Every year we sit cuddled on the couch, drinking tea, maybe enjoying a digestive, and watch This Farming Life on tv. Every year we talk about how we should put ourselves forward and go on it. We also talk about how many farming programs there are on tv and how popular they seem to be when farming is taking such a knock – from the media (cows cause climate change), from the government (EU farming subsidies; land ownership issues; foreign imports), and from lifestyle gurus and influencers (meat is murder; vegans are fashionable).
Every year, come April, we fall asleep on the couch if we sit down, take our tea standing up looking out the window and eat digestives as the sun rises, heading out to the fields to check on the sheep. We do live a Farming Life, after all, and it is lambing time.
My husband is the ‘shepherd’ in Shepherd’s Cottage, and he, along with his mother, sisters and a motley crew of nieces, nephews, in-laws, children and friends work the lambing. It’s not a holiday, but every year people make an effort to come to the farm and help: rising at dawn and doing last rounds after dinner to check for sheep who are having trouble lambing, providing care and nursing to the animals when required, hand feeding lambs needing extra nourishment, and cleaning out pens and sheds. Each new lamb is individually checked and marked before being sent back out to the wider farm with its mother. If the ‘lambers’ are lucky, someone will take them a cup of tea. This consideration and care is not considered a special way of farming, it’s just how it’s always been done, and how most farming in Britain is done.
We are very lucky in our country to have such high standards of food production and such strong cultural links with our rural environment, but like all precious things, these need to be protected and cultivated.
Last year, at the beginning of lockdown, I read a dystopian novel called Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison. Written in 1966 and set in New York city in 1999, it’s a brilliant book and I would recommend it. Being about the perils of over population, scarcity of resources and the breakdown of society it is obviously far away from my everyday reality, living in our rural idyll, but at the same time it hit close to home, and like all the best books it felt scarily familiar and the characters and their concerns have stayed with me.
In the novel the scarcity of food requires people to eat ‘soylent’ – a meat or meal replacement made of soyabeans and lentils. I think of these soylent steaks every time I see a Quorn advert, and when I Googled it I discovered that there is actually a liquid meal replacement product called Soylent, developed in America in 2014 – science fiction become science fact.
I fear for the loss of our farms and our food, and with that the loss of our culture and history and a gentle descent into dystopia. I am hopeful that my children, who see both plants and animals grown for consumption with respect and care, who take part in choosing, preparing and eating healthy and varied meals, who have friends and family that do or don’t eat meat, grow up to be able to make all the same choices about their diets that we do.