농민 5명 가운데 1명은 여성이며, 그 수는 점점 늘어나고 있다. 그들 가운데 네 명에게 자신의 삶과 일, 그리고 1년의 과제에 대해 물었다.
3월 23일 야간 봉쇄가 발표되었고, Catherine St Germans 씨는 농민, 정책입안자, 활동가 들과 줌으로 화상회의를 했다. 그들은 봉쇄가 영국의 농장들에 치명적인 영향을 미칠 것이라 예감했다.
구글 시트와 왓츠앱보다 복잡한 건 사용하지 않고 St Germans 씨와 자원봉사자들은 'Farms To Feed Us'를 만들었다. 이 문서는 우편번호와 그들이 판매하는 것을 정리한 것이다. 이 파일은 쉽게 공유되거나, 판매할 먹을거리가 있는 사람들이 등록할 수 있다. 이 데이터베이스는 3월 25일 발표된 지 1시간 안에 Guardian’s Covid live 블로그에 게시되었고, 참여는 즉각적이었다.
"반응은 우리가 우리의 먹을거리가 어디에서 온다고 생각하는지에 대해 여실히 드러냈다."고 Port Eliot 축제의 공동창립자이기도 한 St Germans 씨는 말했다. "많은 이들이 자신과 가장 가까운 농장이 어디에 있는지 몰랐다. 농민들은 이웃의 잉여 농산물을 자신의 배달품에 포함시켜 서로를 도왔다. 사람들은 자신만이 아니라 관계자를 보호하기 위해 데이터베이스를 이용하기 시작했다. 나를 가장 놀라게 한 일 중 하나는 많은 사람들이 농사가 재미없고, 대규모로 이루어지며, 남성이 수행한다고만 생각한다는 것이었다."
지난 10년 동안 탄력이 붙으며 변화가 일어나고 있다. 통계청에 의하면, 2018년 약 17%의 농민이 여성으로서, 2007-2008년의 7%에서 증가했다. 고등 교육과정에서 여성 농업계 학생은 이제 남성과 거의 2 대 1의 비율로, 2017-2018년 졸업생의 64%를 차지한다.
Mary Quicke 씨는 14대째 runs the cheesemaking and farming of ’s in 데번Devon에서 Quicke 치즈 제조업과 농업에 종사하고 있다. 그녀는 많은 여성들이 농업에 진출하는 걸 보고 감격했다. “내가 1982년 무렵 처음 농업을 시작했을 때, 옥스포드 농업 회의에 참석한 수천 명의 인파 가운데 3명만 여성이었죠.”라고 기억한다. “그 초기 회의의 하나에서, 누군가가 '오, 너희 아버지는 오빠가 농장을 운영하는 데 관심이 없어서 실망이겠구나.' 했던 게 기억나요.”
그녀는 두 번째 선택으로 간주될 것이라 생각하지 않았다. “난 여성이 무얼 한다고 이야기하면 얕잡아 보는 사람들의 편견을 극복해야 했어요. 난 사람들을 꼬드겨서 데려와야 했지만, 함께 일하는 사람들에게 어떻게 봉사할지 생각하는 건 어쨌든 합리적입니다.”
With leaders such as president of the 전국 농민연합(National Farmers’ Union)의 Minette Batters 회장 같은 지도자와 함께 (“농민들은 그녀가 훌륭하다고 생각함) Quicke 씨는 농업계가 다양성을 더욱 수용할 수 있는 모델이 충분하다고 생각한다. 즉, 그녀는 여전히 많은 후계 가족농장이 매우 전통적이라 믿는다. 지난 5년 동안 Quicke 씨는 데번 카운티 농업협회의 회장이었다. “별로 놀랍지 않아요”라고 신중하게 이야기하며, 그들의 것과 같은 농업 품평회가 더 넓은 지역사회의 일부라고 덧붙인다. “내 인생의 목적을 생각하면, 모든 사람들이 먹을거리와 농업의 연결에서 영감을 받는 것입니다. 데번 카운티 품평회에 9만 명이 참가합니다.”
