6 Sep 2006
Book Review – The Worm Forgives the Plough by John Stewart Collis.
**A Review of “The Worm Forgives the Plough” by John Stewart Collis. 2001. House of Stratus Publishing. 290pp.**
The question of how agriculture will adapt to life after the oil peak is one increasingly in people’s minds. Cuba is often cited as the paragon of urban agricultural inventiveness, rethinking their city spaces as intensive market gardens and their rooftops and balconies as productive spaces. While there is a huge and important role for urban agriculture in an energy descent culture, it is important also to remember large scale agriculture. After all, in the closest historical comparison to a national Powerdown, World War 2, every garden, allotment and open space in England and Wales was intensively gardened, yet still only 10% of the national diet was obtained in this way. The rest relied on agriculture and farms.
‘The Worm Forgives the Plough’ is a classic of English countryside literature. Collis was a writer and intellectual who had served in the First World War, and who was conscripted for the second, but posted within England. He asked if he could be transferred to work in agriculture, and this was granted. He spent a couple of years on a farm in Devon, and then the rest of the war restoring a woodland. Collis writes about a fascinating period in English agriculture, when mechanisation was arriving, but much of the traditional was still in place. Horses were used, hayricks were made, potato clamps built, alongside the newer tractors and fertilisers.
This is a book which is timeless in its relevance. Indeed his style of writing, divided into short essays of 2 to 3 pages on a particular topic, have far more in common with the blogging style of today than with the writing of the time. These short sections have some great titles, such as “Meditation while singling mangolds