Many of the Catholic parishes in the Highlands of Scotland were also ‘crofts’ – which allowed the priest to support himself and the parish by living off the land. A croft is a small free-hold of land which allows sustainable living. As communities have got wealthier, the need for the parish to sustain a croft has diminished. However I now in many places the vestiges continue. I have had the joy the last few years to go to the Outer Hebridean island of South Uist for a few weeks supply in the summer at this parish click here. The priest still has his own flock of sheep, real not metaphorical, and last summer I was presented with my own lamb, butchered and prepared by the parish shepherd! Here in Arisaig the priest keeps over 40 chickens, and ably assisted by the wonderful Winnie (left) we have a regular supply of ‘holy eggs’ which parishoners pick up and are enjoyed at breakfast. I have really enjoyed feeding the chickens with Winnie and learning about poultry-care.
Even better of course is enjoying the fruits of their labour. The parish house is equipped with a magnificent double egg-cup – first time I have seen one! Not only does it allow you to be greedy – but also to compare tastes. Today I tried the light blue shelled egg along side a Polish chickens classic brown colour egg. The Pole edged it slightly – with one of the richest yolks I have every enjoyed. It is true that free-range tastes much nicer.
There is a serious point – the growing movement of eating locally sourced and in-season products. Not only does it support the local economy, the food is healthier and tastier! Scotland seems to be leading the way with this and the influential Fife Diet. Asking local people to sign-up to eating food from the region of Fife, for a year, and to monitor their progress and share their experience. The project has developed from a voluntary network into a funded body and in its development has changed from a small amount of people dedicated to eating ‘from Fife’ for a year, to a much larger network of people trying to re-localise more generally and to explore what sustainable food might be. It has won awards for ethical consumption. Seeing the parishioners donate money and pick up their eggs on Sunday was very inspiring – particularly as the younger contribute a bit more so the older folk can get their eggs very cheaply. This could be a great idea for other parishes to take up!