Big Tent Festival: Not Just For Hippies


I don’t know that I got much into the “organic” farming movement much other than some of the urban farming/gardening expeditions in Denver. I’d certainly say I dabbled in it, but was far from it’s heart beat. A gardening friend here, the GrowHaus there.  But mostly what I observed were people on the fringe of society making a move toward agriculture, and the new approach toward agriculture. Not the old, third generation, mono-cropping approach, but the organic permiculture biodiversity approach. I heard someone explain one time that it’s the people on the fringe of society, the eccentrics, if you will, who start new social movements. They are the first ones willing to risk themselves and do things like camp out and start the occupy movement.  Then, a month or so in, you’ll start to see the parents with strollers out in the march.  Slowly the movement becomes more mainstream.

This past weekend I made my way to an environmental festival called The Big Tent. It was, for lack of better words, amazing. Either the movement started long ago enough that the mainstream has hopped aboard with both feet, or people in the UK seem less tied to the old system of doing things. While in the states the question of climate change is still hotly debated, leaving many people in the foggy middle unsure of what to believe, here they accept it as fact. It’s a part of life. The polar ice cap is melting, the jet stream is moving farther south, Scotland’s seen its wettest summer ever, while normally rainy bits like Skye are left high and dry. In other words they are living in the reality of climate change, and they have spent no time denying it. Granted not everyone is bound and determined to fight GMO and pesticides and big industrial farms, but there is a larger part of the general population that has started on the track. And this is Big Tent.  It is farmers.  It is families with kids in strollers.  It’s not just for hippies anymore, kids.

I showed up with my big pack on my back in the heat of the sun in the heart of the sleepy little town of Falkland (thoughts of moving there popped into my head, but I digress.) After being directed, redirected, and directed yet again, I found my campsite, got my wrist band and set up camp. I immediately felt at home in the bright sunshine and the mud and was ready for fest to start.

Oh, but did I mention my festival rations? I’d had a bit of trouble getting my debit card to work, so in a last minute attempt I paypal-ed money to Carol who in turn handed me just a wee bit of cash to use for food and bus fare. For two and a half days, surrounded by creative and succulent foods, I survived off of bread, peanut butter, bananas and apples. Yippie. Oh, and my lack of cutlery (silverware), I spread the peanut butter on with my finger.

Refusing to pay the two pound for a program, I meandered around the fest and found my way into seminars like Scotland’s Forest: Going Local; Food, Farming and the Future; Land, Life and Livelihoods. They were fascinating. I learned that the bulk of Scotland’s forest is owned by huge estate land owners while just a few smallholders and crofters (hobby farms) owned small bits forest. The reason is because the government pays people to plant forests. So big money comes in, swallows up land, plants trees on it and walks away.

Food, Farming and the Future was a panel of people and their perspectives on what method of farming should be used in the future. They varied greatly from one saying using the earth’s natural rhythms and cycles was the only way to be fed and keep the earth in best shape, to another who supported the use of GMO as a viable answer to the quickly changing pests and predators of our farm veg. Land, Life, and Livelihoods on a similar note had a panel of people from first generation farms to researchers who believed in organic smallholding only to a third generation farmer who saw mono-cropping and GMO as the best choice for farmers. Again, a varied panel who’s various life experience and viewpoints contradicted and mingled in the air allowing the audience to soak in a larger picture. Obviously I wore myself out with information and took a nap, but quickly forced myself awake for the night’s festivities: various Celtic music, and to end, The Proclaimers.

I listened to a band called Breabach who played traditional Celtic music that was simply lovely. About this time, sitting by myself on the hill my mind wandered to wishing for some company. Traveling alone is great, but don’t let anyone fool you, it can get quite lonely at times. I had, of course, been people watching when the group sitting to my left leaned over and asked if I’d like to join them. A scootch to the left and a few beers later I had myself some friends. They were lovely. And a bit sloshed. (And thought I was Polish?) We sat through the next band, when finally The Proclaimers came on. I couldn’t have been happier. Their hit song in the 90s had imprinted itself in my memory as my favorite song at the time, with their black glasses and blonde hair bouncing around on the TV screen. Once I had demanded my parent’s not turn off the car when the song was in the radio. I was hooked.

