It seems these days that you can’t turn on the TV without encountering a programme about farming. Charismatic families with large broods of cherubic children learn about the hard realities of life and death on Northern hillsides. wealthy Londoners trying their hand at organic vegetable growing. Celebrity chefs getting up close and personal to their food. It makes for perfect armchair viewing as most people grow ever more remote from the food on their plate and the countryside which produced it. We want to know this world still exists out there, somewhere. An idyllic, rosy cheeked vision of Old England.
As someone who deals with farming and farmers day in/day out I don’t feel the need to watch these programmes. Too much of a Busman’s holiday but I did feel drawn to pick up James Rebanks book. In his author photo he looked like the kind of farmer I recognised, one who smells of sheep, whose 4×4 is battered and always has a dog in the back and shotgun cartridges on the floor. The book didn’t disappoint. Yes, James does farm in the idyllic Lake District. He has bonny faced children and a endlessly supportive wife but this is no hobby farm. James farms flocks of Herdwick Sheep in the uplands and the book is a seemingly simple account of his growing up as a farmers son, the rhythm of the shepherd’s year and his love of landscape and the animals he breeds, shows and sells for meat.
The thing that stood out to me about this book was its authenticity. Unless you are born or marry into a farming family this is a world you will never truly be part of but I see enough of it from my role working with North Kent’s farmers to recognise that James is opening the door a crack into a secret club. He talks about the pleasure in fathers and grandfathers handing over their life’s works to their sons (and sometimes now their daughters) The connection to the land and the livestock that comes from suffering the elements. The sense of purpose and self knowledge that comes from working a physical job until you’re dead on your feet and then working some more.
I recognised the farmers who wish to answer to no one. Who are King of their world and resent urban city dwellers that wish to ensnare them with rules and paperwork. I know that farmers value horse sense and integrity. You are an idiot until proven otherwise and, if you have been an idiot and know it, you better stand up and take what’s coming. I know that your surname is important. It is a mark of your bloodline.
The book reveals a life that many wish to have but few could cope with. A simple life of complete satisfaction and rootedness in a place. If you really want to peek inside a farmers life then you could do worse than reading this book.