An unpublished letter to the Times Literary Supplement in response to an opinion article on the ‘latest crop of nature-writing books’
While Nick Groom found ‘fey living’ on a retro-farmed wheat field preferable to a ‘teen fantasy’ of rewilding, both his oversimplification and polarised nature of the piece made it almost misleading.
It didn’t start well.
Your editorial cherry-picked the juicy provocative stuff from Mr Groom’s review without framing any context to the extent that readers may have recoiled from the death caused by the pile of affordable groceries in their
supermarket trolley – ‘every time one buys the lie of cheap food a flower or bird dies’. Much of this is poppycock perpetuated from the days of indiscriminate use of DDT as described in Rachel Carsen’s 1960’s book ‘Silent Spring’. (see excerpts in pic left)
Before we had any chance to see what’s on offer, Groom nudges us into hating agrochemicals for decimating blackgrass without understanding the threat to crop yields – organic or otherwise – from ‘wild grasses’ or ‘weeds’ – whose definition in turn depends on whether you can afford to shop at Borough Market or Iceland supermarket.
Food produced from chemical-free ‘extensive’ farming practices will not be cheap to those on lower incomes, while in turn smarter ‘intensive’ farming could arguably free up more land for wild nature. John Lewis-Stempel’s field is a success in recreating, from blackgrass, the ‘smell of Merrie England’ but could reek of food riots if adopted as the only model to feed today’s wasteful urban population living miles away from a patchwork quilt of hedgerows no longer ‘uprooted‘ since 1997’s Hedgerow Regulations.
Yes please, by all means motivate us to reengage with wild places, not be a victim of ecophobia (the anxiety that “Nature bites back”) and understand more about how food comes to our table; but please, let us not grab rose-tinted glasses to tirelessly demonise the usual suspects within a modern countryside about to undergo big change.
Yours etc, Rob Yorke FRICS
(light edit and links added for this blog)
Addendum – I’m hosting a discussion at The Hay Literary Festival on ‘Agri-tech (25 May): ‘how it can reduce farming’s footprint on the environment’. (Last year’s chat with NFU et al re rewilding here with third party feedback here).