If you haven’t heard of Jermey Clarkson’s latest program adventure then I’m not sure where you have been, especially if you are a keen countryside pursuits type of person. Clarkson’s Farm is, in theory at least, a fly on the wall documentary following Clarkson on his attempts to work his own farm by himself after his permanent farmer decided it was time to retire. As all of the farmers out there will agree, I’m sure, this is no small undertaking. I won’t spoil your future entertainment by getting into specifics, but Clarkson shines a light on the realities, bureaucracy, and dependencies of farming in the UK today, with a clinical accuracy. He uses his own direct and controversial approach, mixed with humour, to highlight the monumental challenges faced by farmers, and therefore rural communities, today. There’s no glossing over the physical hardships, no political agenda, no hiding from the cycle of life for the cattle, and equally no support for industrialised farming methods, no fixation on profits over welfare, or prioritisation of farm land over wilderness and a better environment. Thats an awful lot of really important issues to cover in a series of eight episodes but somehow he manages it, and more importantly leaves you wanting more. The reviews have been nearly all positive with only one naysayer, but as that comes from the Guardian its no surprise really!
Apparently 80% of the UK’s population live in urban areas, but an academic study has concluded that only 2% of England is actually built on. I’m not going dispute that simply because I can’t honestly believe it to be correct, as a general observation of satellite imagery of the country would have an observer estimating it t be higher than that. However, let’s accept the researchers work and go with 2%. The ratio between rural and urban habitation is not just staggering but scary. It does however go a long way to explain why other programmes documenting rural life tend to shy away from the realities in preference for what disassociated people might prefer to believe is the truth. Why is it that so many conservationists, often living in a built up urban metropolis, seem to have so many views on how the 20% minority should live their lives and manage the countryside in which they live? For many people living an urban life, food comes in a packet. The hardships endured to get the food to the supermarket is simply ignored. Price is king, so the 80% majority demand lower prices. Supermarkets bow to competition, putting pressure on the suppliers to drop their prices. The perceived value of food goes down and it’s a race to the bottom. On the flip side, people turn on their TV’s to watch a disney-fied version of rural life, resulting in armchair conservationists, or activists with an agenda, demonising the realities of farming and wild game hunting, with a complete disregard to their hypocrisy of demanding cheaper foods, all year round, from both local and distant locations.
I happened to be passing Chipping Norton last week, so fresh with the final episode of Clarkson’s Farm still in my memory from the night before, I decided to call into Diddly Squat Farm Shop. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see any of the cast (just as well, as I didn’t!) but I like visiting farm shops and needed something for my dinner that evening. First observations would be that the locals are likely to get peeved with the traffic pretty soon, but as with all new ‘fads’ the footfall to the shop will likely die down over the next few weeks. The queue didn’t appear too long, so after parking my landy in the field next to an Aston Martin (one of a few) I trotted off over the field to see what was on offer. It’s important to know, for anyone considering paying a visit themselves, that the shop isn’t very big, and as a result a small queue can be a rather deceptive consideration for a time appreciation study! It was an hour before I was able to exit the shop with some honey, rapeseed oil, lamb chops and a loaf of bread, oh and a small sausage roll for immediate consumption. I was also £28 lighter in the wallet. I accept that however. Local, seasonal, ethically sourced, sustainable food isn’t cheap. Our problem, as a nation, is that we think it should be! We’ve fallen into the cycle of believing food costs nothing to produce because the supermarkets have capitulated to our demands for cheaper produce. To try and remain afloat, farming has become big business and industrialisation expanded in order to supply the demand. Conservationists abhor the industrialised nature of food production, as do I, but until we accept that food costs more how will we ever resolve the conundrum of supporting conservation, supporting the reality of the country and still eating well but with a different price point? It unfortunate therefore that we will continue to see people blame populist causes to help justify our current actions and culture.
Spoiler alert, in the last episode of Clarkson’s Farm we discover that after costs, the farm made a grand total of £144 for the year’s efforts. That was before Clarkson was able to pay himself. Now we all know he would have been handsomely rewarded by Amazon for sharing his trials and tribulations but other farmer’s won’t have that luxury. It was the weather that destroyed his crops and therefore his revenue, but thats only on top of the cheaper prices we have demanded for the food that is bought in the local supermarket - far removed from where it was actually grown and harvested. It’s time we started to appreciate the real costs of food and accepting we need to alter our eating habits and start to pay more.