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November 19, 2009
Victorian Farm

Nowadays we talk a lot about the virtues of artisan food production, raising heritage breeds, using natural fibers and materials  ... the popular trend in general for returning to lifestyle choices that would be more familiar to our grandparents.  There is practical wisdom in this because choosing an alternative to manufactured goods is healthier for ourselves and for the planet .... and also, if the doom predictors are correct, because at some point we may have no other option.

We should be getting prepared for a forward-to-the-past scenario.

This outlook is well intentioned and idealistic, and in theory we all "get' it, but how many of us have really thought through what the consequences would be if we had to give up modern life entirely. 

In a BBC series, entitled Victorian Farm, three historians decided to go the distance and find out. For one year, they lived 24/7 like a typical Shropshire farming family would have done in 1885. It was a total immersion project that included food, clothing, medicine, work, leisure ... every aspect of round-the-clock life. Except, without the clock. They quickly learned that living like characters in a Thomas Hardy novel went far beyond sacrificing conveniences. It was also about physical hardship, the brutal amount of labour required by nearly everything, and the isolating lack of communication. Basically, if they wanted something they had to make it, grow it, hunt it, barter for it, and sometimes even invent it for themselves.

Considering its historical nature, the program couldn't have been more in tune with the times, and it was a smash hit in Britain when it first aired in January 2009. Now that it is being broadcast in B.C. on the Knowledge Network, we're become fascinated with it too.

Not just because of all the quaint methods and machinery, although that's a big part of it. (Watching Ruth the "Farm Wife" prepare a gruesome 20 lb beef tongue for Christmas lunch was really something.) But because it brings up so many other things to ponder -- such as the psychological effect of walking around every day in heavy, movement confining clothing; the daily challenge of keeping clean; the pressure to get everything done within waning daylight hours when you have a crushing list of things that must be done - or else! You think you have stress? Try stress a la Victoria.

Especially interesting was the dependency that each member of the crew eventually came to have on each other. Considering how many people these days prefer to live alone, it struck us how impossible a decision like that would have been for our great-grandparents.

In olden days, the family that worked and played together not only stayed together - they also had a much better chance of surviving.

Segment 3 of Victorian Farm airs tonight on the Knowledge Network at 8 p.m.
You can also order it as a set on DVD via or other online sellers

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Copyright Cityfood Magazine 2009