La-La Land?

Evo­lu­tion of small­hold­ing, by Deb­bie Kings­ley

Country Smallholding - - Contents -

When you look back to sub­sis­tence farming and the ori­gins and devel­op­ment of small­hold­ing ( Coun­try Small­hold­ing, Novem­ber) it is plain to see that small-scale farming was once far from a life choice, more a ne­ces­sity to avoid star­va­tion. But what about small­hold­ing in the 21st Cen­tury? Has the orig­i­nal im­pe­tus to pro­duce our own food through need and/ or de­sire now been di­luted?

Re­flec­tion of a wealthy na­tion

Notwith­stand­ing a brief halt 10 years ago when the eco­nomic re­ces­sion re­ally bit and no one with a job was pre­pared to make a risky lo­ca­tion and life­style change, there seems to be a steady stream of peo­ple mov­ing out of the city to ex­pe­ri­ence a slower pace of life in a ru­ral set­ting. The sale of a mod­er­ate city house can buy a place in the coun­try with ac­com­pa­ny­ing land and the pos­si­bil­i­ties that brings are part of the ex­cite­ment of the move.

Of­ten the land is an im­por­tant part of the equa­tion and there will be dreams or clear plans in place as to how it will or could be used. But in many cases the re­al­i­sa­tion comes later that some­thing needs to be done with the newly ac­quired land, that it is a re­spon­si­bil­ity and it takes time and thought to man­age. And just like that, a spate of ac­ci­den­tal small­hold­ings can start, and of­ten flour­ish, al­though some­times not.

This is un­doubt­edly a re­flec­tion of be­ing a wealthy na­tion, where hav­ing a plot of land one can call one’s own is an achiev­able lux­ury.

For many, the hunt for land is the driv­ing force be­hind their move and space for pigs, sheep, goats, poul­try, a no­table veg patch and an or­chard are more im­por­tant than the state of the kitchen and num­ber of bed­rooms. In a coun­try of broad eco­nomic ex­pe­ri­ences, there are in­creas­ing num­bers look­ing for a more adorned life­style that may in­volve keep­ing a range of an­i­mals, many of which are put to no use other than

fun, plea­sure and rescue. Part of that is an in­nate de­sire to get back to na­ture and be closer to the land, even if tak­ing the an­i­mals off to the abat­toir is a step too far.

Ex­plor­ing dif­fer­ent ap­proaches

With a com­mit­ment to the land, there are so many ways of do­ing things and there is much ex­per­tise and pas­sion that can be ac­cessed glob­ally, in­spir­ing small­hold­ers to try ap­proaches that ap­peal. Per­ma­cul­ture. Bio dy­nam­ics. Bio-in­ten­sive. No-dig. Mob-graz­ing. Pas­ture fed. Rare breeds. New breeds. These are just a few ex­am­ples of what in­spires. How­ever, there are still plenty of peo­ple fo­cussed on a com­mer­cialon-a-small-scale ethos. Tak­ing their lead from larger scale farming prac­tices, small­hold­ers are rear­ing butch­ers’ lambs for size and con­for­ma­tion, choos­ing breeds that re­pro­duce more than once a year, con­cen­trat­ing on calf rear­ing, or de­vel­op­ing a name as a breeder of top qual­ity rams, bucks, bulls and chick­ens.

Those with the pluck and in­vest­ment cap­i­tal are all about cre­at­ing rather than fol­low­ing trends, and this is cer­tainly pur­sued lu­cra­tively at small­holder level — the creation of new colours of chick­ens, de­vel­op­ing new cross breeds of sheep, such as the Bri­tish Laven­der, im­port­ing beau­ti­ful new breeds, such as the Red Fox sheep of Coburg or the Swiss Valais Blac­knose.

The time when cre­at­ing a niche mar­ket to make a liv­ing off the small­hold­ing meant yet an­other ar­ti­san pork sausage has def­i­nitely moved on. Now you can make al­paca sausages, a huge va­ri­ety of char­cu­terie in­flu­enced by flavours and prac­tices from around the world and grow ex­tra­or­di­nary veg­eta­bles from yard long beans to Ul­luco tu­bers from South Amer­ica, or ed­i­ble flow­ers of ev­ery colour, much loved by top end restau­rants and en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate for grow­ing on smaller plots.

Live­stock as pets

An in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar ac­tiv­ity is the rear­ing for sale and keep­ing of live­stock as pets. This is a far cry from the orig­i­nal small­hold­ing ethos, where ev­ery­thing pro­duced was for con­sump­tion by the pro­ducer or their cus­tomer. Again, this is an in­di­ca­tor of a mon­eyed so­ci­ety, where we can in­dulge in state­ment live­stock that en­hance the look and feel of a coun­try home. In the past this role was car­ried out by the pea­cock, but pet pigs, camelids, sheep, cat­tle, wal­la­bies, emus and more now strut their stuff in en­dear­ing fash­ion. Of course, the care of such crea­tures is no less de­mand­ing than those raised for meat. Read­ers will have dif­fer­ing opin­ions on whether this con­sti­tutes small­hold­ing.

Pro­duc­ing our own food

Talk­ing to small­hold­ers it is clear that for many there re­mains an over­pow­er­ing drive to pro­duce our own food. Some­times it is a fi­nan­cial ne­ces­sity, more of­ten it is about grow­ing the very best fresh food, in­clud­ing lux­u­ries, such as as­para­gus, baby salad pota­toes, rasp­ber­ries and peas and beans that haven’t been flown in from Peru or Kenya.

In­creas­ingly, rais­ing and grow­ing one’s own food is down to anger, fear, dis­trust and ir­ri­ta­tion di­rected at cor­po­rate food man­u­fac­tur­ers, whether it is a ha­tred of the un­nec­es­sary use of plas­tics, horse meat scan­dals or de­lib­er­ately mislead­ing la­belling. De­creas­ing one’s re­liance on pro­cessed foods and in­ten­sively farmed an­i­mals is a strong driver for small­hold­ers, as is cer­tainty about prove­nance and an­i­mal wel­fare. A love of cook­ing is sur­pris­ingly rarely men­tioned (per­haps it seems too ob­vi­ous), but if you are cook­ing from scratch, hav­ing the best pos­si­ble raw in­gre­di­ents does jus­tice to the time and ef­fort you put into pre­par­ing meals. Ev­ery new pig keeper is amazed at how good their home-grown pork tastes.

What are the driv­ers be­hind small­hold­ing?

If the ori­gin of small­hold­ing was the ne­ces­sity of feed­ing one­self, that has moved on and there are new driv­ers at play. Hav­ing

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