This week I was interviewed for a media scholarship with Jeremy Hayes BBC Editor… Wow WEE! My scenario was based on what Tim Leunig had said the week before – how the UK should import in all its food…. Say what?!
Of course, I went in with explaining that Singapore is an island city and only 559km sq in size, so a fraction of the UK… was Mr Leunig getting confused that there is no Britain outside of London?!
The UK agriculture and food industry only equates to 1% GDP, with 1.5% of the workforce looking after 69% of the land. 1.5% of the population looks after 69% of the land… so few are doing this… surely THIS is to be celebrated, that so few do much for the many of us… why are we not praising this, instead of trying to take away the foundations of this country?
The UK is agriculture, it is what our landscape has been created by, the fields, the hedges, the stone walls, the buildings, the livestock grazing, fields of crops. We love to drive through it… unless you a sulky teenager who quite frankly hates going anywhere with the family, and even less so if it involves the phrase ‘look at the view’, we love to holiday in it, walk in it, visit it, and some a lucky enough to work in it.
What would our beautiful country, and yes, it is beautiful, we have glorious seasons and there is nowhere better to be on a sunny day, be without farmers? Who would manage the land, who would grow our food?
The world is vulnerable… I think we can all feel it, climate change or something is happening, corona virus has many in fear and yet in the UK our self-sufficiency has dropped to 60% from a previous 80%… should we not be trying to reverse this, to be as self-sufficient as we can be? Import all our food he said… in a time when we should be reducing travel, reducing the transport of goods, in a bid to save our plant. Instead our farmers are under attack, do some people not realise that if the farmer is gone so is our food, without food we die. Our supermarkets hold 4 meals…. If U boats suddenly returned to our seas our bellies would soon be hungry.
Balance IS needed, the land needs protecting, but it also needs protecting from urbanisation, industry and developed… progress people! Progress! But is it? Where I live, 4000 houses are to be built, on land that grew crops, where a blue bell wood thrives and a barn owl makes her morning swoop across the fields…. To lose these is not progress in my eyes.
But do we REALLY care or can those will money only care when it comes it buying British food, because of the high welfare and produce standards, British grown produce is more expensive than the cheaper imports. Why are they cheaper? Higher stock numbers, lower welfare standards, greater use of chemicals and antibiotics, lower labour costs, less red tape? All these add up. But at the end of the day, do we really care or do we just want cheap food?
There is a real disconnect about food, it has become a throw away commodity, 3 for 2, ‘fast food’, ready meals, Best Before dates, Use By dates, gone are the days when most of our wages went on food, where nothing was wasted, the fridge was not stuffed, and we were not hungry or on a constant diet…
Respect is needed for the food we eat, this life force, food should not be a throw away commodity, it is sacred, it is to be respected, it is to be eaten and savoured.
But do we really care? I hope we do, because if we don’t we will be vulnerable and we will lose the few who do so much for us.
Last week My Rural Tribe was privileged to photograph Cultivate 2020 – The Rural Growth Summit, which took place at Heaton House Farm, an ex-dairy farm turned award winning wedding & conference venue.
Culitvate is not your usual farming conference, no industry specific talks, no science and very limited tweed! Cultivate was setting a new agenda, a new type of agricultural conference, bringing the city to the countryside, and with it – SO MUCH FRICKING INSPIRATION!
The venue looked amazing, were we in Manchester or rural Macclesfield? The stage set the tone for the event, this was a professional event, aimed at the farming community.
An early start for breakfast and networking…. Breakfast was cooked by Stable Yard Catering ,using local produce, the Staffordshire Oat cakes wrapped around cheese and bacon, were amazing! This was networking at its best… but people stuck with those they knew….this wouldn’t last long.
Only 4 speakers… at a paid for conference, with no industry specific talks, from 8am – 5pm…… huh?!
The room came alive..
Malcolm Smith was amazing, the FCUKS were flying around but boy the room was buzzing with energy, the audience were challenged, they were engaged, there was laughter, conversation, and just A LOT of WOW! I was totally blown away, how someone can be so engaging, so inspiring! Notes were being written, quotes photographed, learning was taking place…..