그녀와 St Germans 씨는 최근 먹을거리와 공급이 중단됨에 따라 소비자들이 먹을거리를 얻는 방법에 관심을 가지며 전국의 농장과 더 직접적으로 관여하게 되기를 희망한다. “봉쇄 2개월 이후, 300만 명이 처음으로 꾸러미를 구입하거나 농장과 직거래를 했습니다”라고 St Germans 씨는 말한다. “우리는 그것이 계속 가속화하길 바랍니다.”
“현재 우리의 과제는 여기에서 인간이 여기 있는 걸 지원하기 위한 방식으로 미래를 위해 어떻게 농사지을까입니다”라고 Quicke 씨는 말한다. “우린 우리 대지의 청지기이자, 우리가 살고 싶은 행성을 창출하는 방식으로 먹을거리를 생산하고 만드는 선택을 해야 합니다.”
‘난 항상 땅속에서 무언가 꺼내는 일에 매료되었습니다’
East Sussex, Aweside 농장에서 채소와 식용 꽃 재배
Sinead Fenton is on an early lunch break, hiding from the sun. “It’s ridiculously intense, so I think we’re going to call it a day and crack back on in the evening,” she says. Fenton and her partner, Adam Smith, have been putting in beds and getting ahead on groundwork for next year. This year, there will be no commercial crops on the couple’s 4.5-acre plot.
They signed the papers on their farm last November and moved onto the land in March. Around the time they needed to make decisions about how they’d manage their first harvest, lockdown happened. With restaurants and florists – their main clients – out of action for the foreseeable future, they made the decision not to sow seeds but concentrate on opening up the land. “We were going to do it over three or four years, so we’re squeezing three years of work into this year, so we can focus on growing next year,” Fenton says.
She and Smith cut their scythes at Audacious Veg, a 0.1-acre plot in Hainault, at the end of the Central Line between Essex and London. Shortly after volunteering at the allotment in 2017, they heard the project was about to finish: “Naively, with about three weeks’ worth of growing experience, we decided that we’d take it on and get the produce to chefs.”
Smith worked in insurance accounting and while Fenton most recently worked in software and food policy, her background was in geology. “I came at farming from an activist point of view,” she says. “I was always fascinated by getting things out of the ground, but that is a destructive industry. Farming is nicer because I can do something for the system instead of taking everything from it.”
There was a lot of insecurity around the project. Land is contentious, especially in London, and land law is difficult and expensive to negotiate for those with no farming background. “Adam and I are both from cities – I’m from London, he’s from Essex. We’re from low-income families, and we had no access to farms growing up,” Fenton explains. “It’s basically impossible to get on the land, because it’s so expensive, or passed down through generations.”
They got the land for Aweside through the Ecological Land Co-op, which buys fields designated by Defra as only being good for arable crops, then splits them up to create smallholdings. Aweside is neighbours with a veg-box scheme, and waiting for others who’ll transform what once was a 20-acre maize field into a cluster of small farms rich with biodiversity. Now Fenton and Smith have a 150-year lease, and no worries that what they create will be taken away.
It’s not yet a permanent home. Fenton says they’ll be living in a caravan for a few years: “Another part of land law in the UK that makes land inaccessible is that if you want to live on your land you have to go through five years of proving your business is profitable, viable and that there is a functional need for you to live there.” Having livestock is an easy way to pass the test, but because Aweside is a vegan farm, Fenton and Smith need to cultivate and show they use every bit of plot.
It’s daunting but Fenton is excited about having a blank slate to work with. “There’s so much more to food than what supermarkets tell us to eat,” she says, explaining that they’ll grow varieties at risk of extinction, or that aren’t commonly grown in a mass market food system. “Seed diversity and plant genetics are serious issues.”
The three principles the couple work to are: more flowers, more trees, thriving soil. They’re working no-dig, putting compost directly on the ground and letting the soil life mix everything over time. They’re pesticide-free and are counting on the fact that the more diversity they have in the system, especially with a high proportion of flowers to pollinators and insects, the fewer problems they’ll face.
