LOVE OF THE LAND He­len Brown­ing

The or­ganic pi­o­neer, who has been awarded an OBE for her ser­vices to farm­ing, dis­cusses the im­por­tance of look­ing af­ter the land

Country Living (UK) - - Contents -

“My farm is home to 200 Sad­dle­back sows, who all get to en­joy the feel of the sun”

I took over East­brook Farm in Bish­op­stone, Wilt­shire, from my fa­ther in 1986. I was 24. Most of my em­ploy­ees were men twice my age and wary about my ideas. My dad was scep­ti­cal, too, but still sup­port­ive, given that or­ganic wouldn’t have been his way. The first thing I did was plant clover. Farm­ers had for­got­ten what a won­der­ful plant it is – pro­vid­ing free for­age for our cat­tle and sheep in­stead of ar­ti­fi­cial mulch. We quickly no­ticed bees and in­sects en­joy­ing it as well. To­wards the end of his life, my fa­ther said he’d never seen the farm look­ing so well. That was the ul­ti­mate ac­co­lade to me.

Or­ganic farm­ing seemed like an el­e­gant so­lu­tion to a lot of the chal­lenges I wit­nessed grow­ing up on the farm. I saw wildlife dis­ap­pear­ing as we ripped out the hedges to make way for big trac­tors and sprayed things more and more. Then, when I was study­ing agri­cul­ture, I was taken to state-of-the-art pig and poul­try fac­to­ries – this was what we were all sup­posed to be as­pir­ing to – and I was shocked by what was go­ing on. So, for me, it started off with be­ing con­cerned about the way we were squeez­ing out na­ture and giv­ing our farm an­i­mals a pretty hard time.

Dur­ing my agri­cul­tural de­gree, I was given a project to cre­ate a pig unit. I made mine out­doors to im­prove an­i­mal health and well­be­ing, and was given a D. My lec­turer told me pigs couldn’t live out­side and to go away and do my home­work. That was just the stim­u­lus I needed to spend the rest of my life try­ing to prove him wrong. To­day, East­brook is home to 200 Sad­dle­back sows, who all get to en­joy the feel of the sun on their backs.

I want great or­ganic food to be ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one. That’s why I’m proud to have been the CEO of the Soil As­so­ci­a­tion since 2011. The char­ity has been cam­paign­ing for bet­ter food and farm­ing since the 1940s. It’s also why I’ve launched my own range of meat, and it was a fac­tor in open­ing my own Chop House in Swin­don and in tak­ing over our lo­cal pub, The Royal Oak. We have a lot of fun with events, from the vil­lage play to pig rac­ing.

My daugh­ter is fin­ish­ing her vet­eri­nary de­gree this spring and will come back to East­brook af­ter that. She’s al­ready in­volved with the man­age­ment and we’re set­ting up a fam­ily part­ner­ship, so she and her hus­band will even­tu­ally take over. I will have to do as my dad did and bite my tongue when they do things I wouldn’t do – but we’re very much plan­ning for the next 40 years, with her at the helm in­stead of me.

Pig: Tales From an Or­ganic Farm by He­len Brown­ing with Tim Fin­ney (Head­line, £18.99).

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