Love and loneliness: how farmers are beating the odds

Despite living in a digital era with social media and dating apps at our fingertips, statistics show that rural loneliness is on the rise.

Results from a recent survey by the Farming Community Network (FCN) suggest that farming, as an occupation and a way of life, often leaves little time for socialising and forming relationships, leaving many in rural communities feeling isolated.

See also: Exmoor group tackles farm support and rural isolation

Alex Phillimore, head of communications and development at FCN, said: “Loneliness can be exacerbated in farming because of long working hours, geographical isolation and limited opportunities to get off-farm.

“It’s important that we try and make time where we can, to change our environment, even if only every now and then. This can be healthy and can remind us that we’re part of a wider community.”

A global affair

Couple standing by the seashore

Rachel Stratton met her partner Ola in a Norwegian village © Rachel Stratton

Known for farming all over the world, Rachel Stratton, who goes by the Instagram handle @TheGlobalFarmher, has travelled to countries near and far with her sheepdog Jane, and met her partner Ola while shearing and managing flocks in a small Norwegian village.

Often experiencing long and lonely working hours, she said: “Oh, it can be massively isolating. I’ve dated a few farmers growing up, but always knew I wanted to go overseas.

“If you are dating someone that is going to inherit or already has a farm, it is, ‘well, you’re with me now, so that means you have to stay here forever’, and that can often be in the middle of nowhere.

“When you are young and you want to explore the world, it can feel like a bit of a life sentence.”

While this is a sentiment many can relate to, organisations such as the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) can provide a welcome opportunity to form lifelong friendships – and relationships.

Couple wearing outdoor clothing

Ed and Laura Ford © Ed and Laura Ford

Affectionately known within NFYFC as “Gavin and Stacey”, Ed and Laura Ford, from Essex and Glamorgan, respectively, met during their time in office when they were serving as national chairman and chairman of Wales.

“The thing with Young Farmers is you are all instantly singing from the same hymn sheet, and everyone shares interests that are the same,” says Ed.

“I spent two years away from home, effectively, travelling the country with Young Farmers – but, it’s a good job I did, otherwise I wouldn’t have found my wife.” The couple welcomed a baby girl in October last year.

Tractor attraction

Couple outside in winter clothes

Maria Warne and Matthew Elston © Maria Warne

Cornish young farmers Maria Warne and partner Matthew Elston met through Young Farmers at an end-of-year party, but it wasn’t until the next day that the couple really hit it off.

“He had messaged me while I was at the tractor dealership buying a new TM190,” says Maria. “I think that’s probably how I reeled him in.”

Maria said: “I couldn’t imagine being with someone that doesn’t understand the hours that we work.

“I describe me and my partner as passing boats sometimes, but it works for us. We get along when we work livestock, and I feel like that’s the only thing you need in a relationship.”

Now engaged and with a baby on the way, Maria is the third generation of her family to be a member of St Mabyn Young Farmers.

Her parents also met through the federation and recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.

“We’re expecting a child in April and we’re getting married in July, so we’re going to have a fourth generation of St Mabyn Young Farmers – and it’s all got Young Farmers to thank for it,” she says.

“It’s not just the fact it helped me meet my partner, it also got me ready and gave me confidence, and helped me to establish myself as a person, so I sort of learnt to love myself through Young Farmers before Matthew came along.”

Finding love in the countryside – a digital solution 

Online dating apps have grown in popularity over the past few years, writes Lizzie McLaughlin, and the uptake in membership does not exclude farmers.

The sites allow those in rural areas the chance to cast their net wider in the search of a partner, without the headache of geographical or time constraints.

For some, though, online dating is not so straightforward, and signing up to various platforms requires a degree of caution.

Surrey livestock farmer Thomas, 32, warns that meeting up with people from dating sites can be unpredictable. “You don’t always know what you’re letting yourself in for,” he said.

“I once talked to someone for months, only to turn up to a date and find she was nothing like her profile – she had been using pictures of somebody else. It’s too easy to hide behind a keyboard.”

Couple standing in a cow shed

Ella Normand and Robert Morgan © Ella Normand

But one couple who did find their “happily ever after” online are Gloucestershire horse-groomer Ella Normand, 29, and Oxfordshire cattle and sheep farmer Robert Morgan, 33, who met on dating site Muddy Matches.

“My friend actually signed me up,” Ella said. “I met Rob and, instantly, I knew it was him. You get that little instinct.”

Fast-forward six months, and Ella and Robert finished the year with a surprise happy ending when he proposed on Christmas day.

The bride-and-groom-to-be now live on Robert’s family farm with Ella’s two children, and she urges others to take the leap and sign up to an online site. “Do it. 100%,” she says. “You don’t know what’s out there.”

Having tried several other apps, Ella found that it pays to shop around. “I was on Bumble and that was just horrendous. I loved Muddy Matches because it’s like-minded people that kind of have all the same interests.”

Ella says there are positives in the site’s verification process. “I think it’s good that when you sign up, you have to say what your profession is,” she says. “You have to send in pictures before they approve your profile.”

Love on the farm photo gallery

As we approach Valentine’s Day, we want to hear your farming love stories.

Did you have your first date on a farm? Did you meet your sweetheart through your local Young Farmers Club?

Maybe you got married on-farm recently.

We want to hear all your stories, platonic as well as romantic. Show us how much your animals adore you or a special bond between friends.

Upload your pictures in our gallery and we’ll share them in Farmers Weekly.

See more