The following article was originaly written by Lucie Davie and published by The Telegraph on 13 October, 2018:
“Between North Uist and the deserted island of Vallay, in the Outer Hebrides, there is a two-mile stretch of sand that only emerges from the granite-coloured, wind-lashed sea at low tide.
Every April, Angus MacDonald walks his herd of purebred cows across it, so that they can graze on Vallay’s rich machair grassland and seaweed, and give birth outdoors on clean ground. Every October, he walks them back, so that they can eat their fill of Uist’s thick heather, then in full bloom.
The cows they breed, which yield a unique-tasting organic meat, can trace their lineage back to the Balranald fold in the 14th century. They even have their own Facebook page.
MacDonald has been making this trek for nearly half a century. His mother, Ena, made it before him, as did her father. Even with such accumulated knowledge, that stretch of sand can be treacherous.
The last person to live on Vallay, George Erskine, drowned while trying to cross it, in 1944.
‘The tide comes in fast,’ says the photographer Sophie Gerrard, who flew to Uist last October to take pictures of the intrepid cattle for the Gaia Foundation, a UK-based non-profit organisation that encourages ecological sustainability.
‘We started walking the cows through the water at about 5am,’ Gerrard adds, ‘and the last of them was safely across by about 9pm.
‘All the while you’re at the mercy of the weather, the temperature, these extreme winds coming off the sea, and the mood of the animals – it was really tense and emotional, but an incredible experience. It’s the kind of landscape you feel very connected to.’
Gerrard was commissioned to take the pictures by the former photography director of this magazine, Cheryl Newman, who has been working with the foundation on an initiative designed to overturn the idea that we need industrial agriculture to feed ourselves.
Over the last three years, she has sent 50 photographers from six continents to small, family-run farms such as the MacDonalds’, or their neighbour on Uist, Neil MacPherson, who uses centuries-old methods to grow barley unique to the Hebrides, and beyond.
To the woman reviving sorghum seed in Indonesia, for instance, to peach farms in California, and to remote chagras, or forest gardens, in the Colombian Amazon.
This week, We Feed the World, which also includes work by Rankin and Martin Parr, goes on show at the Bargehouse gallery, London, alongside a programme of talks, films and workshops exploring the food and farming movement.
Incredibly, between them, small farms already provide 70 per cent of the food we need worldwide – way more than food-industry giants would have us believe.
‘We needed to get that out; to reach beyond the converted, beyond the food and farming movement,’ says Francesca Price of the Gaia Foundation, who set the project in motion.
‘Imagery was the obvious way to do that,’ she adds. ‘It’s all very well to read and to understand these statistics in theory, but art speaks to us on a different level.
‘If you can connect to someone on the other side of the world and the challenges they are facing, and be really moved by it, it’s much more likely to affect your next food purchase.’
We Feed the World, Bargehouse, London SE1, until 21 October; wefeedtheworld.org”
Cover photo: Angus MacDonald moves his cattle across the bay at low tide at Bayhead, North Uist. CREDIT: SOPHIE GERRARD