Thurdsay 13th September
The night wild camping among the stunning Calais sand dunes was gorgeous. The horizon stretched out lazily, endlessly, while glancing behind over my shoulder revealed the smooth, flowing arcs of the dunes. The dunes protected our tents from the stiff sea breeze, and in turn they were protected by the roots of sea buckthorn preventing erosion. The sea buckthorn was immediately identifiable by its slim, branching prongs; its hundreds of thorns are swords, arming it to defend its fruit, which hug close to the central stem, safe from humans birds and hungry activists – or so it must have thought. When I was brave enough to trade some scratches for a reach inside to the tempting orange berries, the sweet acid flavour transported me to my childhood, snacking on sugary sour sweets with my schoolfriends. I live away from the coast, so I always look forward to sea buckthorn. Sea buckthorn berries are packed with vitamin C, and hunter gatherers in temperate climates have depended on them to avoid scurvy in the winter months when few other fruits were still available. However, I was delighting in them as a luxury snack along with French bread, artisanal cheese and juicy tomatoes. I could not have had a more relaxing start to the march,
As we met in Calais in the place de l’hotel de ville, we admired beautiful sculptures of EU members’ flags in the shape of sweets. We decided, for the sake of the blog, to pose near the French and EU flags. But I wanted the photo to be more interesting than simply standing and smiling. It was at that fateful moment that I suggested a tug of war between the forces of industrial and peasant agriculture, with the EU sweet in the middle. A promising idea, you may think, but I had forgotten to consider that neither me nor Katie were dressed as a peasant or Cargill director.
With national French media in front of us, I decided to go ahead, miming a tug of war with an exquisite EU statue between us. I can’t change that. The hilariously inadvisable choice had been made.
It was only when I had finished being filmed tugging at a statue of the EU in front of national media that I realised the message could be misinterpreted. Could a viewer be forgiven for possibly contemplating that I was trying to bring down the EU? Flashes of toppling of Saddam Hussein statues in Iraq came before my eyes, along with flashes of Daily Mail columns condemning Charlie Gilmour for a heat-of-the-moment interaction with a historic monument. The headlines crashed around inside my head like timpani drums in 2001: A Space Odyssey: Land Rights Activists Attempt to Topple EU. Paysan Agitators Attempt to Destroy Art. Climate Change Campaigner Attacks Historic EU Monument. Food Growers Seek Destruction of Europe.
It was then that I decided that I might not be a wise choice for the Confederation Paysanne’s media outreach.
Let me hand over the blog to a safer pair of hands.
Friday 14 September
Today I ate like a God, again. The food was loving prepared by local protesters at Heuringhem, resisting a proposal for a factory pig farm to produce 10,000 pigs a year. It is likely to house 359 sows and have a permanent population of 4,000 pigs. At home in the UK, we have a similar proposal in Foston, which has attracted enthusiastic opposition from the Soil Association, CIWF and locals. In the village I visited, Heuringhem, concerns about water pollution, employment for local small-scale farmers and animal welfare were shared at a group meeting. 3000 residents live in the two villages near the proposed factory farm,Heuringhem and Ecques, and the campaign against it has 700 members – almost 25 per cent.
At least 25 per cent of the locals are worried enough by the proposal to fight it, so us Good Food Marchers took courage from the strong local opposition. I thought this could be a battle that the small-scale farmers had a good chance of winning. Possibly small-scale farmers have a bigger challenge in the fight for a PAC paysan, or CAP for small-scale farmers, in which the farmers are up against full-time Brussels lobbyists. Not only do small-scale farmers have fewer representatives, but harvest season is a somewhat challenging moment to leave the farm! As another British cyclist on the tour pointed out, hosting a CAP conference during harvest season means that the only farmers who can attend are those who have either forgotten that they have a farm, or the farmers who have forgotten to plant any crops, or who are content to have a holiday during the only opportunity to harvest their year’s work.
Nevertheless, taking courage from Heuringhem’s resistance to a factory farm, we march in hope of a PAC paysan.