“Socially, economically and environmentally, something needs to change. Things have been done the same way by the same people for a long time,” says Fenton of the farming industry’s need for greater diversity. “I learned to grow on an allotment site where there are lots of different things growing at once. Bringing that approach into sites like this is needed – the industry needs it to keep itself relevant.”
People tell me I don’t look like a farmer. But what does one look like?’
Shepherd at Plaw Hatch Farm, East Grinstead, Sussex
Gala Bailey-Barker was out with her flock of 80 Lleyn and Romney sheep and her sheepdog, Pip, in the first week of April when she realised that she couldn’t hear anything. Dual carriageways that would normally throb with commuter traffic from 5.30am were empty. The flights that land every two minutes at Gatwick – Plaw Hatch is in the flight path – had been quietened. “It was so silent you could hear the birds,” Bailey-Barker says. “It was extraordinary.”
The life of a shepherd during a global pandemic, it seems, is mostly the same, only much more peaceful than usual. “I often work at Christmas and new year,” she says, “and it was like it was permanently Christmas Day. It was surreal.” Bailey-Barker, 30, is a first-generation shepherd. She studied archaeology at university, before undertaking an apprenticeship at Plaw Hatch. Eight years on, she helps run the 200-acre community farm that skirts the edge of the Ashdown Forest.
Plaw Hatch is a biodynamic farm. “We try to create a self-sustaining system,” she says. “We produce as much of the feed for the animals as we can. Biodynamic farming is regenerative: you’re improving the soil and creating closed loops so you’re not just taking from nature, but trying to keep the fertility in the system.”
Covid-19 has been good for business: customers have been flocking to Plaw Hatch – part of the Fibreshed movement, which connects fashion, textiles and farming – in record numbers. “It’s been massively busy in the farm shop,” says Bailey-Barker. As supermarkets ran out of essentials like bread and eggs during the early weeks of lockdown, consumers went to Plaw Hatch for their fresh produce. “There was a lot of panic buying,” says Bailey-Barker, “which was difficult, because we are limited on stock. We had to keep saying to people: ‘The chickens aren’t going to stop laying eggs because of Covid!’”
The best thing about her job, she says, is the variety: “It changes so much. You’re trying to manage the ecosystem; close the loop. Every decision you make has so many variables.” The worst thing? Trying to prevent blowfly strike, a disease resulting from the invasion of living tissue by blackbottle flies, in her flock of sheep. “The maggots eat the sheep alive,” Barker says. “It is the most disgusting thing you’ve ever seen. It’s like a horror film.” That, and warding off potential dog attacks: in 2019, Bailey- Barker lost 15 pregnant ewes in a single dog attack.
As a woman in a male-dominated field, Bailey-Barker encounters her fair share of ignorance from the public. When she’s out checking the flock with her partner, an architect, people often assume that he’s the farmer. “People say to me: ‘You don’t look like a farmer,’” she says. “But what does a farmer look like? We’re all individual people.” Plaw Hatch is now predominantly operated by women – 75% of its farmers are female – and Bailey-Barker relishes the opportunity to act as a role model. “I love to represent women, because I would have loved to see women farming as a child. It was never presented as a possible career at school.”
Being out with her flock every day, she sees the climate emergency up close. “I’d love four weeks of rain right now,” she says. Barker was pregnant with her daughter during the summer of 2018, when a heatwave led to droughts and wildfires across Europe. “It was 28C, but it felt more like 45C, because I was pregnant,” Barker says. Mitigating the impact of the climate crisis on the farm requires careful and thoughtful planning. “You have to mitigate between the extremely dry, and the extremely wet,” she says. “I’ve been looking at our soil a lot more to see if there is anything we can do to make it more resilient to those extremes.”