Seeing as they only had one hit song, I was waiting for it. But in the meantime they had quite a few lovely little ditties. They’re worth checking out. But I did video tape the gem for you, with a few seconds of my face on it.  You can see how lively the crowd gets.  People are pumped on the Proclaimers, and I don’t blame them.  I’m actually one of them.  The guy I show for a second to the left was the one friend who hadn’t run up to the front to dance. His name was Aimish, a wedding photographer.  I may have spelled his name wrong.

The night had me off in my quaint little tent, as happy as a clown with a bit of drizzle on the “roof,” if you will.

The next day I woke up promptly at 8am to the sun and the delightful sound of children screaming. I got myself dressed and poked around the near desolate festival grounds for the Festival Café, for which I had a voucher for a free coffee. I couldn’t find it and finally caved and bought a cup of coffee from the Haggis, Neeps and Tatties vender for a pound. I decided it was worth warding off the caffeine headache.

After the cup of coffee and a journal entry, I went to Beavers, Bees and Biodiversity. The discussion was on the importance of a big diversity in our ecosystem, the balance of it, and “keystone species” who are a bit like a cornerstone to a building. Two of which, apparently, are beavers and bees. There was then discussion of the impact of foreign species invading new land; ie the gray squirrel is over taking the red squirrel here in Scotland. One man posed the question on whether or not it’s just a new form of evolution; that these new species are clearly adapt then shouldn’t we just let nature take its course? The issue of ethics and morals came up with the difference between a species, like the rat, simply thriving in the new human environment verses those incidents where humans have purposely introduced a foreign species which have over taken due to lack of predators. It was a new perspective that I hadn’t heard before.

Then it was off to Slow Food, an organization that started in 1986 by a French man in response to the new wave of Fast Food. The seminar was a bit dry to my taste, and I feel like I didn’t quite get as good of an understanding about the organization as I could have, but it is what it is.

Next on my list was a musician called Karine Polwart. I didn’t know any musicians on the program, other than the Proclaimers, but when I saw her name I knew I was going to be there. My great grandmother, my mother, my sister, my cousin, second cousin, my sister and my niece all have the middle name Karine, and this is not a name you run into very often. I loved her music and spotted her husband and made a quick bee line to ask about her name. He said it wasn’t Scottish and he’d never heard it before. So the mystery remains. But we did enjoy chatting about it.

Later in the eve I wanted to see a band called Salsa Celtica, but before than I wandered through the shops. I knew I couldn’t buy anything, even still I wanted to see the creative things people were doing. I stopped at one vendor who was doing a quick cooking lesson. She was making mushrooms and rice. She owned a company called Taste of Scotland and specialized in using local and foraged foods, and was clearly an expert cook. She had mentioned even going to culinary school. The mushrooms she cooked were called Ceps and Amethyst Deceivers-of which she collected in the wood that morning. The rice she cooked with mushrooms and garlic and onion. It was absolutely delicious (especially to the bread and peanut butter girl.) In the craft tent I met a woman who was also an avid yarn spinner, crocheter and knitter, although much more advanced than me. She apparently has five spinning wheels, and the projects she had up were absolutely beautiful. When I asked about them, she took one down and explained to me how it was done. We’ll see if I can conquer it. There were also other venders who made beeswax candles, felted scarves, pictures, jewelry, and soaps.Everything I saw was of the best

quality. I was truly impressed. The night hailed in Salsa Celtica, and a storm. But the people of Scotland will not be scared away from good music with a bit of rain. Most of them were decked out in their rain proofs and wellies anyway. Already well prepared for rain. Salsa Celtica was a unique group of talented musicians who played a variety of songs, both Celtic and Salsa. And let me tell you, Scots, they love Salsa Celtica and they love to dance. All in all I’d have to say this is the environmental event and best festival I’ve ever been to. I think I was deliriously happy the entire time. The atmosphere was positive, creative and progressive as I’ve ever seen. If you’re ever in the area of Scotland, check it out.    

Damn, where my peanut butter go?

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