We write monthly for the magazine Bridport Times. To see this article as originally published, view the pages on Issue.
Written by Adam Simon
Leila and I were speaking in the Houses of Parliament recently. Farming organisations are being consulted on the proposed Environment Bill, which is to replace CAP as support for agriculture, and the Landworker’s Alliance invited a few farms to illustrate to MPs, DEFRA and policy makers how we are delivering ‘public goods’ via agroecological farming as well as making a living and producing good food. Jyoti from Fivepenny Farm brought a feast using only local organic food for them to share as they listened. Many came to understand the issues, others came just for food but were drawn in by the ideas. Our presentation was mainly about what we are doing well and are proud of, however planning what we would say made us think again about why we are doing what we do, how we got here and where we might go next.
Ellen’s parents, Arthur and Josephine, started here in 1960. Their initial reason for coming to West Bexington was to have a good place to bring up their family and good food to feed them. With a background studying geography and anthropology and influenced by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, they were aware of the danger of degradation of the soil and the farmed environment through the conventional ways of farming and did not want to contribute to the damage which they saw around them. As well as supplying the local community with organic food, they fed their children and offered them a healthy outdoor life. The children so enjoyed the food that they snaffled it out of turn as well as when given it to eat. Ellen and Mark, her elder brother, tell us about their wicked ways: pulling tiny sweet carrots, wiping the earth off and eating them; feasting on baby peas – real garden peas not the modern sugar-snap type; slipping into the glasshouses and carefully picking tiny cucumbers because the flavour was even better then than when they were grown ripe for sale; harvesting sun-warm peaches. They also tell us about the outdoor play: damming streams, climbing trees, learning to swim in the sea and bathing in rough weather, and coming out of the sea bruised by the shingle to soak up warmth from the beach and the sun.
Ellen and I came to live here when our children were very young. Our original motivator was the environment for the family: having grandparents to hand and plenty of space, with the hope of them being able to grow up with the land and with the opportunities Ellen had enjoyed. She joined in on the farm and market garden work without even noticing she was doing it, a baby on her back and often a toddler on a pony as she supervised stock, weighed lambs and made hay. The children joined in with all the tasks in the garden. Nimble but unskilled fingers tried to prick out seedlings and sometimes squashed them; enquiring minds learned the difference between lettuce and fat hen plants. My cabinet-making business was satisfying but it soon became clear that Arthur and Josephine had reached the time when they were feeling stretched in their work, particularly as they had children and grandchildren to visit across the world. It was appropriate for us to take on a more substantial involvement and we did.
Earlier in our lives, we had worked in nature conservation. Immediately before we moved to Bexington, in 1994, we had been living in mountainous country and had come to love the ecological communities of the wild grassland and the rich invertebrate life that went with it. The sea replaced the mountain backdrop but we had a visceral need for the close-scale beauty we had known there, which was missing in Dorset’s intensive agriculture and manicured land. On Tamarisk Farm there was already a nature reserve and a lot of species-rich, long-term pasture and mature scrub-land; now the whole farm has become richer and more extensive.
Time has gone on and the next generation are establishing themselves. They, like we and Ellen’s parents before us, do it for the love of the work, the feel of the soil, the wind, the rain and the sun plus the joy of seeing things grow, but they too have their own reasons.
We are all influenced by the big issues of our generation. Josephine and Arthur lived through the war and food rationing. When they came here they wanted to feed a growing family well in a world threatened by the Cold War and reliant on pesticides, herbicides and food additives. They knew about the early pioneers of the organic movement and their emphasis on soil health, and they wanted to put these ideas into practice. They also took great pleasure in the natural world and were part of the newly founded Dorset Wildlife Trust; as a side effect of their farming methods the wildlife on the farm flourished. When Ellen and I came here the world was worrying about pollution and loss of biodiversity. Peak oil was looming and nuclear power was an uncomfortable alternative. Waste wasn’t yet a dirty word and consumerism was king. The Fair Trade movement was being formed to counter third-world exploitation and green politics was being invented. We were aware of being custodians of a beautiful part of the world and the need to make its fruits available to others. We wanted to build on Josephine and Arthur’s achievements, selling food locally with low farming inputs. Our particular passion was to develop the wild diversity and conservation on the farm, and to share it with people.
Now, the big issue is climate change. The next generation, both family members and others, are beginning to mesh their activities with ours as part of Tamarisk Farm, continuing vegetable growing and local sales, increasing the salads and selling to the restaurant trade, bringing laying hens into the conservation grazing. They want to further explore low-carbon farming methods, to use (and to re-use) scarce resources wisely using minimal fossil fuels and generating as little greenhouse gas as possible. They want to undo damage by sequestering more carbon in the soil using grassland management and planting more trees. Lots of trees. They want to be part of the fundamental honesty of growing food as the basis of life. We only have one farm to work with and they too want it to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.