Back in October we began a search for four inspirational young farming voices to give us a 'taste of the countryside'.
Here's the first of our competition winners, Natalie Plummer, with a slice of her farming life, including swimming cows...
It’s 4am. Dad picks up his mobile.
“One of your cows is in my swimming pool,” announces a voice at the end of the line.
I can assure you that this is not a typical wake-up call in my family and that said cow and her other adventurous companions, who also made their escape that morning, are all safe and well, unfazed by the whole affair.
I tell you this little anecdote, which thankfully had a happy outcome, to highlight the variety of heart-warming experiences, unexpected events, challenging decisions and often harsh realities that farming and agriculture present.
We were fortunate that our farming location is relatively rural, so the roads at that hour were deserted. In addition, the cows got out of the field through a break in the fence, more likely caused by deer than deliberate force. And so, as unexpected as it was, we know how lucky we were and we can see the reality of what might have been.
I’ve just turned 21. I am excited, yet also a little apprehensive. In all honesty, I am positive about the future of farming for my family and the wider industry, which I believe has the greatest potential to solve issues such as hunger, obesity, environmental degradation and climate change.
Agriculture has always been the most widely practised industry. We have always needed to eat and we now need to feed in excess of seven billion.
On paper, we need to grow more, waste less, distribute better and reduce inputs. In practice, we need to put more land back into agriculture, ensure that the annual third of food never actually eaten is reduced – both through industry practice and consumer wastage – reintroduce rationing and go organic. OK, so that is unlikely to happen and probably would not be the best way of feeding the world (although I’m serious about controlling the diets of the Western world).
Here’s my idea: pass a law which makes agriculture a mandatory subject in the primary and secondary classroom. Label it ‘agric-tech’ or ‘i-farming’, and it will immediately become the niche subject that everyone is talking about. Next, reinvent ‘green spaces in urban places’ initiatives, so that local people can produce their own food as part of their daily lives.
Then, we need to get people stuck in. For example, my point on reducing inputs could mean using less herbicide to control grass weeds. So why not encourage people to weed by hand instead? Before you completely ridicule me, yes, it would be on a small scale to begin with, but most ideas start small and grow.
Farmers could create competitions, raise money for charity and involve a celebrity. Do a marathon weeding session in a ten-acre field, market it as ‘weed your way to weight loss’ and see the crowds flocking to your fields. And what do you know, communities become interested in the rural landscape once more, calories are burned instead of fossil fuels, the nation gets fitter instead of fatter, and farming becomes the next Facebook.
I know the idea is a bit outlandish and I hear you say that realistically it’s not going to happen; maybe I should do a reality check. But not before someone puts another idea in front of me. I think that’s the issue of today. We all say rather than do.
We need to have a plan, and by ‘plan’ I do not mean a 25-year strategy for food and farming, which is created by those who have no intention of seeing it through. This timescale allows the dust to settle and for agriculture to be put at the bottom of the pile once again. We need a vast overhaul of the industry, a mighty shock that makes people sit up and listen.
It’s 4am. Farmers across the nation hear the distant ring of their alarm clocks. One by one, those alarms are silenced. Sleep resumes. And, as the sun rises, the people of Britain wake to a very new landscape, one in which the supermarket shelves lie bare, bleak and empty.
For more from Natalie follow @natplum1