Sunday, 17 March 2013

The farmer wants a ...

I love food, and not just the taste of it. I love that smell that seeps out of kitchens - think fresh bread; and the colours - rich chocolate, tomatoes all red and juicy... (I'm a rubbish cook, but that's another story.)

I woke at sparrowfart the other day, and turned the radio on to catch Farming Today. (For the benefit of overseas readers, this is a programme that comes on just as farmers will be settling with breakfast having finished milking the cows, so at about 6.30 in the morning. And it's all about, well, farming.)

The presenter and a farmer were walking through his fields, looking at what should have been spring crops. We've had so much rain the ground is waterlogged - many farms have had to let the winter wheat rot in the fields for want of the weather to harvest it. Agronomists (consultants to farmers) are telling them to wait before planting seeds for summer crops - if we have a few clear days the topsoil might be dry enough but it's so soggy underneath that one shower and the seeds will die. At the same time, supermarkets are pressing for harvest dates - they need to know there will be wheat for bread this summer, potatoes for barbecues, fresh salads with fancy lettuce.

And all the farmer can do it stand in the corner of his field, look at the film of water lying over everything, and know his livelihood might swimming down the river. Not just his job - his house, his lifestyle, his dreams.

I'm a consumer; I rarely think behind the supermarket shelves. But almost all our food begins life on a farm - somewhere in the world. There are millions of fields with farmers standing in the corner, looking at the sky, and maybe praying. They are willing to get up in the dark to milk cattle; to spend days in lambing sheds with frozen fingers to make sure their sheep are healthy; they sit on tractors for hours, planting and maybe spraying and harvesting. All so that I can have bread for my breakfast and potatoes for my tea.

Next time I stare across our low-lying fields ankle deep in water, I shall try not to think about the rising price of bread and spare a thought for the farmer.

One thought - to lighten the mood. I saw this outside a local cafe: Vegetables are good for you; trees are vegetable; cocoa grows on trees; chocolate is a vegetable ... it works for me ...

11 comments:

  1. Agree with all of this, Jo. Meanwhile, the Archers potters on with apparently no rain damage, plenty of time to pop back for a cup of tea and a chat, and selling everything they produce. We have a farmer in the family and he's having to diversify to survive, and struggles with a mountain of paperwork too. Still, chips for tea, hopefully ...

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    1. The Archers have much to answer for - I know they work in 'real time' but seem to have lost any idea of showing 'townies' what it is really like to live in the countryside.

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  2. Hi Jo .. and also the flood defences put up to protect the low-lying houses ... just direct the water off into the fields ... people v food .... and as Jacqueline says so much paperwork ...

    We need to think and understand more ... good post - thanks - Hilary

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    1. Welcome to the blog, Hilary.

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  3. Ah, Jo, I used to listen to Farming today regularly, mainly because my father was an early bird and had the radio on at sparrow's whotsit every day, but I grew to love it and it's one of those programmes (like the shipping forecast) that will always evoke comfort and safety for me - home, I suppose.

    However, I am very sympathetic to farmers, having tried to be one myself for a while (book coming soon), and having lived on farms for quite a substantial part of my life. Farmers live with the curse and vagaries of our weather systems, and every year could be make or break. It doesn't help when the bureaucrats in Brussels dictate what they should be doing too. I saw many a West Country farmer go out of business because EU directives had nothing to do with what the farmers and their farms were suited to. I see it today too, especially with the small farms in Belgium and France.

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  4. Thank you all. My brother recently retired from farming, and so I'm used to hearing him standing in the corner of his field (or with piles of paperwork) - he's just one of millions. And if we don't look after our farmers we starve - so it seems crazy to me that we don't pay more attention to their struggles.

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  5. I go through phases of listening to Farming Today. It's never an uplifting experience for me at the best of times and I know that this is a bad time also for dairy farmers whose fields have been under water for almost a year now!

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    1. Farming Today - no, it's not uplifting, but I find it very 'grounding' (for want of a better word) - reminds me of the earthy things, which is wonderful when I spend so much time in my head!

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  6. Yes we should think more about where our food comes from and who grows it. I watched a programme about how many vegetables were being disgarded becuse supermarkets only want nicely shaped vegs.The had to conform to a certain size as well.Piles and piles of carrots,cucumbers etc lefet to rot.I don't understand why they could not even be given away free to people who need it.Senseless waste but I suppose it's our fault for fogetting that not everything is perfect.

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    1. I have a local market, Anne - so don't have to resort to uniform veg. Aren't I lucky!!!

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    2. Yes you are! We have farmer's market day at our shopping centre but it's so busy there is never anywhere to park.I also think it's become a bit too commercialised.

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