It is a busy life, but a happy one. During lambing season in April, she starts work at 5am. The rest of the year, she’s out with the flock by 7am. “You are never not responsible for animals. It’s not a nine-to-five. I’ve been with my flock now for eight years. I have great granddaughters of the sheep I started out with. It’s amazing to have that sort of relationship with animals.”
‘We have a roof over our heads – we won’t go mad chasing money’
Halal farmer at Willowbrook Farm, Oxfordshire
“Since the lockdown eased we’ve got so popular on the weekends,” says Ruby Radwan. Willowbrook Farm may be off the beaten track in a small hamlet in Oxfordshire, but it is directly opposite an ancient right of way, rediscovered by people escaping the house for a walk. “We’ve been here for 17 years, but now people are walking across a field to us and having tea. We have a chef in, we’re doing some simple French dishes and it’s working really well.”
Radwan loves welcoming the new faces – her time on Willowbrook hasn’t always been so cheery. Rural life is notoriously tough and neither she nor her husband Lutfi, both originally Londoners, had a background in farming: she taught part-time, both at high school and in holistic therapies; he was a geography academic at Oxford. They wanted to live a more sustainable life but didn’t have the resources to buy an established farm. Instead they found a piece of land, about 43 acres, 10 minutes’ drive from where they lived.
“We had quite a positive view about being in the country with holistic people and lovely farmers but we were naive, or ignorant, of the reality,” she says. They encountered hostility from some people because they weren’t from the area, as well as because of their religion. Also, trying to build on green-belt land brought its own set of problems, as did raising a young family. At first, they were only farming for themselves, but quickly landed a contract for eggs with the local Co-op. “We were so busy; we lived in a caravan; we didn’t have a tractor, just a little Ford Fiesta which did our egg deliveries and our children-to-school deliveries all in one run.”
Not everything worked – a rhubarb-lined path seemed like a creative idea, but once planted, they realised they hadn’t considered irrigation – so they had to plant a more standard vegetable garden, “like normal people”.
“Sometimes we look back and think we’re so stupid, it’s unbelievable. You can’t just cross it out when you make a mistake in growing something, you have to wait a whole season,” Radwan explains. “It took about seven or eight years before we realised we could do this more seriously and make a business of it.”
They reinstated hedgerows, and planted around 5,000 deciduous native trees and 120 traditional slow-growing fruit trees, eventually added lambs and switched from laying birds to chickens for meat – all free-range and high welfare. Lutfi gave up his job, and now their two elder sons also work on the farm, helped out part-time by their partners, as well as having two full-time employees.
Willowbrook is run according to Islamic principles to live in balance with the environment – physical, social, political and economic – and Radwan believes they may have been the first ethical and sustainable halal farm in the UK. They used to have certification from the Soil Association but decided to work outside that system, still maintaining high standards of sustainability, welfare and biodiversity. “We let our customers in to see the farm and be our conscience,” Radwan says. “They’re going to question us – and that keeps us on our toes.”
At first, most of their customers were Muslim, including people who had converted but were still eating with a non-Muslim family, so were looking for turkey, goose or steak: “Things that Muslims weren’t traditionally buying, but they still wanted to make sure that good welfare and memory of God had been observed.”
Increasingly, the Radwans sell to non-Muslim customers, but they don’t supply to wholesale or restaurants – only people they can have direct contact with: “It means we get maximum profit and there’s less waste.”
New customers will find lamb and beef to buy, but not chicken, which has been much in demand since lockdown. “We started to use the word ‘enough’,” Radwan explains. While she admits it was tempting to build more chicken houses and get more birds, they weren’t willing to compromise on welfare, so have only increased their stock by 20 chickens a month. For regular customers they’ve created a scheme that gives them two chickens every four weeks. Anything over goes to the farmers’ markets.
“We have enough – a roof over our heads, food in our tummies – we don’t need to go mad chasing money,” Radwan says, then adds laughing that, despite having 1,400 birds running round, the family hasn’t eaten chicken for more than two months. “The customer comes first – I’m waiting for my roast.”
