Who remembers Swampy, and the Eco Warriors from the 80’s? They did not manage to succeed in their mission to stop a big road going through the woods they were inhabiting, but they made a big impression on our little family who had just bought a small plot of wet and ravaged land in Devon. As we traipsed up and down from Dorset, we’d wind down the car windows as we went past Swampy’s territory and yell ‘Good on you!’
When we implemented our ‘go-for-it’ farming goal, it was just at the time when there was an explosion of realisation that the conventional monoculture type of mainstream farming was heading down a cul-de-sac of its own making. That cul-de-sac, – literally translated as the bottom of a bag, – is now well and truly here; no longer a distant possibility but ‘Help! There is nowhere to go down here!’
The fact is, in the past 30 years soil degradation and loss of our wild bird and mammal populations, directly related to loss of habitat and isolation of what habitats remain, are all realities we cannot ignore. Our pollinators are under strain which puts our own food sources in danger, and that is just for starters. Look around – there is more biodiversity in a city than in the countryside, that cannot be right!
HOWEVER, as with all good stories there is the possibility of a happy ending and the 80’s held a clue.
Sorry, I haven’t introduced myself, my name is Pammy, and I have been in and around the farming world since I was about three. There were no structured preschools in the 60’s when I was growing up but I was ‘farmed out’ to our neighbours who were retired farmers and I hung out with Coco the Jersey calf, her mum, Cringethie Chrysanthemum the house cow, some stinky ferrets and loads of various poultry. Now I hang out with hundreds of cows on a regular basis but in between I have had dealings with pigs, chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, horses, cats, dogs and budgies! (Not to mention gerbils, hamsters, snakes and pet rats). And I have a deep love of the countryside, its natural flora and fauna and good old fresh air.
So, I see the changes of the 80’s in farming which we were caught up in, as a pre-wave of energy. Those 80’s farming pioneers, many of them concocting their own versions of environment sensitive farming – and I include my family in this – now have thirty years of experience and factual evidence to prove that farming can work in partnership with the natural world. Going back further in time, I see the ‘love-ins’ of the 60’s as a pre-wave to the 80’s – didn’t Joni Mitchell say ‘They pave paradise to put up a parking lot’? Or similar, I’m not good on actual quotes, so excuse me. I am also not particularly good on facts and figures but I do have my own version of boundary tests that I apply to situations, and they will come up frequently in my future farming/ countryside/food features and blogs.
1st, BOCS!! a phrase I often shouted at the radio – Blooming Obvious & Common Sense– watch out for it. BOCS for short.
2nd, I call it my 7th generation brain, and it kicks in all by itself. When a new subject or proposal comes my way I cannot help cogitating on how my part in this will affect the seventh generation coming along in the future. I can’t know the answer, of course, but it is a trick my mind always plays on me. Better not have me on the committee for wanting a third runway at Heathrow then!
Probably the most significant part of my farming life is the middle part, from 1997 to 2017. In that time, my husband, business partner and father of our children, and myself created a special little farm. So when I refer to we, it is not the Royal ‘We’, but to the fact that together we made this thing happen. No doubt I will say more about the specifics of that farm in the future, but it is the principle of how we made our farm work that I’d like to bring to your attention.
Basically, we implemented a Positive Health Management System– a bit of a mouthful, I know, so let’s call it PHMS. Because when we started our own farm we were doing something totally new and were pretty terrified we decided that there would be rules about how our new venture was allowed to come about. I had been brought up in a family, typically British, ‘Oh, if there are two ways to go about things – I’ll always choose the wrong one’ my mother would joke in her self deprecating manner. Well, I was determined not to go down that route. I had heard of self-fulfilling prophecies. We had put our whole life’s effort into buying the plot of land, failure was not an option, hence deciding on a PHMS. It had to do with the animals, but also, the land (7th generation brain steps in) too.
- Look to the highest manifestation of good health our animals. By learning what that can be, and what it looks and feels like, any part that is off mark or out of kilter will become obvious and can be dealt with accordingly.
- Never talk negatively about the farm, animals or new business, not even in a joking manner. This is not a rose-tinted spectacles approach but a serious attempt at using our own energies in a positive manner and drawing good ideas, synchronicity and serendipity our way. Discuss new ideas in the light of ‘BOCS’ despite ‘scientific evidence’ to the contrary – TRY NEW THINGS OUT YOURSELF!!
Now, life is tough, there is no denying that, and new ways of doing things mean breaking old habits. It is perfectly reasonable to feel scared, sick and nervous when setting out on a new path but if we are to have a revolution to take our world into a future where the 7th generation is safe we had better get on with our own PHMS. I’d like to change the last word of the acronym to Positive Health Management Strategy rather than System, but still PHMS and still the rules apply. There are farmers and land managers all across the country, the world in fact, who have just the information we need to put this strategy in place.
I intend to write about and show examples of the great things that are happening already, just waiting to be scaled up.
So watch this space for stories and information about:
- Trees!! They grow faster than you think! And do so much good for the world.
- Animals, as friends, food and fertiliser.
- New and exciting non-invasive health and behaviour management for plants and animals.
- Basket cases and the case for baskets!
- Returning wildlife.
- Bringing jobs back to the countryside.
- Extending existing projects e.g. Give Wildlife a Home beyond the garden.
- Innovation in the food world.
- Integrating countryside and human health.
- Consumer to customer – how to …….
- …….lots more positive stories.
About the author: I’m Pammy, a farmer of many years who teaches courses, and writes about farming, animals, and much more.