Do you want to be a farmer?
‘Yes, The great outdoors, fresh air, creating an edible landscape, being your own boss and hanging out with sheep and pigs.’
‘No, not me! It’s hard work, it’s smelly, muddy and I can’t even keep cress alive on my windowsill, I have the least green fingers, I would starve.’
We’ve all sang Old McDonald had a farm and can draw our idea of a farmer, a well-fed man, layers of jumpers, a Barbor coat, wellies and a red tractor but what do we know about the life of a farmer today? When was the last time you met a farmer? And who would you send your CV to if you wanted to be a farmer?
I went to the Oxford Real Farming Conference in search of today’s happy farmers, to find out how they got into it and what life is really like.
Meet Dan and Amy who are farmers with their friends in the South of England. They are setting up a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture project, where people in the local area can buy a membership to their farm which entitles them to a weekly box of fruit and vegetables. It’s a popular new way to get into farming, since a successful business can be run on just a few acres. It requires good marketing and community development skills, so if you are good with Facebook, Instagram and writing friendly emails you could be invaluable in the development of a CSA’s community.
A direct relationship between farmer and eater is good for everyone is good for everyone. 100% of the retail price goes to the farmer to invest in producing high quality food. There aren’t the costs of packaging, shipping and marketing to cover.
What did they want to be when they were children?
Dan: I wanted to be an inventor, an explorer, or an architect or be ship-wrecked and become all three.
Amy: I wanted to train horses or be a hairdresser.
Dan and Amy didn’t grow up on farms or wanting to be farmers but it suits Dan’s love of building and designing things and Amy’s love of being outdoors and using scissors, when she’s harvesting the salad.
What’s your favourite thing to grow?
Dan: Apples and pears because it takes patience to grow good trees that bear the most beautiful, tasty fruit.
Amy: I like fast growing plants like beetroot! It’s amazing to think where all that purple flesh comes from. I like growing flowers too.
Why do you love being a farmer?
Dan: Because farming is all about caring, looking after the plants and animals to make them as healthy as possible, which makes the people who eat them as healthy as possible.
Amy: I love being a farmer because you don’t have to go to shops to buy your food. I also like being outside and feeling the changes in the seasons.
What is your favourite vegetable to eat?
Dan: I like potatoes because you can bake them, mash them, fry them or boil them and they are always so tasty and filling. I also love purple sprouting broccoli because its so deliciously juicy, sweet and healthy.
Amy: I like beetroot because it tastes like the soil and makes everything pink. I make it into chocolate cake, eat it raw or pickle it for the winter.
If you were a vegetable what would you be?
Dan: I would be a potato because they like to be snuggled up in a cosy bed but they are so joyful when they are dug up and come out into the sunshine.
Amy: I would be a cucumber, because they are cool!
Who is your favourite Secret Seed Society character and why?
Dan: I like Albon Asparagus because he has good ideas.
Amy: I like Babs Beetroot because of her hair and she’s a bit of a tom-boy.
Dan: When saving the world it’s good to be healthy and happy, vegetables make us healthy and happy. Good growers are healthy and happy, who grow healthy and happy vegetables. Oh what it is to be spinning in a virtuous circle!
Amy: To be a great grower you have to watch everything very carefully and notice what is happening to your plants. You also have to be a detective to work out why things are happening and what your plants might need.