Walking through the fields, you can see the first signs of the vivid green blades of leaves pushing up through the earth, a word used both for both the soil itself and the planet on which we all live. Pre-industrialisation, most people worked on the land but today the majority are unfamiliar with its rhythms, imperatives and its demands.
One of the most popular shows currently on television is Clarkson’s Farm, the Cotswold farm where motoring pundit Jeremy Clarkson now lives and works. Once famous for testing the sleekest of super cars or off-roading a new 4×4, he perhaps predictably began his television farming career by buying an enormously large tractor simply because he liked the brand.
Although he had owned the farm for a number of years already, following the departure of his farm manager, Jeremy decided he wanted to work the farm himself and the TV series shows both his learning curve and the difficulties faced by all farmers today. Luckily for him, he had a successful career and a TV deal which helped float the farm’s finances.
There are many very funny moments. One of the more forthright stars of the show is a young man called Kaleb who, despite never having left the area in which he had been born, pulls no punches in telling the famous Clarkson that he has been a plonker when it all goes wrong (which is much of the time).
Throughout both series Clarkson has focused heavily on the link between crop and table and just how hard it is for farmers to make a living amongst spiralling bureaucracy and costs apart from the vagaries of the weather. He has made it very clear how incredibly hard that is to achieve despite the fact that food is a necessity for us all. Whilst I undoubtedly should eat less, no one should starve.
One memorable scene filmed a meeting convened with local farmers, committed to the land, to the earth, crops and animals, trying to diversify and survive and yet being blocked at every turn. Despite Brexit leading to increasing and widely publicised issues with food logistics, farmers here are still largely unsupported by government and there seems to be perilously little understanding of how food actually gets into our supermarkets.
In the UK, our countryside is, in many ways, shaped by famers: the field patterns, hedgerows, coverts and woodlands. Areas of outstanding natural beauty preserve the essence of the landscape and are good for the soul, restorative to our mental health and places to exercise but they are all underpinned by farmers and their stewardship of the land.
If farmers go out of business or cannot undertake stewardship work, we will all be poorer for it as there is no government provision for suddenly increasing supplies from the EU. Furthermore if farms fail and our own internally sourced food supplies weaken, we will become ever more dependent on importing foodstuffs from elsewhere with all the attendant political and environmental costs.
Clarkson’s Farm has been an eye opening programme for many viewers: the camaraderie, the long days of work, the disappointments, the upsets, the sheer skill involved in apparently mundane tasks like hedge-laying. I, for one, hope the story is not over yet and he continues to educate in the most entertaining way possible, what goes on behind getting food on our tables.