The problem with vigilence is, I think, that in order for it to be vigilence you have to keep at it all the time. Which gets boring and annoying after a while. I had so much to deal with in moving here that I spent a few weeks trying to figure out where to buy food, found the local farmers' market and that was pretty much it really. I knew that there were only a couple of organic suppliers there but as the whole organic v. local issue isn't black and white anyway that's okay too. This week I have the week off work and so I went to the market yesterday (Wednesday) and at a later time (around 11.30 - it's open from 9 to 13 on Wednesdays) than normal. It wasn't half as busy as on a Saturday at 8 o'clock so I took the opportunity to actually ask a few of the farmers about their set-up. First up was the poultry and game supplier. I remember asking them at the beginning whether they were organic and although they weren't they did give me a leaflet that explained what was free-range and what not. As this leaflet said that the egg-laying hens were free-ranging and the meat birds were barn-reared I felt like at least I knew where I stood, could get free-range eggs and, since they also sold the egg-laying hens when they came to the end of their commerically useful egg-laying days, I could get chickens to use for casseroles and so on that I knew were free-ranging as well. Anyway, I hadn't seen those leaflets for a while and had wondered anyway how things would be in winter (assuming, based on some of the blogs I read, that most hens are not too interested in spending time outside in the ice and snow) so I decided to ask again. They don't have anything free-ranging I was told, no-one could have that much land available. Big shock there. I asked them about their stocking density and they said that while the allowable amount is 8 per square meter, they have 6. However, having googled it, I found that the rules which are currently being debated at EU level fix maximum stocking densities measured in weight per square metre of floor area and farms that meet the conditions set down can rear up to a maximum of 39 kg per square metre, equivalent to between 17 and 18 chickens per square metre (at the average UK slaughter weight of 2.2kg). So now I'm very confused. If what they said was true then that seems very good (and they definitely said that they do not use any cages). But it seems so far away from what the official line is aiming for. And of course there is the possibility that I misunderstood them and they said 18 and 16 rather than 8 and 6 although I don't think so. They did also say that I would be more than welcome to come and visit anytime so I think I will try and do that this summer - apparently the boss is always happy to meet anyone who is interested and frequently has groups from schools etc out there. I wouldn't be allowed into the barns themselves but could see into them and otherwise the only place that is off limits is the slaughter house.
I also took the chance to chat to the guy I buy most of my veg from. When I spoke to him at the beginning he said everything was organic and we chatted a bit about how nice it was for me to be able to buy stuff directly from the person who had grown it. I heard him recently telling someone else that not everything came from his farm so I was curious about what had changed. I started off asking about whether the eggs he sells are free-ranging and he said yes, all of his hens have access to outside all the time (plus another invitation to come out any time and have a look around). I then asked him if he grew all the veg himself and he said that he bought in some stuff, mostly the different mushrooms, from other farmers in the area who wouldn't necessarily find it worth their while to have their own market stall.
I think sometime in the summer I definitely need to find a friend with a car or hire a car and take a few days off work and go driving around to visit all of these places and get to know them all a bit better.
Random photo of the other thing I did manage to do yesterday, which was finish a dishcloth which was last in a pile I was sending to my brother. I've done a few now in the sideways square shape which involves starting with one stitch and then increasing one every line until you get to the size you want then decreasing one every line until it's back to one. It really is a great way to practice a technique as I've always been a bit hit and miss with increasing before - I even did one this time which was in stocking stitch so that involved increasing in purl as well, which was a bit tricky but I think I've figured it out now.
I like this photo the best though - something about a nice pile that is very satisfying. I need to knit lots more dishcloths so that I can have a few for myself as well!