biennial, and makes large, well-branched plants in its second year, after which it will seed itself freely around the garden. However, smaller plants can be grown as hardy annuals from an early sowing, with a smaller flower display, but very good compact seed-heads.

The gift of honesty for me is has been to really look at my life, with honesty, to accept the limitations and to marvel at the beauty that surrounds me.

And if you look closely, there is a small snail hanging on. This too is a reflection of how personally life has been over the past few months, simply a moment to hang on in there, waiting for the skies to clear, for the sap of spring to rise, for my health and energy levels to rise too. For some people the beginning of spring is the moment when the daffodils arrive but for me, it happens when I feel the need to go out, take pictures and marvel at how nature has the ability to spring back. I want to spring back too and to do that, like a plant, I need a sunshine.

What does your garden say about you?

Come and walk with me around the garden over the next few days.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tea from the garden

L'Heure du The by Linda Wood
L'Heure du The

As part of a healthier eating plan, I have reduced and nearly eliminated all types of caffeine and tea from my diet and most hot drinks have been herbal teas.

It seemed only time before I would explore how to include plants that could provide me with a surplus of leaves for herbal infusions. My favourites are mint, lemon verbena, verbena and lavender but there are others that could well be useful plants. I have not used any of the following plants although all of them in one way or another have edible parts that make tea.
Do not try this unless you are sure which parts to use.

Hyssop - hysoppus officilanis
Mallow - hybiscus syriacus
scotch heather - calluna vulgaris
anise hyssop-agastache foeniculum
columbine - aquilegia vulgaris
creeping thyme
peppermint - menta x piperita vulgaris
spearmint - mentha spicata
honeysuckle - lonicera spp.
marigold flowers

Lemon verbena is beginning to grow at the moment. It is quite an invasive plant and keeping it in a container makes easy picking. A few leaves, crushed and steeped for 5 mins give a refreshing brew that has the ability to calm the nerves.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Eating the garden

Wow, has it been that long ? Apologies, I must have got lost in the garden.What I have been up to, well, sitting still, being poorly and dealing with the end of year for the business, boys off on holidays and mountains of washing. Very mundane things.

Its spring and although I am wearing 3 layers of sweaters, quite nice out there. In fact it was so nice today we managed lunch out. A lunch without bread. The norm for me now but still quite alien for the men in the household.

The plan this year, as it is year 2 in the garden is to start harvesting what is abundant and to use it for all its bounty.

Today's goat's cheese warm salad includes :
land cress
lambs lettuce
roasted vegetables - tomatoes and green pepper ( slightly going past its best in the shop)

Roast the vegetables in olive oil for about 20 mins, while you pick the salad. Heap roasted vegetables on salad. Add 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar in the oven dish, swirl and spoon over salad ( that's the dressing). Finish up with some goats cheese which will melt on top of it. Yummy even with 3 sweaters on.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Boom and bust

Perseverance: Cliffhanger
Perseverance: Cliffhanger

As I get older I begin to gain an understanding that patterns are an intrinsic part of life. There is the circle of life, with life and death, seasons, days and nights. There is famine and feast in harvesting times as well as in economic times.

Right now we are stranded in a new reality, where the patterns of feast, harvesting plenty and joy of life are not always that apparent. Rudyard Kiplings poem , 'if' has some excellent words to ponder over.

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
but make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired of waiting
or be lied about, don’t deal in lies;
or ,being hated, don’t give way to hating,
and yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can keep your head now, when the economy, job prospects and life seems topsy turvy, then you will make it through to the next cycle. What you will gain is an insight into the downs and use them next time before an up. There is still a certainty that night will follow day, day will follow night, winter will follow autumn, spring follow winter. There is however uncertainty as to how long it takes to change from one to the other. For that reason, people prepared for winter, saved for a rainy day. In a world where everything is to be had at the touch of a button, produce can be bought out of season, there is a danger that skills, and the way things are are brought out of balance.

I am not advocating going back entirely to uncomfortable times, but when there is plenty, we could maybe save a surplus for when we do not have enough. ( And I have to remind myself of that constantly).

The industrial revolution brought a complete change to our fortunes in the West, and I sense that we are tipping into a new era. There are always two options to a challenge; accept it or change it. The difficulty is that we sometimes take a long time to accept before we have the courage to change because we value what we have lost and cannot see beyond that point.

Ah the wisdom of hindsight……. guess I am going around the cycle for the umptied time. Will I get it this time?

We all have cycles of some kind. Mine relates to available energy, and I liken it to the global energy availability. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is manageable only by pacing one’s activities. Without this, the body continues to malfunction in a variety of ways. I often lose sight of that when things go better of how bad it can be and then, the energy supply is stopped and I end up flat on my face. Ah the wisdom of hindsight. The choice is not whether to accept this challenge or how to change it, but how to look beyond it, ride the wave and make the best out of the situation. It is therefore so important to keep pointing North on your compass and take each day as it comes.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

the sweet spot


‘A sweet spot is a place, often numerical as opposed to physical, where a combination of factors suggest a particularly suitable solution.’

Max Lucado’s book ‘ The Cure for the Common Life’ reminded me how by chance ( or not )we have arrived in what can be described as our sweet spot. Max describes how we need to look at our life story and in particular at what our interests are between the ages of 8 and 12, what was our passion and just look how that has played itself out in our life story. Personally, I used to make paper flowers and cakes to sell on a makeshift shop counter during the summer beach holiday as well as winning a writing competition at the age of 12 on the subject of sport. I can see that all of these contribute to who I am today. It certainly has made me watch the emerging talents in our village and the passion and interests of the children.

The shop window is available to residents in the village to come and show us what they can do and how their talents contribute to the whole of the village. A club, a creative individual, a small business, an event can use the shop window to share their passion.All we ask in return is the use of some products we sell in the shop within the display. The aim is to encourage each other to come and share what we are passionate about and help us to see talents more clearly and encourage our young people towards their sweet spot.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The cost of waste....who pays?

Recycling Industry Plastic and Paper Bound for Shipment Ecology by Bill Bachmann
Recycling Industry Plastic and Paper Bound for Shipment Ecology

An interesting dilemma is posing itself, not imminently but in the near future with regards to the collection of waste paper products and other waste produced by retailers.

Councils are arguing that supermarkets should be paying for the cost of recycling the amount of waste produced probably in line with the Climate Change Levy that is being charged to businesses on their use of electricity in a bid to reduce waste products and encourage recycling. The reason for this outcry is probably because the amount of money they receive for the sourced product is lower than the cost of collecting this and therefore produces a negative cash flow in their accounts. Should this happen then is is likely that the costs of recycling will be added to the consumers food bill or the business tax rates charged by local councils.

As a business we donated our cardboard to a local charity who used to get paid for collecting the papers, adding useful funds to their efforts and building community. This was a win win situation for all concerned. As a result of the drop in the price of the waste paper as a resource, the paper mill was out of pocket and has now asked the charity to pay for the collection of the container at a cost of £ 30 per month. The charity have therefore decided not to continue with the collection which is understandable. It stands to lose the funds, the goodwill and the community building that resulted from its monthly collections.

I am guessing that the Councils are feeling the same pinch in their cash flow and want retailers to pick up the tab. If the cost of recycling waste exceeds the value as a recycled resource, it is likely that waste will be returned to landfill for which they have ever decreasing targets. This creates a problem that requires a solution.

The costs of recycling have to be met somewhere either by the supplier, the retailer or the consumer. There was a motion last year for consumers and households to pay per waste load on top of the money paid in the community charge for the collection of waste and recycling.

How can we make it add up?

Most products arrive in either a cardboard box or a cardboard tray then wrapped in plastic. The cardboard can be dealt with by recycling and would be preferable than bags and bags of plastic waste for which currently there is no recycling route.

Herein lies an opportunity.......and I see no immediate solution.

If we reduce food miles and consumption we also stand to reduce the amount of packaging that goes to waste. Alternatively, suppliers could produce plastic trays made from the plastic wraps that are returnable to the supplier so they can be reused. Is is possible to create a recycling loop within suppliers so that the waste products you receive as a retailer can be returned like empty milk bottles to your supplier? That would add to the miles the stuff needs to get transported.

How can we step back and downshift our waste products?

Monday, February 09, 2009

What if......

What if we get snowed in, no power, no central heating.How prepared would you be?
What is the plan?
Do you have one?

On Thursday, school was off and the children went out to play all day in the snow. Oh Joy, no accidents, just clean fun on the top of the hill.

As a business we observed that people who had never used the shop started flocking to it like birds and buying all sorts of items, mainly the ones considered they could not do without. We baked as much bread as was possible and milk flew off the shelves. Then at 10 am, the power went off and we found ourselves in the dark.