A break… from a quiet breakfast to an increase in volume, conversations were happening, people were talking, loudly, the laughter was carrying on…. The buzz….. to see and hear it… WOW
The names Bond, James Bond…
Brad Waldron – was exceptional. From where I stand behind the lens, you see a different view… I must admit, I was worried, there wasn’t the laughter, where was the energy?…. But then BOOM! There is was… the room were listening, intently listening, engaged and focused. The audience, were not allowed to relax in their chairs, they are up, doing tasks, engaging with each other, there was fear on some faces – no one wanted to the chairman, laughter was had – they all wanted the Ace, and wrist arm wrestling…. you can never get some sights out of your head! James Bond, the ultimate role model, gets in, gets the job done, gets home and still makes his lady feel special, all while being an Ace.
More energy, you could feel it, you could see it… people were sitting taller, engaging with others on the table… wow… just WOW.
Broaden yourself, travel and see what people want..
Ross McMahon… bought a Heinz factory for a £1 and started producing – Kendalmil baby formula. Ross, originally from Ireland and having worked within the food processing industry for years, was epic…. Quietly spoken, not sticking to script, and so very interesting… when they say surround yourself by influential people, he did this from a young age, you surely cant’ go wrong having Barry McGuigan as our best friend!
Ross became a Twitter sensation in China for flaunting his tins of baby formula, a market who have a huge appetite for the stuff! Insightful, inspiring, thought provoking… there are markets out there for British meat and dairy, countries who hold our produce in high esteem, because they know it comes with such high standards, of welfare and production.
The time is now, to step away from the farm and to look in other directions to find a new way for your produce. Ross spoke of how travel is invaluable, to learn from others, to attend food trade fairs, to find out what the next ‘trends’ will be and to meet your consumer.
A family journey, full of passion and grace..
Jane Lane, of Tebay Services, surely the best services EVER?! Gave the most beautiful, graceful and passionate talk, about the ‘Why’ behind the services. Started by her father, they took advantage of the M6 going north, cutting through their land and bringing the tourist with them.
Community is at the heart of all they do, the community that work for them and the community of local producers that provide, from the bread, the sausage rolls and the beautiful gifts. The farm is still very much part of the Tebay story with all their own beef and lamb being sold through the Tebay shops. A story of thinking outside the box, looking towards opportunities, and how to influence and work with your community.
Lives will be changed..
This day will have changed the lives of the people in the room, they will have be inspired, they may have gone away with realisations, the light bulb moment, or they may have gone away just thinking what a great day they had… BUT in the coming days, and weeks, they will remember something that was said, their actions, language and energy may change, and this will have affects not only on them, but all those around them.
Who thought talks of ‘chunking’, telling your neighbour how great you area, James Bond and a deck of cards could be so powerful?! To be inspired by other farmers who have made a massive impact on their communities, a community they created or one they grew up in?
But what is it all about? Energy! Engagement! Purpose! Your Why! and Your Community…
For most of the year they will have cultivated their business, the land, the livestock, but for this one day, they cultivated themselves, their thoughts, their actions, the land has been prepared and from that great things will grow.
Meeting up with an successful ex-student, gives me the feeling, of what it must be like to be a proud parent, to think that you may have had, even the smallest part in who they have become, be it through teaching, or even just a kind word when they were feeling down. Because that’s the thing, we are always having an impact on others, if we know it or not.
Tom, is now 28 with a wife and 1 year old son – Archie. He has built up his own flock, tenanted a farm and now is shepherd for the Overbury Estate.
Tom himself has said that he has been lucky, but I think we make our own luckthrough being a decent human being, kind and considerate, but also by working hard and saying yes to opportunities.
Tom comes from a family of farmers, his parents and grandparents were farmers and this was passed onto him, ‘farming is in your blood, it is quite hard to explain, it’s just there’. Toms grandfather installed the love of sheep, he would spend lambings and the summer holidays helping on the farm and his grandfather would give him a black ‘pet lamb’ every year – these started his first flock!
