A Field of Wheat with Anne-Marie Culhane
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The Overview

Between October 2015 and September 2016, a collective made up of 42 members of the public, the food industry, farming community, artists and researchers each invested £200 in a field of wheat in Branston Booths, Lincolnshire. Throughout the growing cycle they exchanged dialogue, ideas and resources through a dedicated website and a series of events on and off the farm. Together they learned about the wheat, soil, water, history, rituals, biodiversity, the economics and trading and farming process. They were responsible for key decisions, selling the wheat and the application of nitrogen fertilizer.

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Wheat is consumed by around 4.5 billion people every day and is a highly significant global food commodity both in volume of trade and land used for its cultivation. Wheat is intimately tied to our cultural history as one of the first crops to be cultivated on a large scale and Lincolnshire is a significant wheat growing county in the UK

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The Events

The Collective came together both in person and online. There were three events on the farm, with invited speakers, discussions, games, work, interventions and food. Each focused on different subjects: soil and the land; water and biodiversity; seed and harvest; and an event in London exploring the global markets and history of wheat trading. At harvest the collective were invited to deliver their own events alongside performances and harvest celebrations.

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The Dialogue

Inspired by a visit to a Meeting House during our two year research prior to A Field of Wheat we formed an interest in the Quakers and their longstanding links with social and ecological justice and activism. We adapted the systems Quakers use to gather and meet by to frame and structure our dialogue.

During the 'Collective Enquiries'  the collective were asked to respond in turn to a series of provocations that explored nature and culture, land ownership and stewardship and the future of farming. 

Facilitators were present for the entire period of the 20 hour online events in which the Enquiries took place. At the final harvest event the Collective Enquiry took place in Brant Broughton Quaker Meeting House.

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The Decisions

Through a series of carefully staged discussions resulting in a vote. The collective were responsible for deciding if and how much nitrogen fertilizer to put on the crop. They also decided on what to do with the wheat and who to sell it to. Earlier on in the year we had organised a day in London where we learned about the evolution of wheat trading and heard from amongst others a trader who talked about the futures markets and an organic trader who only dealt directly with farmers, all of which helped contribute to the decision making process.


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With A Field of Wheat we wanted to explore and reveal the connections between food systems, farming, land, global markets & the environment; and to connect the consumer to the producer. A 22 acre field of wheat in Lincolnshire turned out to be a a complex story, one of many complex systems we live by often leaving us with a lack of understanding and agency.

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A word from the farmer.

'I found it fascinating to use art to have a conversation which I’ve never had in my farming career. But the first thing I had to do was shut up and listen! My job was to assist in the process but not dominate it. I had to help the collective to come to their own opinions about what needed to be done. I would always start by answering question from the collective with, “Well, of course it is because … ” and then you stop and think, “Why do I do this?” I’ve been farming for 35 years or so and suddenly I was questioning values and decisions that I’d never necessarily thought about in any depth'. Peter Lundgren


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The Results

At harvest time we celebrated: we'd got just shy of 80 tonnes of wheat and we'd even made a profit of £10.99 each! The wheat was loaded up onto lorries and sent for chicken feed and to be milled into biscuit flour. The collective voted for a small amount (100kg) to be milled at Heckington windmill. The flour of which was bagged up and given to the collective members as a momento, the labels on the bags included a list of all the chemical inputs that had been used on the wheat. 

Credits

Photo's Gemma Thorpe and Nathan Gibson.

Funded by The Arts Council England, University of Lincoln, Dance 4 and NK Arts.


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