The phone worked as we have an old one plugged in ( not digital), but apart from that a hush came over the shop. Out came the flashlights and we made a large sign to put outside to say that we were open. The phone did not stop ringing.With questions after questions we decided the phone had to be manned by a person taking messages. One person was sent off to visit the elderly in the road without power to find out what assistance they needed and the child with a head for figures was placed near the counter to make sums. This worked quite well although the queue outside the door was beginning to be noticed.

Next we found that many wanted to purchase batteries for radios and some foods that required no cooking or at best could be prepared by pouring boiling water on them.

Our main concerns were regarding the cold foods and these were moved as much as possible. There has been a lot of wastage.

Some of the points we noted to be prepared:
  • you need a thermos to keep hot drinks in or hot water.
  • a wood burning stove can help prepare a meal consisting of rice, beans and porridge.
  • cooking during daylight hours is better than by candlelight.
  • central heating needs electricity to start the pump so an alternative heat source is necessary.
  • if no heating, the best place to stay warm is in bed.
  • A digital radio and mobile phones do not work when the power supply is interrupted.
  • A solar torch or windup torch is more efficient than battery operated ones.
  • Candles offer sufficient light.
  • Moonlight on snow is magical and quite sufficient to light your path.
  • Larger suppliers leaving depots far far away are not willing and not able to deliver.
  • Small local suppliers who are used to the road conditions are able to supply goods.
  • You need to have a certain amount of cash available as cash machines need electricity
  • Alarms go off and make a loud noise until they run out of battery ( which can take ages). A set of ear defenders is a must if you have a house alarm.
  • Communities have the ability to work together to ensure survival.

Many of our customers appreciated the shop being there and others who had not considered shopping here previously suddenly realised its importance.

The experience taught us how vulnerable we all become when our comforts are taken away and the children were at a loss in the evening on how to stay entertained as all their initial ideas demanded electricity. Eventually we rediscovered monopoly by candlelight, playing cards and....talking to each other.

Tonight we expect a storm as well as snow....we have replenished stock as much as possible.
How prepared would you be?
A collapse in the financial system and transportation system has repercussions on the food supply chain. We plan to have sufficient energy foods to last 7 days minimum for each person in the household.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Peaceful moments to refresh the soul

Navajo Dawn by R. C. Gorman
Navajo Dawn

In the morning, before the village wakes up, a few quiet moments can be found. Opening the door, looking at the sky gives us an indication of what may lay ahead.

In an often stressful world, we can find little places of quiet where our restless minds can find a haven of peace.

I have not always loved silence but can find pockets of silence that help me focus on the now. Sitting quietly in silence, with maybe a cup of steaming tea, refreshes my soul.

After the children leave for school I go around the house, settling the noises into quiet restful places; turning the TV off when we are not watching it, turning lights off and breathing in the spaces in the house. I am mindful of the spaces in our home and take notice of the house, its people, its animals, its dust and cobwebs......

Refreshing the soul by taking a walk in nature. I notice the changes in the quality of the air, its temperature and the way the light colours the landscape in different hues. I try and read the weather and I follow the dog back home.

Meditation is more difficult to fit in to refresh the soul and takes about 20 mins.It offers many benefits and for me it reduces anxiety, depression, irritability and frustration. It brings me back to the essence of me, that part that does not change even though physically I have changed. It lowers my heart rate, it lowers levels of cortisol and lactate associated with stress and leaves me feeling a little more refreshed and more able to cope. When I spend time in the garden I am mindful in my activity and meditate on my surroundings.

Once a year our community leaves to go on a retreat together and I have found these weekends time to reflect and get to know people on a different level.

Taking care of ourselves is often neglected when the world seems to spin out of control and yet, they only demand your time and attention, strangely, money is not really the prime consideration here.

Looking for the stillness in the eye of the storm allows us to centre, to focus and refresh our whole being for what lies ahead.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Magic Winter Snowbaby

Winter has returned. It has been a very long time since our village has seen snow, approximately 10 years and there were mixed reactions when the children were told, business as usual. The eldest boy had a day off as his schoolbus was not running and the others gloomily went to the busstop. At 11am they were back from school and are doing what children do when it snows ........wonder in awe at the beauty, the whiteness and go sledding on the highest hill they can find.

