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Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Bushcraft and Agriculture; are they both living off the land?

This post is the first in a series of four answering the questions I posed a few weeks ago in Wild Soup Recipes and Some Thoughts on Foraging and the Accessibility of Wild Food in the UK.

When we talk about living off the land in the context of bushcraft what we normally mean is foraging, trapping and collecting our own WILD food but the phrase 'living off the land' is also used in terms of subsistence agriculture and gardening, is there a relationship between the two?

The foraging or hunter gatherer lifestyle which we may adopt when practising bushcraft is not the normal way of life any more, large populations are not supported by this method of gathering food and probably couldn't be supported by a hunter gatherer lifestyle. It was the development of a more static and intensive form of agriculture that allowed populations to expand to the point they are at now. 

I will not address large scale commercial agriculture here as although it may be necessary to support large populations what I don’t want to do is turn this into an article about the pros and con’s of intensive agriculture versus permaculture/low impact farming. 

Much of the knowledge that you would use to forage for your own wild food or practice bushcraft in General can cross over to small holding/subsistence agriculture/homesteading;
Physical skills such as wood cutting, sharpening and maintaining tools etc..
Botany and a knowledge of plants and their seasons and when to harvest them etc..
A knowledge of wildlife ecology (in farming perhaps most importantly a knowlegde of pests and predators which can impact your crops or livestock and a knowledge of how to control them, interestingly many of these species are the same as the species we pursue as food in a bushcraft context)
Knowledge of weather and environmental factors that will impact your activity.
Knowledge of how to humanely kill livestock/game/vermin and prepare it for the food chain.
Knowledge of how to store and preserve seasonal and/or perishable foods.

This list is not exhaustive but gives an indication of the extent to which bushcraft can relate to different subjects and I spoke about this at length during my recent talk at the 2014 bushcraft show

Agriculture was a natural progression from a hunter gatherer (bushcraft) lifestyle as people started to apply their knowledge of plants and animals to make their food supply more predictable and reliable. At first this agriculture would have used a great deal of their manual bushcraft skill but as over hundreds or thousands of years of progress in terms of science and technology we now see an industrialisation of agriculture to which the skills we practice as bushcraft apply to a much lesser extent.
I think large scale industrial agriculture can and clearly is practised successfully without much connection with the bushcraft knowledge that would once have sustained people before agriculture but on a small scale (perhaps a smallholding, or a forest garden, or a self-sufficient home stead) there is a much closer relationship with bushcraft skills.

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