The farmer is a person with many attributes…
Tom left school at 16, he couldn’t wait to get out to work. On his gap year he went a helped a local shepherd, it was here the farmer told him he was ‘no good’ but instead of letting this knock his confidence, he has used these words to prove that farmer wrong – which he has done! Tom has spent time working on many farms, gaining valuable experience and knowledge, from lambing 5000 sheep in 4 weeks in Cumbria, to shearing in New Zealand, to going back to Coventry, where he worked with Adrian Hall, someone who had a big impact on him, someone who started on Council Farm and eventually bought his own. It was here that Tom bought and trained his first sheep dog, with the expert help of Adrian, a renowned dog trainer himself.
‘We need to change the public perception that farming is about brawn over brain – but those making the money are using their brains’.
To be a farmer means you have to be a so many things; be a balanced person, smart, adaptable, take on a job, be physically strong, mentally tough, be able to ride over the negative and be positive when things do go wrong. Willingness to learn from othersis vital, to be able to bring something new back to the farm, is invaluable.
Look for opportunties…
Tom & Holly knew they wanted to have their own farm and took a risk and applied for an 89 acre Staffordshire Council Farm; they were awarded a 10-year tenancy. The 150 flock he had built up on rented land were moved to Staffordshire and this grew to 400.
However Staffordshire Council decided to sell off 16 farms, Tom was offered compensation, which he took and during this time Holly saw the job at Overbury Estate, and within days of receiving his CV Tom was down in Worcestershire for an interview, they moved onto the estate in July.
Taking it back to basics…
This is great opportunity for Tom to make his mark on the estate, to work alongside farms manager, Jake (Nuffield Scholar) who has been following rejuvenation farming practices, with the backing of the estate board, using old techniques with modern kit! Mixing wheat varieties to combat resistances, under-sowing barley with red clovers, to reduce field passes and to create new 3-year lay rotations, fixing nitrogen and for grazing the sheep. Yields are good and wildlife numbers are increasing around the estate.
The sheep play a part in the arable management, to graze SSSI grasslands, and to follow the rotations around the farm. This is a new way of farming for Tom, but one he is excited about. He is tasked with improving scanning & lambing %, so he is bringing in Mule ewes and Texel X Charolais rams.
Grass is not suitable for rotational grazing, its growth is slow, so sheep are given the field, in the winter they are grazed on ‘green fields’ of vetch and rye or oats and lambs graze turnips. There is quite a lot of stress on the grass as lambs, born in April, are not sold until the following spring. Soil and water samples have been sent away, to find out which minerals are lacking and then a specialised mineral bucket will be devised for the ewes and lambs. Lambing outside has its own issues, mainly with supplementary feeding, the ewes run to the feed, Tom is thinking a feed block with reduce this happening. Tom aims to get back to basics – to get fit and healthy ewes that produce a fit and healthy lamb! Keeping good nutrition in-front of them will fight off any illness or disease and increase immunity. Routine vaccinations and the re-introduction of FootVax, along with Fecpak worm count, and automated weighing mean there is a lot of data to be used for improving the stock and also to present to the board.
Team work makes the dream work…
and Tom has a great team of dogs, who are settling in to the new system, of moving sheep along tracks aside open arable fields, to fields 2 miles from each other! They do have their work cut out, but with the loyalty I saw – they all take it in their stride.
Does luck find us or do we make it? Whereas one person would have taken the words ‘You are no good’ and let them floor them, Tom has used them to make sure he IS good, and that he IS making his own luck!
Do you see a challenge as a negative or do you see it as an opportunity? An opportunity to make changes, to improve, to push you out of the comfort zone, to grow?
If you would like to be part of my blogs please do Get In Touch! I would love to hear from you, visit your farm and hear all about what you are doing. Or if you have some ideas of who I should visit, please do let me know!
Photography, Listener of thoughts, asker of questions, Writer of Blogs
I am Sian Mercer, the writer of these blogs, which are based on thoughts and ideas, quetions I have asked, feelings I have had and wonders which have been answered.
I am a photographer, please check out my website www.myruraltribe.com to see my work and book your own photoshoot, for your rural business or family.