There is community building as well, papers to be delivered to those who do not venture out today. I on the other hand have prepared a snow white cake to celebrate their fun today and marvel at the beauty around us.
Have a great day and stay warm.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

the 5 min bread

Following on in my search to create a bread each day with less effort, no equipment and maximum flexibility has led me to the discovery of Artisan Bread in 5 mins by Jeff Herzberg and Zoe Francois. Its very easy and you can keep the ready made dough in your fridge for up to 14 days. You can use it to make loaves, pizza bases, flatbreads, pitta breads in a very short time filling the house with the wonderful delights of homebaked bread. You can watch the presentation and recipe in the utube video here:

Once you have the basic recipe, the book provides endless variations on ingredients and types of dough. Artisan in 5 also provides ongoing inspiration.
I have no pizza stone but warmed the baking tray in the oven and then slid the loaf onto it. It worked out fine.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

replacing a button

In case you need some visual lesson on sewing a button here is a quick video by threadbanger which gives clear instructions. Replacing buttons is very useful in prolonging the life of your clothing. I personally cut the buttons of shirts that are completely worn out and keep spare buttons in a little jar. My grandmother had a button jar and I used to spend time sorting her buttons while she mended a pile of clothing, from darning socks, hemming trousers and patching trousers. A new button may only cost you 25p but it is money saved if you have a button jar.

To prolong the life of black trousers that have become grey, buy a dye you can use in the washing machine such as dylon and refresh the colour of your trousers. Usually one of our suppliers gives her staff a new pair of work trousers every season and throws the old pairs out. Not so this season, a new pair was achieved by dying them in the washing machine.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Orange Marmalade by Santiago Poveda
Orange Marmalade

If faced with lemons, make lemonade. If faced with seville oranges, make marmelade.

The first preserve of the year has to be marmalade.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "marmalade" appeared in the English language in 1480, borrowed from French marmelade which, in turn, came from the Portuguese marmelada.
In Portuguese, according to the root of the word, which is marmelo, "quince", marmelada is a preserve made from quinces, quince cheese. Marmelo in turn derives from Latin melimelum, “honey apple” which in turn derives from Greek μελίμηλον (melimelon).

Marmalade has been a regular best seller in our village according to the shop ledger of 1963 and currently there is an influx of people, marinating, cutting peel and boiling up vast quantities of marmalade to add to their pantry.

If you have time, its a worthwhile experience and when you are done, you can make marmalade bread and butter pudding.
Elise's recipe for marmalade
Delia's marmalade bread and butter pudding

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rocking the retailer's boats

The Village Sweet Shop, 1897 by Ralph Hedley
The Village Sweet Shop, 1897

In the shop we currently are experiencing some glitches with regards to stock. The first reason for that is that after Christmas, January and February in principle are quieter months where we can concentrate on the layout of the shop and initiate some repairs. The second reason is that reliability of the supply chain is a little fraught which means that some lines are not available when you want them and a delay of delivery is experienced. This does not relate to local food per se as the suppliers are known to us and very little changes on a daily basis. Some local suppliers relate that instead of a steady flow of customers, the pattern is a little more erratic which makes it difficult to plan staff and resources as effectively as in 2008. Larger suppliers experience gaps in the products that are delivered which may be a break in the transportation system described in an earlier post. Currently therefore, we are all in need of realigning our business practices and finding our feet in a new business climate. For very large firms that depend on credit from banks for cash flow, the impact is going to be greater than smaller shops. The speed at which goods sell is slower and the amounts of waste – products out of date and fresh unsold produce is increased which makes for more ready steady cook meals in the home and a reduction of the amounts of fresh bread etc that is displayed. Business customers as well as individuals are starting to downshift in the usual consumer patterns which needs careful monitoring.

As a business therefore we need to order stock before it starts to run out to ensure that there is continuity. That would mean an increase in investment before the product is sold and if you are depending on credit to supply that money then again there is a gap. Very few businesses hold large amounts of stock behind the counter. There has not been the need to stockpile before as suppliers could supply regularly at a week’s notice. Goods that are stockpiled increase the risk of waste due to dates passing quickly and take up more space. If shops are experiencing a break in the supply chain it may follow that consumers may find the same – not a complete guarantee that the product you are wanting is available immediately.

There are positive signs that consumers are thinking clearly about what is necessary and affordable instead of impulse buying and that is encouraging.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The new reality


A picture to ponder….
The aim of this post is to try and grasp an understanding of the systems we operate within as individuals and establish what personal actions, if any we can take in this difficult time.

