The biggest influence on farm life is always the weather. It controls much of what and when things get done. We are much relieved that the almost daily rainfall of the past six months has finally abated, and some degree of normality returns to life on the land, no more mud is a wonderful event! Cessation of winter rains marks a time of intense activity with land to prepare and seeds and young plants to plant.
The present crisis has been very good for our sales. The Box Scheme numbers have almost doubled in two weeks and a similar rise in sales at Lin’s VegShed, where we had to impose for a while specific opening times with staff present to ensure fairness to all.
So, this has meant that we have been able to sell just about all our produce with little wastage. Last season was our best ever in terms of yields and a few weeks ago we were concerned that we had too much produce and not enough sales. We had actually started to donate produce to FareShare, who supply charities and soup kitchens. We gave away two tonnes of potatoes and onions before the crisis started. We had planned to do more, to include parsnip and beetroot that we had too much of; but couldn’t find any willing local part-time paid labour to help us with sorting the crops.
All this changed three weeks ago, when suddenly our local community got scared at the empty supermarket shelves and realised that their local veg grower was able to supply their needs! At the same time we were flooded with people offering to work here, we have had more than 20 such requests from locals, many of whom have no work to go to.
I suspect that one of the attractions of working here is we are not short of food. It used to be said that “hunger is only one generation from memory”. For our generation that may be true, my parents knew food rationing during the war, but for my children and grandchildren fortunately they have no experience of hunger. Within the present crisis there is no shortage of food, but public concerns can rapidly change people’s buying habits and promote panic buying to the detriment of everybody.
We will clear all of our crops over the next couple of weeks so this is really good news as it sets us up well to cope with the coming season. We are planning to increase our production this year in the hope that people will continue to value their local food suppliers. Nothing like the threat of hunger to sharpen people’s awareness of the real value of food.
We came into organic food production over four decades ago with some radical and determined beliefs. Those beliefs and ideals are still with us and are primarily to enable us to feed people with quality food without trashing the Planet. If anybody had told me all those years ago that we would be struggling to find a decent market and get paid a fair price for what we produce, I would not have believed it. We have watched with some dismay at the industrialisation of food systems and the downward spiral of prices. Food in real terms is half the price it was when we started. It is no wonder that farmers have had to intensify and industrialise; they have been under enormous pressure to produce more for less return. Covid-19 has suddenly changed the public’s perception of food, it has become a valued product.
Our farm business strives to build resilience, both in terms of crop success and market security and the present crisis has confirmed that what we are doing is correct and proper. We are able to provide food to the local community when it needs it most. Four decades is a long time to wait, but finally I feel that we are valued and respected for how we manage our land and that perhaps our time has come.
So, for us it is very much business as usual. We are not subject to any restrictions on movement as we are now “essential services”, at last a recognition as to what is important in society. Whatever Covid-19 is and irrespective of where it came from, it is having a profound effect on how people value that which is important. And I feel that some long term good will come of all this. The economy is slowing right down, consumption has halted, and the Planet has a chance to breathe a sigh of relief and start the healing process that it so desperately needs.
Hardwick has returned to peace and tranquility, no planes overhead, almost no trains, empty roads, and almost no visitors to the Estate other than cyclists and walkers. The only noise is me on the tractor – we have had some great weather the past two weeks!
We are indeed lucky to be here and able to carry on our business of feeding local people, so for the moment at least we are feeling very confident about the future.
I am feeling some guilt though as many are far less fortunate than ourselves and have little to celebrate, the poor are the real suffers of such a situation we found ourselves in and they will need much support as the Earth changes to what I hope will become a post-capital healing planet.