In July, 2018, I ventured to the Asturias, Spain to join a week of production with Inland, a collective ‘dedicated to agricultural, social and cultural production, and a collaborative agency’. (quote taken directly from the website: http://www.inland.org)
Inland ‘advises as a consultant for the European Union Commission on the use of art for rural development policies, facilitates shepherds movements, and is promoting access to land in different locations for collective artistic and agricultural production’. (from the website: http://www.fernandogarciadory.info/index.php?/projects/inland/)
Creating a diverse ‘network of activators’, Inland creates numerous interventions and training programs to learn from the countryside. An on-the-ground program aims to keep rural expertise and productions alive through ‘recovery, communication and realignment of the rural practices in a urban-focused building of society’.
In this week, a group of us, including ConstructLab’s Sebastien Tripod and Carla Rangel, http://www.constructlab.net/, worked on a collection of beautiful ancient buildings of a small hamlet and site of Inland Village. A lot of work was already in process by ConstructLab, with a beautiful outdoor kitchen, dining room, sleeping room, and showers in the works and when I arrived in the final week, it was a bee hive of activity to finish it all off before the attendees arrived for the 1st Curriculum Camp. The New Curriculum creates transdisciplinary collaborations, ‘to imagine scenarios for a contemporary productive rural economy, cultural contributions and relations with human and non-human neighbours…The creation of the New Curriculum is to narrow the gap between rural and urban, where indigenous world views forge new futures.’ (from Inland program notes and Conference introduction, July 2018)
A variety of international researchers from design, anthropology, fine art, apiculture, geography, sustainable tourism, landscape management, and theology convened for a week of hands-on workshops to investigate the surrounding landscape and “define emergencies’ of ‘the village, the forest and the mountain’. I look very forward to hearing and seeing the results from a very successful week.
photo: attendees of the 1st Inland Curriculum Camp at the shepherd’s cabin. Cynthia Hathaway
Inland also organizes shepherdry conferences and schools, to safeguard and intervene pastoral expertise into policy making. During my week, I was grateful to have shared thoughts and directions with Fernando Garcia Dory and Stéphane Verlet-Bottéro of Inland. Both have an extensive and long history of working and promoting shepherdry, and the protection and continued practices of rural knowledge. ‘Rurality’ as a vital knowledge bank of expertise and practices, cannot be overlooked but actively inserted into the development of resilient societies and environments.
So many seeds of knowledge were scattered throughout the week, I have picked out highlights of conversations whilst peeling potatoes, hammering in floors, making curtains for open barn windows, restoring rock walls and lying on our backs under a sky of a zillion stars.
photos: working to prepare for the 1st Inland New Curriculum attendees. Cynthia Hathaway
Please also see http://www.inland.org
Cynthia: What is the status of wool here in Spain?
Fernando: Spain has a long tradition of wool production. At one point the city of León was the epicenter of Spanish wool, where it was sent to Belgium for processing. There is no wool trade now. Farmers burn it. We want to make wool a part of the revitalization of this area, and create goods and products for the city. There is one artisan nearby I know of who makes the slippers for inside shepherd’s shoes.
Photo: the shepherd shoes consists of a rubber outer with a felted inner slipper. Cynthia Hathaway
Cynthia: What are the shepherds’ worst enemies?
Stéphane: European regulations are killing shepherds. Under the agrarian policy of the EU, large scale industrial farming get EU subsidies. This system does not work for mobile shepherdry. Its for sedentary agriculture, private ownership of land and big agrarian lobbies.
S: Regulations create an enormous amount of paper work by animal owners. This is very hard for traditional farmers who spend their time with animals, and are not behind computers. It’s a bureaucratic system that does not correspond to the real work done on the ground.
S: In Brussels, the industrial lobby pushed for electronic chipping of animals. No small shepherd can afford this, and piercing of ears can be harmful for animals who risk infection in the process. Regulations in the food industry are not flexible to traditionally produced cheese making in high mountains in cabins and caves. In France, the lobby behind raw milk for making cheese is quite strong,
C …and is almost considered a national treasure
S: but for countries like Greece or Spain there is less of a lobby, and is highly regulated
C … and almost pushing raw milk cheese products to extinction.
photo: Gamoneu cheese making by shepherds in the Picos de Europa, with sheep, cow and goat milk, Cynthia Hathaway.
