Yesterday I was reading an article about hedgelaying, which is the craft of maintaining hedges. Some hedges have been around for a thousand years, and they aren’t just a row of bushes — they are periodically cut and woven together into a living fence that then grows up providing berries and shelter for birds and voles and weasels. Anyhow, the whole subject was pretty fascinating.
Afterwards, I walked to this little biodynamic farm called Velwell Orchard, and who should I meet but a hedgelayer! Turns out they guy who runs the farm, Jeremy, makes his living building walls and laying hedges. The farm itself isn’t a moneymaking venture. Instead, it’s worked by volunteers (some of whom also donate money) who then get the produce. Jeremy says he ran it for three years as a commercial farm and lost 8000 quid, and has run it as a community venture for two years and hasn’t lost anything. Instead of being a model where everyone is trying to get the best deal, his is a model that is based on generosity. He gives people veggies, and they give their time.
In my case, I helped him turn a big compost pile. Then we had tea. I went home with a wealth of raspberries, tomatoes, beans and zucchini (er, excuse me — they’re courgettes here). It was interesting — I felt shy taking it all, and wished I could have worked more, given more. Whereas if I’d spent two hours worth of money buying those veggies, I’m not sure if I would have felt like I’d gotten a good deal. And back home, the generosity continued, as I felt no hesitations sharing the raspberries with my housemate here.
Jeremy and I had an interesting conversation about invasive species. I’ve always felt like people’s intense hatred of them is a projection of our own guilt, as Western culture is the most invasive presence of all. Of course, it’s not quite the same in England, where there are thousand year old hedges. In the US it’s hard to find a way of living that really feels right — some kind of middle ground between concrete strip malls and primeval forest. It’s so easy for things to feel like a pose or a starry-eyed experiment. Here, though, there’s another story. Take the hedges. A person could trim them with a machine, which makes them so patchy they have to be lined with a wire fence, and trims off the fruiting wood. That’s the modern way. Or a person could let the hedge turn into a row of trees, and then a swath of trees, and then a whole wild woodland. Or there’s that old middle way, hedgelaying, which makes wildlife habitat and farmland, and can also pay a generous young farmer’s bills.