Keveral Farm Community 1973-1974 by Sue Casey (1998)
A group of us from the Kingsway Community in Chiswick headed farm-wards to begin a new life in February '73. We had many ideas, including one of becoming self sufficient overnight, and another, more realistic perhaps, of providing holidays, working weekends and workshops for those who needed relief from the demands that city life made on them.
There were six of us plus three young children and we arrived in the snow late at night to this large, somewhat delapidated farmhouse with no electricity or heat and a garden full of bleating sheep. It was cold. We all slept together that first night on the floor of the living room, having collected enough wood for a small fire.
The next day work began in earnest; reviving the generator, allocating rooms, unloading the van and exploring the farm's outbuildings and land. It was an idyllic spot with views of the sea between the hills, an old disused water mill and picturesque barns and outhouses in a state of disrepair but with great potential.
We wasted no time. We were naive. (Apologies to those of the original six who may read this and seek to refute such labels!). Some of us were ignorant of rural ways. We went to market and, with our very limited amount of money, bought a cow, a goat, a few hens, ducks and geese, a hive full of bees. Then we went to the library to bone up on how to manage them. With no cash to spare for mechanical aids we set to work on the land with spades and forks and our own bare hands. We created a kitchen garden out of the overgrown walled garden. We dug the one acre field and planted potatoes.
By early summer we were harvesting the first of the vegetables. (By which time we'd all had a bellyful of nettle stews, dandelion salads and curly kale.) The animals were thriving - amazingly - but self sufficiency had become something of a forgotten dream.
Those of us who had unwittingly chosen to care for the cow and the goat were the first to rise in the morning for milking. By 8am we all sat down to our first shared meal of the day, having lit the Rayburn and made the porridge. The children were walked to the end of the lane where they'd be met by the school bus which would take them the two miles to school in Downderry.
The business of the day was infinitely varied. There were animals to feed, vegetables to grow, hay to cut and gather in. We made our own bread using nine pounds of flour every other day. There was the house to look after, roofs to be re-slated and stone walls to repair. We converted the old dairy into a workshop in which wooden jigsaw puzzles were designed and produced. We took it in turns to cook and this was almost a day-long task because it involved, variously, picking vegetables, fetching water - we had a single juddery cold tap over a granite trough in the outhouse - skinning and gutting the odd rabbit, dealing with the vagaries of the cooking range etc. On high days and holidays we'd kill a duck or goose and soon became reasonably adept in the art of plucking and preparing these for table.
Life was full and satisfying. We swam throughout the year, built fires on the beach, argued, talked and read by lantern light.
Our income depended largely on the one or two people who signed on weekly at the labour exchange in Looe, though a small amount was earned through sales of the workshop produce. As far as I remember we pooled our income and, apart from the smokers' small tobacco allowance, this was used to buy animal feed, fuel for the van and generator, and groceries. We shopped weekly in Liskeard buying as much as we could in bulk. Items such as flour and rice were bought by the sack. We rarely bought packets or tins of anything and consequently the visitor or guest armed with biscuits and Mars Bars was assured instant popularity. At Christmas some people worked for the post office at Plymouth and there was seasonal work such as potato picking on neighbouring farms. Living in the country dramatically reduced our need to spend money. There seemed to be a plenitude of free distractions.
A caravan was bought enabling people to come down for holidays with the choice of being self-catering. Kids' camps were arranged and were to become frequent and popular events. Tents were bought for this purpose though house facilities were used. The stream of visitors was constant and included foreign students who'd heard about us through "Communes Network", people who needed a rest from the rather frenetic life-style of the Chiswick house, and some who formed work parties to help out with hedging, planting and haymaking.
There were practical problems, the main one being lack of water. The water supply to our one tap came from a spring five hundred yards down valley. It was pumped by a petrol-driven water pump situated by the spring on the edge of some Forestry Commission land. It needed starting by hand which was inconvenient enough. But then, through lack of rain (* see note below), we found ourselves at the height of summer with no water whatsoever. For weeks we survived with the six milk churns of water left us each day by Mr. Prowse, the local milkman/farmer who rented some of our land for his sheep. I believe we attempted to reciprocate his generosity by occasionally helping round up his flock at shearing and dipping time. A daily swim kept us clean and we became expert re-cyclists with the water we did have, ie. it did the rounds before ending up on the vegetable beds at close of day.
Our relations with the local village community were good by the time I left Keveral the following year. At first, understandably, we'd been regarded with a degree of suspicion which gave way to amusement and incredulity at our long-winded and impractical farming methods. I remember watching impotently from a distance one afternoon whilst our tough, weather-beaten and awe-inspiring neighbour, Miss Whitehouse, drove down the lane in her tractor to pull our recalcitrant van out of a ditch in which it had become firmly entrenched. I also remember running the gauntlet of an amused Bill Prowse and sons lining the route from the valley field as we brought in our first load of hay, collectively shouldering it up the lane to the barn on a home-made stretcher affair.
Shopkeepers were wary at first, perhaps on account of our appearance; not readily identifiable as either tourists or locals. The kids had no such problems at school and were easily absorbed into the local child population. I think, in retrospect, that we were viewed as a harmlessly eccentric group, providing a source of good natured and distracting gossip in local gathering places.
*July 2022: talking with Sue, we think the problem with having no water may have been not enough water for the hydraulic ram pump to work, before a diesel pump was installed, or a mechanical breakdown of the diesel pump - as there has always been water in the spring.