ex city farmers

new research published by exeter university, seems to have caught the imagination of the media and public alike...it seems that large numbers of well qualified professionals are jumping ship to start up afresh in farming, concentrating in niche areas such as the organic sector, and helping to breathe new life into the countryside



i caught the main points on the news, and i couldnt shift the image of a convoy of executives driving out through zones 1 to 6 into the greenery, bmws morphing into massey fergusons as they go, good life manual in the glove department...perhaps it was this image or a deep-seated aversion to being part of a statistic, but it took me a while to realise that i seemed to fit the profile, that i might be part of this new wave of farmers...the unusual nature of the farm drew some media interest, and over the coming days otter farm was used as an example to add colour to the coverage in a number of newspapers

it was easy to identify with many of the research findings, and this wave of new farmers certainly seems to be part of the refreshing wind of change whistling through english food production, with its new found emphasis on the local, the distinctive, the well reared and well grown produce...as with most things, its mostly the old ideas coming around the block again, but it is a huge step forward from the absence of consumer choice of a few years ago...but there were some parts of the picture that seemed to be missing

that the individual and collective brains of these well-educated newcomers were somehow seeing through the problems and shortcomings of british farming and coming up with bright and creative solutions seemed a little too clear cut to me, and the newcomers too separate from the rest of the farming world...it wasnt that i disagreed with the findings, just that there is also the human side to what was driving this incoming wave, which seems equally important to an understanding of what is happening in our countryside



it is fascinating that many newcomers have chosen to set up at the margins of farming, in organics in particular, but im not so sure that its necessarily driven to any great degree by intellect or the creative application of commercial nous to the business of farming...invention tends to occur at the fringes, amongst those who are either incapable or unwilling to tough it out at the centre with the big boys, and farming is no exception, but is also a hard place to survive in...so why, with farm after farm either folding, at the mercy of the supermarkets or having to diversify out of necessity, are so many of the newcomers marginalising voluntarily?



maybe luxury...not of endless money to waste, but the luxury (at least notionally) of resuming former careers should the worst come to the worst...if i sound like im making a case for this phenomenon being attributed to a bunch of hobby farmers messing about without a care for success, or city bigwigs blowing their bonus on some edible 21st century folly, nothing could be further from the truth...its just that uncoupled from the absolute, critical, dont-know-anything-else-but-farming necessity to succeed, many have the luxury of following their dream a little more

wet as it may sound, i believe this wave of newcomers has something to do with love....love of food, love of life, the desire to follow a personal or family dream, and in seeing the connection between a healthy diet, a healthy animal, and a vibrant countryside...it might sound a little limp to bring love into it, but the truth is that organic and other creative approaches to farming simply arent the equivalent of their intensive cousins...the latter doesnt inspire life changing plans or the love thats behind all good food: you just dont hear people yearning to give it all up for a life of farming battery hens or growing an intensive cereal monocrop....an organic farm of almonds, quince, apricots, pecans, mulberries and rare breed animals? just maybe

the third piece of this jigsaw for many of these well-educated minds has been a healthy dose of ignorance...i had no idea how much work, time, energy and money it would take to start our small farm...i had no idea how ludicrous it was to even spend time researching some of the ideas we had, much less the risks in pursuing them...but i was also ignorant of just how readily i would swap one hour of the tedium of working solely for money for someone else, for days of this genuinely hard graft doing something i loved and believed in



that British farming can still draw enthusiastic people to it out of choice, with their apparent willingness to be inventive and adopt more ethical approaches, can only benefit us all....but what about the any sense of separation from the rest opf the farming community? before we took the leap, id been concerned that we would be seen as incoming hobby farmers, and be ignored, laughed at or plain hindered: nothing could be further from the truth and i find myself embarrassed to have contemplated that it might be otherwise...i have been taken aback by the help and advice ive benefited from, to say nothing of the endless good humour and wisdom...perhaps its na├»ve, but i like to believe that when it boils down to it we have more in common than not, and that this ‘new wave’ and the ‘old guard’ at the margins arent so different...we re all doing something we love, mostly away from the influence of the supermarkets, and having to try to convince a public to stop selling themselves short on cheap food from who knows where in favour of investing in their countryside by buying local, quality food from the producers themselves

so if you like real food from a healthy, vibrant countryside, help keep the old guard, the new wave and yourselves independent: buy from the margins

the radio

im a bit of an expert at turning on a radio just in time to miss the critical centre of a story yet pick up just enough of a shadey edge of the gist to be able to spin what seems like a perfectly reasonable whole



but im (nearly) positive i heard someone, possibly clarissa dickson-wright, saying that only 3 farms in england have pigs fed a 100% organic diet...it sounds implausible, but as pigs require only 80% organic diet to retain their certified status, you never know

so, half an acre of organic turnips and kale will supplement the pignuts to make our holding the fourth


or four hundredth


im not sure

first frost

frost at last



cold hands, cold wind, frozen hose and icy troughs

rain

its all rain...then more rain...and just in case we forgot it just rained, itll rain some more



everythings grey and wet and warm, and the banks of the river have burst

medlars flowering after ive already picked the first fruit

chestnut picking in november

and still the cold wont come

Go to Otter Farm | by Mark D