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Pen and Plough Writing Workshops Exhibition

William Robb, Bathgate Ploughing Match, 1914. Photo from the collection of Kirsty Tait, used with permission.

Introduction by Patrick Laurie and Emily Diamand

Nature writing has discovered a new level of popularity. Fresh and varied voices have allowed readers to connect with the natural world, and the countryside has been reimagined as a place of restoration, recreation and ecological intrigue. It’s an exciting time for the genre, but in the midst of this surge, it’s clear that some voices remain oddly quiet.

Farmers and land workers are frequently mentioned in nature writing, but they often feature as part of the scenery; they’re ambiguous figures at work in the background. It’s no surprise that these people should seem marginal in a country where less than one percent of the population is involved in producing food, but it can mean that farming voices are unusually hard to hear. This issue is compounded by the fact that agriculture is under tremendous pressure to follow new angles in the light of climate change and biodiversity collapse. It’s easy to characterise farmers as “the bad guys”, and while some innovative farm businesses are leading the charge to make farming more sustainable, many are anxious and confused by fast and unprecedented changes which threaten to destroy the landscapes we all love.

Farming voices are no more valuable or authoritative than those from any other quarter, but they do have an undeniably unique sense of place and experience which deserves to be explored. At its best, it feels less like a sense of ownership or mastery, and more like a complex grasp on belonging; a deep immersion in the landscape which can feel like a dialogue between people and places.

As part of the Pen and Plough project, a writing course was established for farmers and land workers to develop their skills and celebrate that unique relationship between farmers and the land. Led by Emily Diamand and Patrick Laurie, several aspiring writers from across the UK came together over six weeks to collaborate and share ideas on themes such as descriptive writing, character and place. A series of exercises, workshops and one-to-one study sessions were held throughout the spring, and it became clear that strong voices were beginning to emerge from the experience of farming; the pleasure and pains of a life drawn directly from the soil.

We’d like to share some extracts, passages and poems from the workshops in this special Pen and Plough online exhibition.

Blackie Ewes – Helen Ryman

Blackie Swirl – painting by Helen Ryman, used with permission

Goose stepping blackie ewes parade their wares round high sided granite built bouchts, each majestic monochrome head crowned with a set of pale golden horns. Stirred up and agitated, still pissed off from being gathered and controlled by Emma, a black and white collie with a stronger will than they.  A sneezing snort and two plumes of white steam eject from the flaring nostrils of one square muzzled yow, determined to have the last word. A quick lip curl and sarcastic sneer, displaying a sharp polished set of ivory white canines, settles the argument; the ewe turns away, dropping her head, knowing full well who’s boss.

It is the end of March. Days straddle the cusp of two seasons, one foot held by winter’s cold icy grip while the other reaches out to spring with hope of warm sun filled days, and easier times to come.  Spring sings that it’s her turn now and skylarks trill triumphantly, leaping up high in the sky and dancing in agreement. Upstanding fieldfares tut at the larks, giving doubt to such a suggestion and dark clouds blow in on a cutting wind, snuffing out the bright sun that promised so much.

The blackies have been gathered to the collecting pen for one last health check before they lamb in a month’s time. I stand centre in the back pen amongst a swell of fleeces, pushed and tested by the ebb and flow of strong angry bodies. Long stapled, coarse wool billows in the wind. Black faces glint iridescent blue, while pristine white caps the eyes and settles around a square muzzle. The sheep are in good nick. Just in case I was in any doubt, their vigour is confirmed by jet black heels flying past me at eye level. 

 I whisper to Emma: “Walk up”, and she responds gladly, with a light footed cat like gait paired with a heavy dogged glare towards the twin carrying ewes. Clicking and clattering punctuates the air. Horns clash with others horns and rasp against the diamond-flecked stonewalls.  The sheep bubble about – jostling, turning – then funnel into a long wooden-built narrow race, its sides polished to a high sheen by decades of greasy fleeces following this same path.

Shadows – Will Evans

Turning dew damp soil over
with a worn, ancient spade
alone on an early spring morning
I remember that my Great Grandfather
was prescribed just this for shellshock.

The calm and peaceful order of a garden
would be the antidote, they said,
for the noise and chaos and violence
of the trenches of the Somme
and would stop his hands from shaking.

A souvenir from his time there
when during a few short hours in
1916 his battalion of Welsh farmers
and miners and clerks and factory workers
and labourers were so shattered.

My Mother named me for her gentle
Grandfather, who would cry at the sight of
blood as he dressed her grazed knees,
and tenderly kept cuttings from his
prize-winning roses that grow here still.

I see the shadows of the hands that once
pulled him over the top into no-man’s land
and repeatedly squeezed the trigger
of an Enfield rifle, later, much later
quietly and rhythmically snipping.

