Welcome to the Food Stories Series. A series to connect you to the stories of the people behind the food on our plates and the countryside we all enjoy. Their different roles, backgrounds, journeys, and reasons they do what they do.
I’ve been sitting on this idea for over a year, so thought it was probably time to actually share it with you! I’m not sure how long this series will go on for, it depends how many wonderful people working in the farming industry want to share their story, but I’d like to interview at least one person from each agricultural sector.
I hope you enjoy learning a little more about the people behind the food we eat. We might be living in a world where many people’s connection to food begins and ends on a supermarket aisle, but hopefully, this will go some way towards filling in the blanks behind the things you put in your basket, and maybe also towards bringing down the ‘Us vs Them’ narrative that seems to surround farmers and the general public.
To kick this series off, I couldn’t think of anyone better to interview than my biggest farming inspiration, my teacher, mentor… and father. My dad is where my connection to food and farming begins, so here is the story of his connection to it.
THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE FOOD ON OUR PLATES
My dad, Roger, is both a Farmer and an Agricultural Contractor. He farms in partnership with his family on a mixed farm in West Yorkshire, with arable land and beef cattle. Producing cereals and oilseeds that are sold off the farm for a range of uses, from animal feed to cooking oil, and calves from their herd of beef cows which are sold to other farms at around a year old, to be reared for beef that will eventually end up on the supermarket shelves.
Being a Contractor means he also does farm work for other farms, from digging footings for sheds and draining fields, to drilling crops and baling dried grass for winter feed for livestock and horses, plus lots of other field work.
When he’s not working, he grabs a ride on our horses whenever he can. He says he secretly hopes to get to have another go at mounted games or polo, like he did in his youth, but given that his nickname round here is Mr Bump, I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.
How it all began
My dad grew up on the farm we are still on now, helping out throughout his childhood, including finding his spot behind the steering wheel of a tractor at just 8 or 9 years old- although much smaller ones than are around nowadays!
The farm was rented and run by his parents. It was arable land, mostly growing cereal crops and potatoes, with some grass fields where their herd of suckler cows grazed. They multi-suckled calves, which means their herd of 20 cows reared about 60 calves each year, as they all had their own calf and also fed two more at the same time, which were bought from neighbouring dairy farms. Multiple times a day, the cows would be brought into the shed to feed the extra calves- it was certainly a labour of love and a lot of hard work.
His dad also had a contracting business, which had begun long before he ever had a farm of his own, doing farm work for both local farms and ones further afield, as well as land maintenance work for the councils across West Yorkshire.
My dad worked on the farm and with the contracting business full-time for a year after finishing his A-levels, before going to Myerscough Agricultural College to do a HND in Agriculture. During his years at college, he came back home to work every weekend and throughout each school holiday and summer.
He spent the first half of the placement year of his college course managing a dairy farm from Monday to Friday, coming home to carry on working on weekends. The second half of the year was spent working on a Veg farm, doing farm work, working the land, and picking vegetables and grading potatoes throughout the winter months, to be sold to supermarkets and wholesalers.
After his final year of studying, he then brought his new-found knowledge and experience of different farms back home with him, to work alongside his dad and the rest of the contracting team.
Why did you choose to be a Farmer, what inspired you?
“It was always my goal, inspired by working with my dad and on all the farms around us. I knew I enjoyed it and I thought it was a lovely life to have.”
Do you have any farming highlights or a moment you will remember forever?
“A highlight for me is when any job goes well. I’m happy when I finish a job and can look back at it and think “that’s gone well, it’s all worked out”, whether it’s digging, ploughing, drilling, or whatever other job.”
What’s one of your favourite parts about what you do?
“Contracting-wise, it’s my digging. Turning an area of rubbish into somewhere completely level and totally different.
Farming-wise though, it’s getting the calves up and sucking after they’ve been born. Getting them up and onto the cow, and sucking and running around. To see that all work out is my favourite part.
I like being a mixed farm, with livestock and crops, and doing the contracting work. Being able to have a go at all the different jobs.”
And what’s your least favourite part, or the most difficult part?
“The most difficult part of Farming and Contracting is waiting for the weather. Waiting, with all the lists of jobs in my mind, and trying to assess which way to do them and how to get them all completed in the weather we’re being given; trying to prioritise which to do first is the hardest.”
What would you like others to know about farming?
“I want them to know that everything we produce, we do it to the highest standards we possibly can. Whatever it is, we try our best, and nothing ever goes off the farm sub-standard. And that our hearts are in this, it’s not just a job; that’s the main thing.”
Have you ever come across any negativity about being a farmer?
“I had school teachers tell me not to farm, but I told them I wanted to go into farming, to make a difference and improve and move things forward with each generation. I’ve not come across any problems since, I’m proud of what I do and people seem to take that on board.”
What would you say to others who come across the same judgements or have people who try to discourage them?
“I’d say you have to follow your heart. If your heart’s not in it, don’t farm. It’s not just a 9 to 5 job, you’ve got to be passionate about it. And if you are passionate about it, what other people say or do cannot stop you.”
What advice would you give someone who wants to get more involved in farming?
“I’d tell them to find a path they enjoy doing and stick to it, no matter if it gets tough; because there will be a few very tough times, but the tough years are far outweighed by the good years.
And always try to keep adapting.”
I want to thank my dad for being my first Food Stories guineapig- I would tell you where you can all find him, but he’s still living in the dark ages with technology, but he and his antics do pop up on my One Girl and Her Cows social media accounts fairly often!
I really hope you’ve enjoyed reading this, please let me know if you have; hopefully, it will be the first of many! If you’d like to get involved and share your story, please pop me a message and let me know.