Yesterday evening I drove two miles up to the top of the ridge to buy some animal feed.
(Clearly my photos were taken in the summer time!!)
A year ago our local suppler closed down, to general despondency. It had been like a social club where people bumped into each other, exchanged tips, news, gossip, and passed on helpful contacts.
It was mentioned that a local farm was going to supply a limited amount of feed which is useful but I was still very sad to miss the twenty odd years of the previous shop and the people I used to meet.
But I have met a farmer whose company I really, really enjoy.
We are lucky to live in part of the UK which is known as Upland.
No prairie agriculture here: no huge fields, huge machines, huge agribusiness. I am surrounded by small fields with drystone walls, small family run farms, mixed farming economies. Dairy, sheep, the odd field of barley and roots.
The kind of people and businesses that consecutive UK governments have tried so hard to kill off. The kind of people who know their animals, who know their customers, who know their landscape, who are independent minded, who try to work round the system. I love them. I hope that this is the backbone of what it means to be British, but I fear it is passing.
I have mentioned before about a farmer whose fields abut ours, whose animals come running to him when he enters a field. He has a round, open face, far-seeing blue eyes, a ready smile and always has time to stop and chew the cud. He is not sentimental, but says frankly that it is as easy to be kind to the stock as to be otherwise, and that they are so much easier to manage if they like and trust you. But he has retired now and his two sons have left farming. The land was leased from a cousin of his who is now farming in his stead, in the old ways. But this cousin too is entering his fifties.
Well, now I have met Frank. His farm sits right slap bang on top of the ridge behind our cottage, with magnificent views down each side, looking along the valleys and over to moorland, but which gets every speck of rain, flake of snow, and breathe of wind.
Further along the ridge looking West.
It turns out that he used to help another farmer when it came to making hay on our Hayfield so he knows us: I am ashamed to say that I did not recognise him. At haymaking time I was too busy taking out drinks to the men when they were working and then trying not to get in their way.
He could be anywhere between his late fifties, to his late seventies. He has a full head of greying hair, eyes are surrounded by laughter lines and twinkle constantly. He is sturdy but lean, and has worked sixteen hours a day since he was eleven years old. He never stops. Doesn’t know how.
Pig breeding used to be the main purpose of his farm: his pork was renowned all over Sheffield. His farm did everything from growing and milling the feed, to fattening and finishing the pigs. But that was very labour intensive and his son James left the farm for other work. However, now Frank is winding down a bit and James has decided to return to the farm and open a riding and livery stables.
Frank has imported four shipping containers, three of which he has put together in a T shape, with two making a thick upright to the T. Each time I visit he is cutting doors through, laying wooden floors, making a corridor, putting up shelves, popping in a small snack bar, etc etc. The fourth container is separate, so far, but close, in which he has all his feed. The others contain things for dogs, things for horses, rugs, tables, chairs, sweets, eggs, you name it and they appear.
So that is where I go now for our animal feed.
If I do not have the correct money, he lets me leave with the feed and says he will call down for the cash some time. He never does.
If they do not have what I want, he orders it and says James will deliver it. He never does:)
I frequently have to scold them but they just smile. Farming is not an exact science and neither is making money from the land. At least – not in these parts. ( Down South where agribusiness is practiced, an annual subsidy there seems like a small fortune to farmers up here.) Animals, time and people come first. But like all farmers, Frank and James are no pushovers and being determined to make a decent living is inbred. Hence the change of direction into horse livery and a Riding School.
So from time to time I am beginning to bump into people I used to know from the previous shop. But the farm and shop is only open for two hours each evening as well as all day on the weekend, so one is less likely to meet people. I often pop up in an evening when we need something: I am sure I would meet more people on a Saturday.
Frank seems to gather unwanted animals around him: recently, two geese, a flock of ducks, and a small terrier. People mention that they have some animal they do not want or who need re-homing, and Frank takes them in. His old dog is feeling the cold and is sitting in the kitchen beside the stove. The new little old terrier follows him everywhere, totally at home now after being abandoned. She has a large box under the table near the snack bar filled with straw from where she weighs you up as you enter the ‘Shop’ (container): if she likes you she then leaps out and greets you effusively.
His chickens are all free range, and how. All shapes and sizes, all over everywhere. Like the ducks. You never know what eggs will be on sale, but there will be eggs. I fully expect to see ostriches one day. But perhaps the weather up there would not be kind enough.
photo from www.moorwoodequine.co.uk
We seem to chat about anything and everything when I go up. He has a lot to do but never seems hurried. A real gentleman. Sometimes, when he has several customers at a time, who are all talking to each other, he just stands back with a smile on his face and quietly waits and watches us: eventually we will all stop and let him know what we have come for and why.
James, his son, is as easy going as his dad. And best friends with the farmer’s son who lives next to us up the lane. But this nearer farm is winding down, the cow numbers have halved and the farmers themselves say they are retiring. Their children have always helped on the farm but I see no signs of them taking over. The next generation want more out of life.
Perhaps the restrictions imposed by the various governments are finally biting: perhaps the lure of freedom from routine and a wider world have won over. I don’t know, but I do wonder what will happen to the land if these custodians leave. Will it all become one large ‘leisure facility’? It would be so strange to look out and not see sheep, lambs, cows and calves. But Frank is going strong, holding on to his farm and looking after the land. And so far his son is following in his footsteps, with different animals and strategy, but still keeping the family farm in the family