S: Predators and the protection of some species are another enemy of the shepherd and profession. The wolf is protected by law. National Parks are in favor of the wolf. The problem is not the wolf. It’s the new type of wild dog/wolf… The Geneva Convention does not allow for the killing of large animals, such as the wolf. Spain did not sign this, but regardless, the process to deal with the problem is taking a very long time.
C: Yes, I heard this in France too during the Fete de la Transhumance in Die. Shepherds were communicating how the new strain of wolf/dog are killing sheep in the most cruel way, and not to eat. In yet they are protected as a wolf. The fines are huge. 10 sheep will be mutilated and left to die by wild dogs instead of the 1 sheep by a wolf or wolves who needs to eat it to survive. Wild dogs have the instinct to go after the sheep, but not the instinct to kill well or to eat it. Sheep are traumatized, have to be placed behind fences at night, and for this their digestive system is being effected. The shepherd is psychologically traumatized too to see sheep killed in such a cruel way. And one sheep = 3 years of work
photos: taken at a Shepherd’s Association stand at the Fête de la Transhumance, Die, France. Cynthia Hathaway
Cynthia: shepherds in France are trying to verify that the so-called wolf which is protected, is not a wolf but a wild dog. I heard that the government is staying away from the discussion, and a verification process.
Stéphane: In France it took a citizen study to test the DNA of the animal in Germany, where indeed it was shown not to be a pure wolf. Now there is some movement by the French government that some wolves are too mixed.
C: I hope this accelerates change in perception and policy for shepherds here and there.
(update: the bear is also becoming a problem. The French government has for years been promoting the comeback of the bear, and importing Bulgarian bears. These bears are not used to the landscape, nor the sheep. The same sort of inhumane killing and mutilation as the ‘wolves’ is happening and shepherds are even more confronted with invasive predators. Please see https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/23/world/europe/france-bears-pyrenees-ariege.html. Thanks to Charles Shere for bringing this subject and link to my attention.)
S: Like hunting, shepherdry was seen as a custodianship of the landscape. It keeps birds and flowers thriving so if you remove it, this system will be threatened. When shepherds go, a rare species of bird will too. Sheep carry seeds from flora in their manure. Some birds consume these seeds from the manure. If the sheep are not there, this survival system and bird species disappear. In fact, some national parks have had to bring in the manure manually.
Cynthia: What is the most urgent issue for you now and in terms of pastoralism and shepherdry?:
S: The urgency is now to refer to it (the pressures on shepherdry and pastoralism) and communicate about it now. We have gone to Brussels, to the policy makers. We want to get people from Brussels and the agricultural commission to come to these gatherings. Its a bit of a David and Goliath story, but we have to continue. Shepherds need to keep protesting, and bringing sheep into the centers of towns like Brussels and Berlin. The shepherds still have a right in every city to do this. We need to continue to make shepherdry schools. To formalize the knowledge, and get a state diploma. In Spain there was never an educational center. It was a father to son transmission. We have opened a shepherdry school at Inland, for 12 students, and an internship with a professional shepherd for a season. The problem is it’s a tough profession to take on for young people. It’s hard work for very little money, with no holidays. On average, only 1 out of 12 take it on for the long term. It does not fit into the concept of modern work.
C: Thus, it takes a certain person to become a shepherd in this modern age… but there are more interested. Especially burn outs who are getting younger and younger, and those who want to create meaning and expertise through work.
C: Can you tell me about the upcoming program for the 1st New Curriculum?
S: We have three themes: the village, the forest, the mountain. The village group will consider village vernacular and its recognition, and create value from their findings. The forest group will look at the forest behind and above the village, which used to be a nourishing space with acorns for pigs and chesnuts for humans. Now it is infested with Eucalyptus planted by mandate during the Franco years for the paper industry. This non-native tree is a part of the acid-ification of the soil effecting native species. So what do we do with a non-native species? Remove it or use it? And the Mountain groups will think about the customs of the space, seasonality, and the relations of sheep to the land and to man. For example, the sheep were in the summer fields for primarily distributing manure. The focus on meat production was extra. In fact, shepherds often only ate once a week meat.
C: May I add here, and mentioned in your presentation, you and Stephane look forward to seeing how, through observational practice, this multidisciplinary group with a variety of methodologies can define urgencies of the community and landscape. This is an inspiring way to draw attention through mass observation. It can’t go wrong if you give space to so many to be involved. It keeps it open and accessible to larger audience. I am curious about the results, and I am sure, they will help to feed your aims.