As individuals and humans we are all interconnected in a series of interdependent systems. Some we have personal control over and others we do not.

We all take part in the financial system where we earn money and spend money. The financial system used to be backed by a gold standard (still a measure of personal wealth) but in the last century the financial system looked towards the US dollar as its measure. So the crisis in the housing market in the US undermined that standard and had a huge impact on all of us. Imagine a pack of cards collapsing and you get the picture. The government has to get the financial system to flow again because without it we stand still. Personal action is possible when you live within your means; are living debt free? Do you control your income?

The debt system, which is connected to the financial system works when we borrow money (and that is how the banks make their profit). Now if the financial system has no cash flow, and the debt system has problems generating cash, then there is likely to be no lending and a cut back by the financial system. I can see that the government are trying hard to restore the financial system and the debt system. As many companies rely on the debt system to create cash flow into the financial system, a breakdown in the debt system has a knock on effect. No cash flow, no business, no contracts, no sales, leading to a complete collapse of companies that were reliant on the debt system. As the value of our properties, banks and businesses decreases and our percentage of debt increases the balance means we feel the pinch and our jobs are on the line. Personal action is only possible if you work and can reduce your debt to a point where you are debt free.

The agricultural system, where farmers grow food for our consumption has also changed over the last century. Local food, bought at a local farmers market supports the local agricultural system and ensures that food remains locally available. Against that, any food with high food miles, supports farmers globally but if that price is lower than what can be produced locally, the local food producers go out of business and we become dependent on food produce that is imported into this country. The price of food is linked to the value of our currency. We can do this if we have the money to purchase it. Growing your own vegetables, eating seasonally and purchasing fair trade products enable us to exercise some small influence. You may have to pay more for local produce but the benefits of investing your money locally is that you support your local agricultural system. Personal action is possible by growing some of your own food, eating seasonally, reducing consumption and cooking from scratch every day.

The transportation system enables all goods to be transported from one supplier to another. Small farms for instance used to have pigs from piglets to sow and then bacon; now some farms look after piglets, then they get moved using the transportation system to another farm who keep them for a certain time and then moves them on. Food miles drive the transportation system and we all buy into that. As tomatoes and cucumbers currently come from the Netherlands, the dropped value of sterling combined with higher fuel prices means a higher cost of the tomato until we either stop eating them in winter or do not wish to pay the price for it. If we do not have the money we might need to go without tomatoes in winter. Cooking seasonally with local ingredients therefore makes a huge difference to the amount of foodstuff that travels on our roads and the price we financially need to pay for it. Personal action is possible by shopping for locally produced foods and keeping your money locally (small shops and individual retailers instead of large chains).

The transportation system uses a high proportion of our energy resources, as is a commute to work and travelling for business, Food miles and business globally. The agricultural practices that guarantee higher yields also use energy to produce them (fertilisers), to transport them, to keep them etc. If we would grow food locally, in season with our own harvested seeds, if we have trees that produce a crop each year and we harvest and preserve it, we have some control over our food chain. If we rely on our supermarkets that buy at low prices from a heavily dependent food miles system, we will have food as long as we have money to pay for it. (Personal action is possible by eating seasonally and reducing food miles).

The health system provides us with free healthcare in the UK but at the same time, the health system operates with the financial system to provide the funds for drugs etc. As our eating habits have changed (increased calories) and our energy requirements have reduced (less use of calories) (sedentary lifestyle) we have increased our exposure to health issues and such are making demands on the health system. It is for that reason that we are encouraged to move more, eat less and eat better. Personal action can be learning to cook, eating locally, taking more responsibility for our health (checking what you are addicted to) and thereby reducing our dependency on the health system.

The government support system (welfare system) although being a safety net when you lose your job or are unable to work, creates a dependency of another kind. It suddenly seems not worth it or impossible to work and every step of personal freedom is scrutinised and can create inertia. You can do this, not do this etc. Personal action can be to look at increasing your skills, taking part in barter systems such as Lets and working on increasing the skills you need for less dependency on the health system, debt system etc.

The military system. Governments globally spend a large amount of their resources on their military systems. We each have views on that. It is important to be protected as a nation and how each nation uses these resources depends on the level of risk they perceive to be in. Iraq is the least peaceful nation on earth as where Iceland is the most peaceful nation on earth. There are many levels in between that.

Change can happen and it has to start with us in the areas where personal actions are achievable, small and can matter.