I know I shouldn’t be encouraging anyone to watch more television, but sometimes it is raining or dark out. Other times, you’re just tired from weeding the garden in the heat all day. If you’re going to kick back and watch something, why not learn while you do it? I recently watched the BBC Two’s Wartime Farm. This 2012 historical documentary series follows three presenters — two archaeologists and a historian — as they spend a year living on a recreated World War Two–era farm. This same team has done similar programs over the years, including Edwardian Farm, Victorian Farm, Tudor Monastery Farm, and Tales from the Green Valley.
The team moves into a cottage farm in Hampshire. They are “living” in a time of transition and scarcity. On the one hand, many of the labor-saving farm machines and electricity are available and in widespread use, but because of the war, shortages of many materials, fuel, and food were in full force. Additionally, they were required to maintain agricultural outputs to contribute to the war effort.
Over the course of the year, they work the fields, attempting to drain off excess moisture, to plow and sew in abandoned areas, and to grow crops of wheat and flax. They run into problems with both crops and have to work out solutions, using previously abandoned equipment and scrap to create jerry-rigged tools.
They debate the merit of various domesticated animals at times of crisis. One solution is a “pig club” where families pool their scraps to feed a pig they will all later share. They concentrate on producing silage to feed their animals over the winter.
The Low Tech Angle
Because it is wartime, they have to make do with what they have around and conserve resources. As I watched these episodes, I kept thinking, “if we had a significant curtailment of fossil fuels, this is how we’d have to try and get by.” The whole series shows how ingenious and creative people can be at times of crisis and scarcity. They reuse and repurpose everything from defunct agricultural implements to flour sacks for cloth. Fuel and heat are conserved by using less lighting and devices such as hayboxes.
If we ran out of fossil fuels tomorrow, how would you cope? What sorts of changes or modifications could you make to create a more sustainable home infrastructure? What of your own food could you provide? This thought experiment is one way for us to think about how our world will be changing and what we can do now to make that transition less disruptive for ourselves, our families, and our communities.
Check out the full series online: