Born in the beautiful Lune valley in Lancashire, I look back on my happy childhood in a wonderful farming community, but with all the struggles I remember for my parents: electricity did not come to the valley until around 1952; drawing water from a well; and no luxury of an indoor loo then! In the winter of 1947, snow was horrendous and we could not go to school for six weeks. And getting milk churns to the main road a mile away was a community dig-out effort (no tractors!). In the summers I picked rose-hips to provide rosehip syrup for Vitamin C for children (we had no oranges - or bananas for that matter - during the war!).
I still connect with the farming community whenever I visit agricultural shows and am out in the countryside. I love seeing sheep roam the hillsides, stone walls, and cows happily chewing their cud in the tree shade on a summer’s day. It is always good to chat with farmers about the difficulties they face too: milk payments are far too low – large supermarkets use milk as a loss-making attraction but a local Lancashire supermarket is now promoting Bowland milk as well as much local butter and cheese, and they get my vote!
As do Farmers’ Markets in Lancashire. My nearest one is at Hoghton Tower and the range of locally grown vegetables and fruit is wonderful. On the Fylde, and particularly on the rich soils of West Lancashire, we grow a good range of vegetables – and it does not matter if some are less than perfect. It pains me that our local supermarkets do not make more of our local produce - asparagus from Formby is a prized asset for Lancashire. I frequently look for the Union Jack to show British produce. More and more Farmers’ Markets are springing up and ‘Marketing Lancashire’ is now highlighting links with local producers from meat from our local farms to butter and prize-winning cheeses – who does know about Lancashire ‘crumbly’!?
Farming communities are often at the heart of our countryside and many farmers regard themselves as guardians for our brief sojourn on earth. Hedges are laid, field edges protected for wildflowers, birds, and animals; and for small farmers there are rotas for crops and no mono-cropping (mono-culture). Cows and sheep have normal lives in the open fields from spring to October. And haymaking in summer has still that nostalgic scent where I live now in a semi-rural village (silage is totally different - but I appreciate the need!). And the land is kept in ‘good heart’ for the future.
Obviously, the question is: is this sustainable? I would argue that for the sake of the British countryside, and both town and country dwellers, it should be. Pesticides cause untold damage, and bees (critical for pollination) are undoubtedly suffering from the use of neonicotinoids; GM (genetically modified) crops have their own dangers, with seed-manufacturers having near arbitrary control. The milk yield is all-consuming and so this has defined the change in bovine breeding too. Where are Red Polls and Shorthorns these days? Some of the old breeds have good genes going back aeons and we should not lose that.
Look for food produced in Britain: we need to support our own farmers, horticulture, and even orchards – many of the latter we have sadly lost. We have far higher standards of care for our livestock in Britain and this should convince many people to go for local or British produce – just read reports from Compassion in World Farming charity and you will see what I mean!
We all live on this beautiful planet and in the micro-environment of Great Britain. The majority of people will agree we need to care for our planet, our countryside and nature. The Campaign to Protect Rural England is happy to continue its work aiming to do the best to protect it - as we have done for 90 years – and for protection and support of our farmers who work so hard to grow our food. ‘Dig for Britain’ in the Second World War was a major success and inspired (and helped to feed) the country: now we need the same spirit to protect and encourage us to support our own food production in this country: next time you go shopping for food: think British --- and visit a local Farmer’s Market near you!
And, supporting the above, I am proud to have been a CPRE member now for over 40 years!