14.3.08

A Place in My Country

My latest read has been ‘A Place in My Country’ by Ian Walthew. It is a non-fiction memoir about the author’s sudden departure from working in the city to buying a small Cotswold Cottage and finding himself there. 

It’s a fairly narrow snapshot, just one person’s view on country life and the attitudes and issues he picked up from those around him. Although it’s non-fiction it reads like a novel and is great for a curl up with a cup of tea!

It picks up many of the rural themes you would expect from a small village (expensive housing, breaking up of estates and large scale farming etc.) and it was interesting to hear views expressed by local people who would not normally get a voice in these matters.  

It made me a bit sad too as it just highlighted how much the countryside is changing. How local people are getting pushed out of villages due to massive house price rises and how local rural knowledge is being lost.  

We did a lot about this in my course at university, but it’s very easy to be idealistic in management plans…whether they work in reality is different kettle of fish. One argument that we were throwing around is that the countryside should be allowed to evolve (meaning that smaller farmers generally became obsolete), but it’s hard to imagine that this will ever be so because people love to see the idyllic ‘British Countryside’.

This is a difficult issue though isn’t it?  You can’t have it both ways. You can’t want to see small farmers tending the land in traditional ways and creating the ‘nice’ countryside, while continuing to buy cheap food from supermarkets which have been imported or produced on huge, monoculture farms. What’s the point in pouring so much money via subsidies into small traditional farming – just for the aesthetic value, and small amount that it helps wildlife - when large-scale farming is pretty much the only way you can make a decent profit anymore?  
Is small scale traditional farming obsolete? I hope not, but I do think that subsidies are a bizarre way to go about saving it!



 


 

 

3 comments:

  1. Hi there,

    Ian here, the author of A Place in My Country.

    Can I just make one observation?

    The vast majority of subsidies paid to U.K farmers do NOT go to supporting small traditional farmers, but go to increasing the profits of a relatively very small number of large, largely monoculture cereal producers.

    Data on subsidies is now free for all to see, and you will be shocked to see just how much goes to some of the wealthiest landowners in the U.K. With cereal prices at an all-time high, most of these large subsidy recipients would be profitable without subsidies. More links etc on this can be found at my website.

    I'm not sure what the long term futurre of small, mixed farmers is either, and I doubt that subsidies will last beyond 2012/2013 in their current format.

    But in the meantime, would we rather be giving subsidies to preserve traditional small mixed farms, or to increase the profits of Tate & Lyle and the Duke of Westminster?

    Thanks for mentioning the book - please do spread the word because your point about the book giving voice to people whose voices are largely not heard in the rural debate was very much at the heart of my motivation to write A Place in My Country.

    With kind regards,
    Ian

    www.ianwalthew.com

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  2. I use a scythe to cut hay and a hoe to work several acre-sized fields but I'm neither obsolete nor romantic. I also have absolutely no intention of making a profit so the taxman can steal a slice of almost nothing. I'm just happily grumping along sustaining my family most of the time in a way that I find extremely satisfying and rewarding. What more can I ask for?

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  3. LittleFfarm Dairy19 March 2008 at 09:33

    Hi Rachel -

    I'm a small farmer in Wales (small in literally every sense, actually: only 5ft 4ins tall & working just 36 acres!). Our place is called Ffarm Fach, which in Welsh basically means 'Small Farm' - hence the name of our business, LittleFfarm Dairy.

    We run a small-scale artisan goat dairy crafting fresh, natural, additive-free produce for our local market only; we manage our land organically &, I hope, responsibly.

    In our area there are lots of smaller-scale enterprises or 'cottage industries' doing similar things to us; not for aesthetic reasons I can assure you, but because if done well you can make as much money from tending ten acres, as you can one hundred.

    And we don't get any subsidies, whatsoever.

    Therefore the taxpayers can rest easy; we're not trying to create a pastoral idyll to please passing tourists off the backs of others; but are working our land as a genuine commercial venture whilst at the same time ensuring that we are fully responsible to the environment & can create an all-important haven for wildlife.

    So you see, it can be done - but we need support from maninstream consumers such as yourself, to help us strike the balance: buy fresh, local produce rather than lining the pockets of the supermarket - who at the end of the day, care only about profit & not about the farmers they're fleecing, whether great or small.

    You can read more of the trials & tribulations of running a small farming business on our LittleFfarm Dairy Blog -it's a very, very hard life; but I wouldn't change it for the world.

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