Will’s Great Grandfather, used with permission

a lump o’ land – Kirsty Tait

Raising farmers (Barbara). Photo from the collection of Kirsty Tait, used with permission.

Gi’e me a lass with a lump o’ land,
And we for life shall gang the gither;
Tho’ daft or wise, I’ll ne’er demand,
Or black or fair, it maksna whether.
I’m aff with wit, and beauty will fade,
And bluid alane’s nae worth a shillin;
But she that’s rich, her meercat’s made,
For ilka charm about her’s killing.

Alan Ramsay, 1725

The dream of every farmer I have known is to have their own bit of land. To possess in body and soul for generations and not be beholden.  As the poem suggests, in bygone days, men would forgo many things to marry a woman with land to achieve this. I laugh because the men in my family obviously did not heed that advice. Or maybe it was not them doing the choosing?

Farming did not choose the women of my family; they chose the land. It wasn’t something these women were born into, but something they claimed through love. I know it was love because they chose to marry into tenant farming; a life in land which, until recent history, was more bound by dues and rules than rights, and still remains challenging to this day.  However, these were marriages borne out of free will with no wealth or land to consider. They were not expected to bring anything to the table except themselves and hard work.  Farming would also not have been strange to them. Unlike today, the lines between urban and rural were blurred in the market towns that they were brought up in. These women chose their way in and I chose my way out, wanting more, because of them.

Thrawn or, more politely, strong-willed is a description often bandied about in our family. I am not sure the life choice made by Barbara Milne in marrying William Robb, a tenant farmer, was a completely welcome one. Her father George was the clerk of works for their local council, and she was a beloved daughter and sister who deserved more. Her brother Peter wrote to his father from Australia: “I am glad to hear the Robb’s are doing so well – Barbara must have had a hard life….farm life is a slave’s life.”

However, her husband must have offered something she wanted. Knowing the men of my family, I think she saw in him kindness and ambition. A desire to make something more. A desire which, in 1929, saw them turn their backs on the depressed shale lands in West Lothian and make the journey across the Forth to East Lamberkin Farm, in Perthshire to a precious secure tenancy, which enabled them to farm some of the best soil in one of the most beautiful places in Scotland. As neighbouring tenancies came free, three sons and their families spread out; taking these tenancies, like constellations, to the East Mid and West Mid of Lamberkin and at Broxden.

We do not possess our farms as property but, as a family, we have been lucky to be possessed by them for almost a century. This land has given us much more than we have given it. We stand on the shoulders of many farmers who have worked this soil before us. Once heathland, burned to provide agricultural land, a soil sample taken dates agricultural activity to AD 585-700.  My mum and brother now stand as perhaps the last tenant farmers of this land. Designated for development, its economic value soaring, this age-old soil and labour will be buried over. The land will take on a new identity and my family will need to embark on another journey: choosing their way in, or choosing their way out, undecided as yet. 

Link to youtube version of Lump o’ Land folk song, performed by Ossian

The Consultation – Peter Lundgren

“It’s there,” Ida said in her soft Irish accent, holding her plumb line over the paper, her bony hand shaking slightly and making the plumb line circle gently over the spot she had marked.

“It can’t be, I’ve looked there.” And I had looked; not only had I looked, I’d been over the ploughed ground with a metal detector.

Ida’s gift for finding lost items was well known, and a steady stream of locals made their way to her modern house on the edge of the village for a ‘consultation’ – her word for it, not mine. Her husband was something important in a commercial shipping company and was often away, which left Ida plenty of time to indulge in her twin passions: gardening and cheap British sherry.

After stopping at the village store for a bottle of British sherry – the accepted fee for a consultation – I had found Ida busy in her pretty, well-tended garden. A slim, bony woman in her fifties with a shock of unruly ginger hair, her hair seeming to have a life of its own, shooting out in wiry curls and usually tamed, as at this time, by pulling a bright-green woolly hat down to her ears. This just made the hair seem angrier, as it strained to escape. The rest of her was equally remarkable: a bright mustard yellow coat, faded red skirt and green wellies on her feet, even though it was a warm day in spring. The whole was vaguely reminiscent of a traffic light that had forgotten the correct sequence.

The plumb line, with its small, shiny metal plumb hanging from a silver thread, hovered over the left corner of the paper, which held an outline of the field drawn in blue biro with a few landmarks, the stream and a lone sycamore tree added for reference. It was a crude, quickly drawn map of the field I knew as Gorse, named for the abundance of the bright yellow flowering shrub in the hedges; a small field on the north side of the valley, running down to a row of ancient oak trees and the stream at the bottom, its soil a thin poor clay, the hard ironstone only inches below. 

