IF WE DON’T LOOK AFTER THE ENVIRONMENT, WHY DO WE
ASSUME IT WILL NURTURE US?
I have my much loved grandmother, Vida Lentaigne, to thank for being environmentally aware and concerned. She had a farm in Brittas Bay, Co. Wicklow, Ireland, for the first ten years, or so, of my life—primarily to benefit her grandchildren—where I absolutely adored spending time. In fact, I normally spent a good portion of my long summer holidays there.
I was free of an extremely fractious home, my grandmother was truly wonderful—and a great teacher—and I had 60 acres of wonderfully varied arable land to explore. There was marshland to keep the wildlife happy, a river, shallow enough to paddle across, sand-dunes to climb and slide down, a long sandy beach to swim from, and the extremely cold Irish Sea to swim in (complete with jellyfish and a dangerous current which nearly drowned me on one occasion). What more could a little boy want!
Animals? There were cattle, pigs, hens, cats, and an abundance of wild-life. Back in those days, rabbits were so common we ate them about as often as people today eat chicken.
I still can’t hear the name ‘Brittas Bay’ without a frisson of pleasure. It represents an exceptionally happy portion of what was otherwise a difficult childhood—and it made all the difference. One can endure a great deal if you have something to look forward to—and though home was difficult, and boarding school felt like prison, I always had Brittas Bay and my grandmother to look forward to—and they never let me down.
In fact, after granny sold the farm—which was never really her scene, she bought a house in London which became a similar refuge for the balance of my childhood. She was an exceptional human being.
She cared greatly about the environment—though she never called it that, and we didn’t known nearly as much then about it as we know now. But she was opposed to monoculture, was greatly concerned about water quality, had free-range hens, rotated her crops, let one field lie fallow as part of the cycle, and planted trees. She regarded herself as a steward of the land rather than an owner—and was determined to leave it in better condition, if possible, than how she had found it.
I have watched what has happened since to agriculture—and the environment generally—with considerable dismay. Mostly, we seem to act as if the earth is able to sustain indefinite punishment—and this despite ever increasing evidence that mankind is not only capable if damaging it severely and permanently, but is currently doing so.
But all the trends aren’t gloomy. One particularly positive development is the evolution of regenerative agriculture which looks like not only outperforming monoculture in terms of both cost and quantity, but restoring the soil and producing more nutritious food.
What is regenerative agriculture? I’ll probably write about it in more detail in another blog, but for now I’ll leave you ate the mercy of Google.
It’s worth investigating.
As with so many of our seemingly intractable problems, the answers are out there—if you care to look.