‘I’m hoping this will be seen as quite a cool career… even if it’s not’
Abi Aspen Glencross
Head of grains at Duchess Farms, Hertfordshire
It was, Abi Aspen Glencross was well aware, an odd, even inopportune time to launch a crowdfunding campaign. In June, with the country still locked down, Duchess Farms asked for support to buy dehulling, cleaning and milling equipment. The Hertfordshire farm needed about £16,000, and the money would go towards boosting the production of ancient and heritage grains for making flour.
“A lot of crowdfunders have been for charity or ‘please keep our restaurant open’,” says the 28-year-old Glencross, head of grains – or “senior flour nerd” – at Duchess Farms since 2019. “We felt a bit bad, but we lost a lot of our business overnight when all the restaurants closed and we were like: ‘God, we hope we don’t go under.’ It was quite a scary time for everyone.”
Still, if we have learned one thing from Covid-19, when times are hard, British people get baking. Perhaps inspired by countrywide shortages of flour, maybe invigorated by a new interest in left-field, older wheats such as einkorn and emmer, Duchess Farms sprinted to its target. “We’ve just done some ordering of equipment this morning,” says Aspen, when we speak in July. “It’s been a tough time for everyone but it has cascaded into some beautiful things and we’re just so thankful.”
Glencross’s path to farming was circuitous. She studied chemical engineering, but while her classmates were heading off for jobs at ExxonMobil and Procter & Gamble, she was more of “a hippy at heart”. She decided she wanted to learn more about soil and its role in food production. This led her to Blue Hill Stone Barns, Dan Barber’s pioneering farm-to-table restaurant in the Hudson Valley, north of New York. She spent four months working on the farm and in the bakery, receiving a crash course in ancient grains – an obsession of Barber’s. But the moment Glencross knew she herself wanted to farm came in 2016 in a field in Hertfordshire. She was with John Cherry, who was showing her around Weston Park Farms, 2,500 acres of land he maintains with minimal fertiliser use and zero tillage.
“We were walking around the fields of wheat and I just said: ‘Where does all this go? There’s so much of it,’” Glencross says. “And John goes: ‘Oh probably for animal feed. It’s a consistent market, they’ll take it, it’s easy, even if we don’t earn that much money from it.’ And I was like: ‘This is crazy.’ And that was the beginning of me getting on this grain bender because I was like: ‘Why can’t we grow these grains organically and notfeed them to animals?’ So I realised I’d have to start a business, because there were not very many people doing that.”
Heritage grains can be harder to produce in vast quantities – einkorn, especially, is “a bitch to harvest” – but they do have advantages over conventional wheats. They typically have deep roots and grow tall, which means they shade out weeds and do not require chemical sprays. The end product is more nutritious and then there’s the taste. Since 2017, Glencross has run a roving supper club called the Sustainable Food Story with Sadhbh Moore, and Duchess Farms has worked closely with bakeries such as E5 Bakehouse in east London and Gail’s, and restaurants including Doug McMaster’s Silo. “Heritage grains are delicious: when you stop growing for yield and you start growing for quality the flavour is insane,” says Glencross.
Learning to farm from scratch has not been straightforward, but you sense that’s a big part of the appeal for Glencross. “There’s all these decisions the farmer makes throughout the year and why he sprays and why he doesn’t,” she says. “You realise that most people get up, sit at a computer all day and if they press the wrong button, they just delete it. When you’re a farmer, you plant at the wrong time of year and tomorrow it washes away your whole crop.”
Glencross acknowledges that it is almost unprecedented for women to run arable farms. She struggles to name a single other example in the UK. She also notes wryly that men dominate all the farming conferences, saying: “They have a wife but it’s always the men who have written the book and given the presentation.”
With more role models, Glencross hopes things will change. “I’m not cool in any way, but I’m a reasonably young lady,” she says, laughing. “And so when people say: ‘What do you do? Oh, you’re a farmer. Maybe I could do that …’ So I’m hoping that it might become seen as quite a desirable, almost cool career.” A pause: “Even if it’s very much not cool.”
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