I had been ploughing the tired old grass in readiness for planting barley when I had noticed one of the rear discs, that make a vertical slit in the turf leaving a clean sharp edge to the furrow, was missing, lost. Why the bolts securing the disc on a brand-new plough had come undone was beyond my understanding, but I knew my father wouldn’t see it that way. I would be getting the blame, and I would be getting doubly blamed because it was me who had persuaded my father to buy the new shiny plough.

“Why do you want a new plough? What’s wrong with the old one? It’s done me well for years,” my father had complained, his hand hovering protectively near the farm cheque book.

“But, Dad, we’ve bought a larger tractor and it needs a bigger plough.”

And so the argument had gone on for months, straining an already strained filial relationship, until my father had given in and a new, shiny four-furrow reversible plough, costing many thousands of pounds, had arrived in the farmyard.

And now I’d broken it.

I knew what he would say when I admitted the loss. I could hear his voice in my head: “Wouldn’t have happened to the old plough. You young people don’t look after things. Feckless.” And so he would go on, and on.

As a last resort, not daring to tell my father of the lost disc, bottle of cheap British sherry in hand, I’d turned to Ida for her help, to consult her ‘gift’ for finding lost items.

Ida placed a X on the spot where I would find the lost disc from my new plough.

“Now young man,” she said in a calm, authoritative tone, no question of doubt in her voice, “if you go back and look again, it will be there”.

I looked into her green eyes. I saw something dark and ancient swirling in their depths, and decided not to argue.

I left the bottle of sherry with Ida and, clutching my piece of paper with the crudely drawn outline of the field and the X marking the spot, I walked across the soft ploughed land to the spot marked on the map. And there it was, sticking out of the ground as plain as day, its shiny metal disc and new green paint obvious in the evening sunlight.

How could I have missed it?

I could see, right next to it, my footprints in the drying soil, made whilst sweeping the ground with the metal detector earlier that day.

How could I have missed it? And how could the metal detector have missed it?

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I had a strange feeling that forces I didn’t understand were at work. Forces of nature, ancient forces that pre-dated the formation of this land and this valley, maybe pre-dating time itself, were present.

And then, realising my father need never know, a surge of relief as I pulled the disc from the soil.

Dead-Tongue – Adam Crowe

Photo by Adam Crowe, used with permission.

Today I am walling alone. I had to get away from Dad, the cowshit, the lonely nitrile gloves and feed bags and bits of string strewn around the yard. The skipload of rusty wire, the barking dog, the e-mails, the fading carpets of the too-quiet house. And put stone on top of stone until things are in order.

I hear the cuckoo as I stoop, my back to the valley, and lift a stone into the gap. The stone is a lump of shale that comes apart when I pick it up, sharp flakes falling away from the rift. Later I will take a hammer to it and knock it up for fillings. For now, I stretch out my back and look over the wall to the sea of bluebells under the oaks, flecked with stitchwort and rippling in the breeze. It’s bonny, clean and new, but it is cold for May and the bluebells are late flowering. I put my jumper on, shit-stained as it is, and turn to locate the cuckoo. There isn’t much grass between us; it’s been a dry Spring. So the cattle are still inside, muck piling up behind them, and there are still sheep and lambs eating meadows that should be shut up for mowing. Here in Brockbank, the handful of Swaledale hoggs that we’ll use to train the dog are restless and testing the boundaries. Everywhere I look I see Dad, and work. My eyes trace the sagging fence that has followed the beck across the meadows since Nineteen-Seventy-Three, and over the river to where the cuckoo calls, amongst the birches and timeless pools of the Moss. I listen until the sun comes out, then take off my jumper and  turn back to my work.

The culvert that carries the beck under Skowbarrow lane had been broken and part-filled for some time, but last year we got around to fixing it. I stood in the beck and levered the end slab into place with the crowbar, careful to avoid touching the remains of the plants in the bank that Dad told me are called Dead-Tongue. They stink, and we know well that the roots kill cattle in a dry year, when they’re exposed. When we had finished the culvert, the wall on the upstream side of the lane was still knackered. Ancient wire and rotten posts filled the gap; it was time to make it good, but there were other jobs to do before winter. “It’s nivver been up since I’ve been here,” Dad protested. He took the tenancy in Nineteen-Seventy-Two, with his life ahead of him and another generation to follow. We come back to it in Spring and put the wall up before turning the heifers out.

The wall is a conversation. The words put in my mouth by my forebears form differently on my tongue, so that when I speak it is in a subtly different dialect. Our talk has always yielded a lot of space. With so many jobs to do, with such strange weather, some things we leave off half way, to pick up another day. This is what succession means: choosing the next stone and building one course higher. Some are too heavy for my long back, some fall apart in my hands. Some wobble and won’t sit still, and some clonk into place as though they were made to fit just there.

