After church on Easter Sunday morning, a resident of the village came up to me and said: “I trust you farmers are enjoying the fine spring weather”.
I replied that, pleasant as it was, I would like some of the rain that was falling in the South as we spoke; that my spring-drilled crops were gasping for moisture.
“You farmers are never satisfied,” he retorted. “I’d have thought you had enough rain last winter to keep you going all year.”
I remembered that his was one of the houses in the village in front of which the garden and lawn had been ripped up and replaced with concrete.
The previous day – Easter Saturday – I was helping with the weekly shopping. My wife had had a big buy at the local farmers market, but we needed a few items not available there. We went to a Sainsbury’s supermarket. I was scanning the cheese shelves for Somerset Brie, which is one of her favourites. A young couple were just ahead of me and the husband picked up a packet labelled French Brie. “Will this do?” he asked his wife. “Or would you rather have the British version from Somerset?” To which his wife replied: “We’re not worried about that, are we? The French is fine.” And off they went, throwing the imported product into their basket.
The Sunday Times on Easter Day contained the usual batch of supplements, one of which was entitled “Event” which features entertainment, TV and radio timings, previews of future offerings and criticism of past programmes. Jaci Stephen, claimed by the paper to write “Britain’s best TV column”, had written a scathing piece about The Big Allotment Challenge, broadcast the previous Tuesday on BBC2.
As she pointed out, it was a competition programme in which pairs of gardeners were judged on the vegetables and flowers they had produced after 15 weeks of cultivating their plots. The losing pair was sent home each week. Ms Stephen couldn’t see the point of all that work. She said she would not be rushing out to buy a wheelbarrow. “Why bother?” she asked, “when I can buy a pack of radishes in Tesco for 50p.”
A few weeks ago, I read another piece in the Sunday Times, this time by AN Wilson. A dedicated urbanite and polemicist, he criticised what he deemed as the preoccupation with the countryside. Everything interesting happens in towns and cities, according to him, and he couldn’t see the point of anything beyond their boundaries. Bucolic yokels held no charms for him. Indeed, he thought those of us that might be so described were a waste of time.
OK, maybe the above are isolated anecdotes and perhaps they do not represent the views of the majority of the population. Furthermore, I agree with the NFU and others that our industry has reconnected with consumers far better in recent years than previously and that in many cases we enjoy closer relationships with our customers.
I would suggest, however, that the examples of ignorance, apathy and sometimes downright hostility that I have cited might be more widespread and typical than we would like to believe.
If I am right, it means we still have a long way to go to persuade those who consume what we produce that home production is safest, tastiest and freshest and that to buy it in preference to imported will keep UK farmers in business and ensure future supplies. All who are able must promote home produce with renewed vigour.
David Richardson farms about 400ha of arable land near Norwich, Norfolk, in partnership with his wife Lorna and his son Rob.