Monday, 14 October 2013

#PartTimeFarmers

When you look at us, you might see any number of things. You might see a guy who works in a factory, and a woman who works taking calls for an insurance company. You could see two teenage girls who are at school.  We do have an outward facing cover.  Mostly it works.

Get to know us a little better and you will find out the truth. We - are part time farmers. There are more now than there ever were. We're closing in from both ends. As family farms become untenable under the weight of the push from the Monsantos and the Tescos,  those who were once full time farming families are joining our ranks.

At the same time, unlikely people - city people, arty people, faithful people, mummy people - all kinds of people are catching the vision and believing they can produce something.  Fresh eggs for breakfast, maybe with  home made bread to dip in them.   Salad from the garden or sun-warmed tomatoes.

Then comes the question - and go back a step to ask those families who once worked full time on the family dairy farms and market gardens which fed a country as it grew great - can we make a living?

Well. The answer is yes - and no. If you have the land at your disposal, with no mortgage outstanding and no rent to pay, and if - this is a big if - you or your forbears had 20:20 foresight and set you up to face the future, yes you can.  Farm shops and visitor attractions thrive and direct sales schemes pull in the punters.

If you are starting from scratch, or running to stand still as you struggle to keep a precious inheritance which was never future-proofed - no, you can't.

On good days, I actually relish the fact that we can't make a living from farming, just yet. We may never do it. The pride I have in my two wonderful daughters, who are up hours before most of their peers, tending to ducks and turkeys and hens, horses and goats and sheep, is priceless.

Part time farmers  are a breed apart.  At the livestock sales, the old farmers in their flat caps with their impenetrable accents and their disreputable trousers rub shoulders with the moneyed incomers who are just there to see what happens, spotless Discovery parked a good way from the unloading bay in case it gets muddy, and everything this season Joules over the Florida tan.

On the peripheries are the part time farmers. Smarter than corduroy and baler twine, but thirty quid shy of a new Joules polo shirt.  Recycled  Tattersals on style conscious teenage girls, much loved River Boots oiled and worn to death, sharp-eyed and hungry for detail, we absorb the air and claim it.

Our aged trucks - Vauxhalls and old Isuzus not the shiny bull barred current models - and superannuated Volvos cluster in the car parks of the farm stores - we are not the kind of people to buy a vacuum packed slice of hay, but we have nowhere to store a pallet of winter feed for the sheep, to get that discount. We are the ones with eight sacks of ewe nuts and two of layers pellets causing the suspension to sink on the ten year old estate car.

We will go home, having maybe sold a half a dozen ewes.  We will have paid for the feed, and treated the kids to  NoBull jeans, overalls for chores,  or chew sticks for the dogs.  We will have bought a few dairy essentials, and eyed up the brightly coloured feed buckets (a needless expense, we are still using old donated mineral lick tubs) , the pretty new hen houses (ours will survive in their 15 year old Forsham) and the shiny new electric fence components. We will have fought the demon and won, purchasing none of it.

We will pull onto the rented drive which needs more gravel but we can't afford it just yet, and re-light the 35 year old Rayburn which has twisted itself to death, and the Landlord won't replace.  We will start the chores again. By the gate a drunken blackboard will declare 'eggs, £1 half dozen' and ' honey, potatoes, half lambs for freezer' or 'goats milk for dogs/cats only'

It's far from manicured. There are way too many weeds and the polytunnel is sagging. We are the rabble the weekenders were hoping would go away.

We will be outrageously proud and happy that those eggs, that lamb, that milk, or honey is ours and we produced it. We worked full time jobs and paid the bills and kept the lights on and tried for as long as we could stand up, to find ways to save just a penny here and a penny there to reinvest.

If you're one of the tribe, you'll see yourself in these words. If you're not, why not? If your heart is with us, join us. If you can't join us, support us. Buy from the signs, spread the word, wave as you pass us.

Part time farmers rock.

sash and sheep