OAKLANDS is a Camphill Village, one of many communities following the philosophy of Rudolph Steiner. Adults with learning difficulties (the villagers) live and work with people whose difficulties are not so obvious to create a utopian society. It works. The community is based round a bio-dynamic farm. And now I’ve stubbed my toe on the basic problem. Do my readers know – do I know – what bio-dynamic means? I could explain, but it takes a volume.
The problem is communication.
To simplify outrageously, Steiner believed that we are all linked: humans, animals, plants, the earth, and beyond. His farming, education, dance, religion, all worked out aspects of this belief with German thoroughness. Steiner’s followers are so dedicated, so thorough and so right that it is quite hard for them to communicate with the rest of the world. That doesn’t bother them. There are lots of them and they communicate well with one another. But it should bother the rest of the world because they have something we really need. To take farming, their soil is nurtured naturally, their crops are superbly healthy, their animals (and people) thrive, because bio-dynamic farming gives back at least as much as it takes out.
At Oaklands in the Forest of Dean, they have a flock of sheep, a herd of cows, fruit trees, a kitchen garden. They produce enough to feed themselves (more than 100 of them) and sell the surplus. There is also a weavery, so the sheeps’ wool is valued. The whole system works because the profit motive plays no part in it.
So when the sheep all round them had Foot and Mouth and the authorities wanted to slaughter their healthy animals, it wasn’t just their cows and sheep that were threatened, though that was awful enough. It was their whole way of life.
They withstood a siege. We supported them. And out of that victory the frail resistance to the government’s farming policy was born.
The problem for us, the resistance, is how to talk meaningfully about farming to the great urban public who sit in their tower blocks and get fed, or to policy makers who see farming in terms of industry.
As a society, we see farming only in terms of profit. This is not the only way to see it. Oaklands works as a whole. The fact that they produce more food than they need is incidental. Is there any message here for the rest of us?
WICK COURT, FRAMILODE, GLOUCESTERSHIRE
Wick Court is a mixed farm with Gloucester cattle, Gloucester Old Spot pigs, Cotswold sheep, poultry, an apple orchard and the farm’s original cider making equipment in working order. There is also a wonderful house: a Tudor hunting lodge, part of the Berkeley estate. It is ideally placed to have groups of city children to stay in the house and work on the farm. This is what happens as part of a scheme called Farms For City Children.
Wick Court is very much a working farm, producing Single Gloucester and Double Gloucester cheeses as well as meat, and selling them at local shops and Farmers’ Markets. It is also a major contributer in the communication battle. Children who would otherwise have no idea what farming is about see a mixed, traditional farm at work and join in.
OVER FARM MARKET, GLOUCESTER
Known for their colourful mounds of squashes at this time of year, Over has been going 20 years, bringing a range of local food to the side of the A40, just outside Gloucester. They sell their own vegetables in admirable profusion. They have also returned 200 acres to meadowland, grazed by their own cattle. Their own beef appears in the new butchery section, together with free range Cotswold lamb and free range Gloucester Old Spot pork and bacon. They have a good range of English (though not particularly of local) cheeses. Milk from HYDE FARM DAIRY, CHELTENHAM, another brave and local dairy. Over also do their bit for communication, with animals you can visit, notably goats, donkeys and free range hens.
FULMAYS FARM, MINCHINHAMPTON. GLOUCESTERSHIRE
Fulmays, who are in the middle of a farm-move from Nastend, started as a dairy farm. When dairy farming became financially impossible, they added Gloucester Old Spot pigs, who live a fairly wild life, rootling in the woods. Now they have Gloucester cattle as well. They sell the meat at Farmers’ Markets. When settled in Minchinhampton, they will welcome visitors.
THE MOHAIR CENTRE, LONGHOPE, GLOUCESTERSHIRE
A sad story. There used to be a large herd of Angora goats, a shop selling mohair wool and clothes, a visitor centre and café. Now the goats and shop are being phased out and the rest is becoming a “children’s entertainment centre”.
Not a triumph for education.
I heard another sad story in Stroud. Local people have been extremely active in opposing a planning application by MacDonalds. As far as I can gather, not a single person in Stroud wants MacDonalds, but they’re going to get it just the same. I can only hope that not a single person will patronise it.
THE BOROUGH FARMERS MARKET
Already, farmers are finding it’s easier to get someone else to do the selling and who can blame them? I do regret it though. Best of the new-style salesmen are Neal’s Yard Dairy, who take great pains to display names and addresses of individual farmers. Some of them, making excellent cheese, are from Ram Hall in the W. Midlands, Riseley in Bucks, Churcham in Gloucestershire, Nantwich in Cheshire. Also yoghurt from Dorstone in Herefordshire and S. Molton in Devon and butter from Wroughton in Wilts and Moorhayes, Wincanton. Milk (Jersey, unhomogenised) from the Bowles family, Beckington, Bath. Free range eggs from Saffron Walden.
Also at the Borough were:
Farmer Sharp’s Herdwick lamb
Furness Fish, Poultry and Game Supplies with
Morecambe Bay potted shrimps,
Northfield Farm, Rutland (Naturally reared meats)
West Country Venison
Trethowan’s from Gorwydd with their own Caerphilly
Sillfield Farm, Kendal (Wild Boar)
I feel some cashing in is already going on. Also one or two market traders are left over from the old Borough Market with wonderful displays of vegetables. OK they didn’t grow them themselves, but it’s good to see them still around.
The communication battle is being fought hard at the Borough.
Farmers have only just started to communicate with consumers and it’s not surprising that they differ about what they are trying to put across and who to. The Borough represents all shades of opinion from Pate de foi gras and a stuffed pheasant inside a duck inside a goose to vegans and farmers who put animal welfare first.
BLACKHEATH FARMERS’ MARKET
Warren Farm, New Romney, Kent, “giving our animals the care and consideration they deserve. All are genuinely free-range, in as natural a habitat as possible”. I mean to go and see them.
Bob and Chris Fridd, Selling, Faversham, Kent, with their own home grown veg. Lots of it.
Flower Power City, Hoxton, organic baker.
Chegworth Valley fruit and fruit juice.
www.applejuicedirect.com (very interesting site)
Nut Knowle Farm, Horam, E. Sussex. Goat cheese.
Telling the public about farming is the most important thing we can do.
We’ve hardly started yet.