All the leeks are planted, as well as more than half our winter cauliflowers, cabbages, kales and purple sprouting broccoli. A blisteringly dry April, May and early June raised nerves, as our reservoirs dropped alarmingly, but the rest of June’s rain replenished moisture in the soil. There were enough dry days for us to keep on top of the work, and enough rain to get newly planted crops established without the need for irrigation. July looks set to continue the changeable pattern.
As I enter my declining years, I am slightly disappointed to still feel the need to validate my existence by leaving a mark; building an edifice, a physical embodiment of my purpose to compensate for my spiritual impoverishment. On bad days I feel like my dog, cocking his leg to leave his scent for others to admire. I know this pitiful, restless, typically male drive is the fundamental cause of so many of our environmental problems; doing almost always means consuming.
As I seem incapable of restraining myself completely, I have embraced the self-imposed challenge of making my mark with as little impact and as much benefit as possible. In the case of my two summer projects, building half an acre of polytunnels and a 100 tonne-squash store, this means using over 90 per cent secondhand materials.
As a result, these projects have become skill, creativity and labour intensive, rather than capital and resource intensive. Both projects will reduce the need for imports by extending the season of UK crops and reducing losses in store. As we pass the halfway point, it is looking like they will be delivered for less than half the cost of using new materials, with a similar longevity.
So why do we waste so much? To argue that our throwaway culture is driven by economics is an over-simplification. It often has more to do with ease of (lazy) management, concepts of professionalism (it’s got to be shiny to make us feel good about ourselves), exploiting a deskilled workforce (reuse always requires more skill and imagination to make things fit), and the unintended consequences of well-meaning legislation (health and safety, building regulations, etc.).
The masters of reuse are almost always those who grew up with least: the old, and those from poorer economies. Their skills deserve more appreciation, but are liable to die with them unless we all learn to consume less and value more.