Karen Kay: It’s time to support our farming neighbours
PUBLISHED: 10:01 23 August 2016 | UPDATED: 10:01 23 August 2016
Tough farmers cry like the rest of us – but what they really need is our backing at farm shops and when we visit supermarkets, says Karen
On 1 September thousands of us will converge in fields near Aylesbury at the annual Bucks County Show. There will be animals. Lots of them. Cattle of many varieties: picture book Friesians, huge bulls that look as if they could tow a 16-wheel articulated lorry, honey-coloured Jerseys and the creamy Charolais. You’ll see sheep, dancing sheep, even (don’t ask!). Horses. Dogs. Pigs. Birds of Prey.
And then there are the tractors and combine harvesters. Endless farm vehicles with wheels the size of most people’s front garden. There are motorbikes, cars and marching bands. And lots of tweed and waxed jackets. You’ll find more styles of wellies than you thought could possibly exist.
There will be similar scenes at the Royal County of Berkshire Show at Newbury Showground on 17 and 18 September, perhaps on a slightly grander scale as town meets country over a weekend.
But for me Bucks County Show is closest to home and it’s a peculiar affair if you’re not from the rural community. It shows a lifestyle that is alien to the majority who spend days in offices and nights on residential streets, bathed in the glow of street lighting. For many, there is a romantic vision of what a rural existence entails: a bucolic home with Aga in the kitchen, and roses round the door. There are vegetable patches where chickens peck between beans and courgettes, beyond which rows of barns store neatly stacked hay bales and shiny red tractors. As far as the eye can see, cattle and sheep graze, and cornfields blow in the breeze.
For the farming community, this rose-tinted vision couldn’t be farther from the truth. The reality for those who live off the land is that life is tough. So much of their existence depends on factors out of their control.
When I listen to the morning weather forecast, it’s usually to inform my decision as to which shoes to wear to venture outdoors. When you’re trying to decide whether to harvest crops, that outlook can mean the difference between lost revenue or a seasonal bounty.
You know how it throws your day when your child is poorly and school rings in the middle of a meeting to request they’re collected and taken home? Imagine what it’s like for a farmer, with hundreds of livestock whose welfare is critical not only to annual income, but to his conscience too. Because, believe me, farmers care about their animals. They love them with a compassion that’s hard to comprehend when you know they’re a commercial commodity. While your canine companion is part of the family, their working dogs are loyal colleagues they depend on day in, day out. I’ve seen farmers in tears when a sick cow has to be put down. Yes, in part, because there is a tangible financial loss, but because each and every animal he or she rears is part of the rhythm of life. Farmers are tough cookies, hardened by early starts and endless hours of physical toil, but are truly compassionate souls.
They’re proud folk, often with a long family heritage of working the land. And when you see them parading prize bulls at shows, they’re sharing the fruits of their labour with those of us who usually only see it when we pick up a joint at the supermarket.
Farmers are under pressure. You want cheap milk and a bargain-priced chicken for Sunday roast. You want perfectly round apples, and you’ve bought into New Zealand lamb and Danish bacon.
The farmer up the road is leasing barns to a micro-brewery and experimenting with artisan cheese production because milk sales were not only unprofitable, but a loss-making venture. He’s got a graphic design business in the old dairy, and opened a shop to sell organic fruit and veg, but tempting people to drive out of town for delicious strawberries isn’t easy. He markets fields as a venue for couples to marry in a romantic setting, with hay bales, and gingham tablecloths and a yurt. But some get cross with cowpats in the grass and if rain falls.
If you can, head along to the shows and support our local farming communities. Talk to them about their work. Ask where you can buy their produce. They are the guardians of our countryside, of our healthy diets, of our society’s future.
Let’s support our farming neighbours. Spend a day with them and I guarantee you’ll think again when next in the supermarket dairy section.
• Karen Kay: I’m addicted to my sewing machine - Be warned, once you start chopping up those old shirts, baby clothes and lace trimmings, the obsession to create is unstoppable
• Karen Kay: Space to breathe and find ourselves - ‘And I think to myself, what a wonderful world’. Karen could well be humming that to herself in the Great Outdoors this month