Talking ’til the cows come home (Bridport Times, August 2019)

We write monthly for the magazine Bridport Times. To see this article as originally published, view the pages on Issue.

Written by Leila Simon

One of the things we feel strongly about is showing how we farm and why we believe in farming the way we do. We want people to understand how their food is produced. We want them to feel happy about it, and to use their buying power to encourage methods they approve of. It’s been said we actually get three votes a day on how the world around us looks and works: they’re called breakfast, lunch and dinner!

We are at this the whole time: someone may come to the shop in the hope of finding an ice cream and we explain that we sell only what we grow and that perhaps some tomatoes would be equally refreshing; someone else may come wondering about whether to buy meat or peas and we talk about the rights and wrongs of different diets and the ways in which we grow and rear food. As salespeople we aren’t going to win any awards, but we believe in what we do, and people like to talk about the whys and hows of farming.

Because we like to engage people in what we do, we lead farm walks on and off throughout the year, each focusing on an individual aspect of our farm with perhaps the most popular being our wild-flower walk at Cogden in June. But in the summer we have our Open Day, a full day during which we show and talk about everything. Part public exhibition, with visitors from all over Dorset, and part party where we sit on the lawn and drink tea with familiar customers and friends. These past few years we have added a discussion topic over lunch as food for thought.

Planning for the event starts vaguely in January, when we discuss the events for the year. It usually goes something like this:
‘Shall we really do an Open Day again this year?’
‘It went well last year’
‘It’s quite a lot of work’
‘… but people like it, and we like it, too’
So into the diary it goes: August Bank Holiday Sunday.

Come mid-June, it’s on our mind again. Time to start the ball rolling with posters and planning. Who from the farm will be around that day, what needs to be done in advance, and other little details.

During the week before, we’re mowing the lawn; we’re using every spare hand putting up the marquee, which can be tricky in the wind; we’re gathering chairs and tables; we’re discussing the route for this year’s walks and planning the bread to bake for tasters and what simple fare we can offer for lunch. We are also milling flour, hulling barley, packing peas, filling the shop displays of yarn and sheepskins, all because this is also an opportunity to make available what we sell.

By now we should have learnt that worrying about the weather is a waste of time, but for this we have conflicting wishes. If it rains will anyone come? If it’s windy, will our marquee blow away? And most importantly, if it’s sunny… will we have to be out harvesting on the same day?

In the many years of running the open day, we always have contingency plans organised in case an urgent farm job arises. We know who will take on the job, and who will take over the walk or talk that person was going to lead. The plan has usually involved me, with less experience, filling the gaps to make sure that, by hook or by crook, the day continues smoothly and all the planned walks and demonstrations go ahead.

In all the years we’ve been running it, we’ve only once had to follow our contingency plan. Two years past we watched the weather forecast with trepidation. It had been too wet earlier to harvest, and the grain, ripening quickly, would need to be harvested soon. As the Open Day drew near we had three drier days in a row; every day the wheat was nearer to being ready. We forged ahead with our plans, but on Sunday morning, with rain looming for the coming week, the decision had to be made. We could not jeopardise the crop for the pleasure of having all of us to hand for the open day.

So while he started the day with the rest of us, as soon as the dew was off Adam went out alone to combine, leaving us to meet, greet and chat. After a bit, Ellen set off on a farm walk, planning to see the arable ground, the green manures, the flower-filled field margins and hoping to culminate in seeing the combine harvester at work. She expected to return the walkers to the tea urn and then rush back to the harvest field to empty the grain trailer. But she could tell when she was two fields away that something was wrong. The combine harvester was stationary. Leaving the walkers a little way back, she went up to investigate and found the engine off, Adam nowhere to be seen, the combine listing at an alarming angle and a great gouge through the soil behind the vehicle. To the side was the wheel that had fallen off ! The following day was Bank Holiday Monday, but such is the Bridport community spirit that before breakfast Andrew Townsend generously opened his shop to find replacement bearings, before taking his family out for the day. Luckily, the weather held until they were fitted and we were back on harvest by lunch time.

Last summer we had a drought, but continuous rain on just that day meant we had no worry about whether we should be combining! It was a more intimate gathering than usual, made up of those who were prepared to brave the weather. With the rain beating the tight plastic like a drum skin, the poly tunnels afforded shelter for looking at some of the vegetables, if a bit loud inside for discussing the finer points of vegetable growing! The closer garden and farm walks worked for those who enjoyed getting blustered around. But even for the adventurous few, the final walk – planned for high up the hillside with brilliant views over the farm and the sea – seemed beyond the call of duty. They promised to come back another time to enjoy it and we sat under canvas and shared another pot of tea.

And now, with our fingers crossed for sunshine (but not too much), we’re preparing for this year’s event on Sunday 25th August; with a lunchtime discussion on “Can meat be ethical?” So come on down and see what shenanigans there may be this time.

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