My mum is reading our copy of New Internationalist. She is all fired up. She says she didn’t know there were so many things going on that she didn’t know about. Then she is excited because she reads about the Paris climate summit, and realsies that is why I have asked her to babysit for a few days in December. “That means I am taking part” she says, chuffed to bits: “by enabling you to go I am taking part in what might be ‘the biggest act of civil disobedience the world has ever seen’, it says here”. You can already imagine her telling her mates at bridge club about this. She tears off the back cover of the magazine to take home and order a subscription.
Which is how it works, isn’t it? Change. It is in the doing, in the way of being, in the how and why as well as the what. You need all the bits together. And I think we have a lot of that round here.
We have just been celebrating harvest. I took the last of my straggling crops, leftover chard, bitter lettuce leaves, nasturtiums and rocket, and blended them into a purple mulch with garlic, chillies and vinegar. So satisfying to turn what I might have thought of as wasted, what had turned bitter and sour, into something tasty and nourishing. I baked bread to share, my daughter pressing seeds onto the top of the dough. I took it along and laid it out on the table. We danced, and I was reminded of the need for carnival, for celebration. I found myself feeling ever more confident in my growing belief that most problems in life are curable by at least one of gardening, dancing or sex. All three if possible, but ideally not at the same time.
Ian Mackinnon of the Scottish Crofting federation spoke to us, opening in soft Gaelic which gave us all goosebumps. We sat mesmerised, like children who didn’t understand the words but new they were listening to something important. When he switched to English, many of us cried. Because he talked to us about the different words for community and belonging in his own language, how the people you grow, dance and work with become part of who you are. And perhaps we felt a pang of something; recognition, belonging. He said that legally, our croft was not a croft, but in other senses it was because we worked it communally. He read a statement from the SCF which praised our initiative as a “great example of citizens not waiting for government action but getting on and doing it for ourselves. People taking collective action for a more sustainable agriculture and food production and more equitable access to land”. And he said that what we had was about doing things differently.
The belief that things can be done differently is what I have found between the sunflowers and the beetroots. Taking barren land and becoming a producer rather than a consumer has taken the power over what my children eat back from corporate monsters and into my own soily hands. Watching my son sit croft-side munching rocket leaves, or seeing my daughter’s eager fingers pull triumphant carrots, I know I am rooting them to their place, giving them something which cannot be bought. Against this back-drop, and the vibrancy of the referendum campaign, I have become politicised. I book train tickets to Paris and fill my shelves with magazines which surprise my mum. I know my voice is small but I can still use it.
As the harvest festival closes we sing song and cry some more. Pete Seeger’s gardening song, mother earth will make you strong if you give her love and care, feels like an echo of the gaelic proverb quoted in the crofting federation’s statement: put your trust in the earth, it never let you down. We sing Colum Sands’ Daughters and Sons, about how we sow the seeds of equality and justice for our children. I suppose our tears are a silent recognition of the fact that we all overcome something to be here, each of us rejects those structures and systems which have told us No, you cannot change things, that privilege and power will always trump your fragility and longing for justice. That what has always been always will be. But we see growth all around us, we see seasons and change, and moreover we know the consequences of ignoring fragility.
As I leave a different song fills my head, Jim Garlands I don’t want your millions mister, with the additional verse by Peter Blood, something in the reclaiming, the empowering, the vision of equality.
You never earned those millions, Mister
They were produced by working hands
We’re taking back our own wealth, Mister
Winning back our lives and lands.
But this is a gentle revolution, one happening as much inside of us as anywhere else. Or it is for me. I look up that Gaelic proverb and find that a different translation says “put your faith in the earth, it never left you empty”. I feel grounded, nourished, ready for change. Mother earth is making me strong.