Photo by Adam Crowe, used with permission.

Field Margins – Sam Osborne

I used to work for an arable farmer, and he had a bit of a disagreement with his tractor driver.

The tractor driver said he should aim for maximum yield of wheat, while the farmer said it’s better to manage input costs to be most efficient, even if that means a reduction in yield.

A few years later, I had my own smallholding and found myself mob grazing sheep. It occurred to me that the sheep could have managed all the field margins on the arable farm thereby reducing or eliminating the input costs on expensive and inefficient flail mowing.

I then took this idea one stage further, and imagined squaring up the arable plot to take the machinery operations  for the wheat or other crop to the maximum efficiency possible. Let’s call this area E1 – it’s a square or rectangular plot that is sized exactly to a predetermined number of machinery passes, this would probably be the sprayer.

Square-ends to the plot make for efficiency, but if the ends were on an angle then this additional area would be classified as E2.

Any funny shapes, tapering or bends on the sides of the plot would be classified as the most inefficient areas and given E3 status. E3 areas are where turning around takes ages, soil compaction is multiplied and it’s also often closest to a watercourse.

So the bulk of the field area will always be E1.  E2 can be optimised according to the field shape, and the E3 areas would probably be better taken out of arable production to allow tree planting, wildlife margins and improved buffer strips with planned holistic grazing as the preferred management option.

My point is that mixing arable, livestock, wildlife, tree cover, soil health and a clean healthy water cycle in one field should give us a win-win-win outcome – the minimum and efficient use of machinery, energy and input costs while providing good nutritious honest food and healthy dynamic wildlife habitats and clean watercourses.

Diagram by Sam Osborne, used with permission.

The Turning Wheel – Ed Green

The Wheel of the Year turns, 
And we turn with it, 
Spinning and spiraling through space and time. 

As the Sun emerges from Darkness, 
The Earth warms and water flows.

Creativity explodes into Life.

We emerge like springtime leaves on branch and twig, 
Baring ourselves to the sun and rain, 
Nourishing our parent trees,
Feeding back into trunk and root.

In the blink of an eye,
In the flap of a wing,
Our time here is done and our purpose in this lifetime met.

We wither on the vine. 

Falling through air, 
Blowing this way and that,
We decompose back down into dirt.

No longer what we were… 
Becoming a million different new possibilities…

From Maiden to Mother to Crone, 
The Wheel turns.

Photo by Ed Green, used with permission.

The Many Different Faces of the Land – Jennifer Macdonald

So, it is morning time and I’m pissed off. Stress took the first hour or so of my rest time, and now my husband’s parallel nocturnal distress has woken me, well before dawn, the bright glow of the kindle book on his phone terrorising me into awareness. While this is fairly common at the beginning of a season, when the stress levels are high and the seemingly impossible task of the next thirty-plus weeks stretches before us like a marathon route, I am still pissed off. A lack of sleep does not sit well with me. Our eldest boy was not a great sleeper. With the hindsight of ten years of parenting behind me, I now wonder how much of it was his unique personality and how much was my anxious new, young-parenting style. Either way, from mid-2011 until 2018 it is safe to say three or four hours a night was a treat, in between night feeding two babies and supporting wriggly co-sleeping boys.

The point being, I have done my time; I have swum in the darkness of endless hours between midnight and five am, when your brain seems to wander effortlessly between calamity and disaster, when every muscle in your body seems to weigh twenty percent more and you wake with a thick, treacle-like ache behind your eye that haunts you all day. I have done my time, god damn it. Now, only a precious three years since regular sleep was blessed to me as a gift from the heavens, I deeply, aggressively resent any less than seven solid hours. That youngest son still sneaks in most nights, the unfortunate habit of grinding his teeth passed down through me from my father. However, despite his nightly creep into our bed, teeth churning like the claws on a chainsaw blade, I can still press on, slumbering through until stress rears her unforgiving head, swindling me of sleep.

Stress, the single biggest indicator of wither you will snuff it sooner than your biology intended. If you want to be a farmer, you’d better get used to it. Sure, we may get to escape the city smog and the mindless humdrum of the commute into the blank four walls of an office prison, but do not for one minute think small-scale farming escapes the mind controlling pressure of stress. Farming is basically gambling for the rurally inclined. Staking your bets on the weather, year after year. You gamble your savings, your survival through winter and your whole year’s labour on a few baby animals or tiny seeds in the ground. Madness really, when you stop to think about it.  Each spring we roll up our sleeves, drag together the last coppers from our bank accounts and put it all on red. Red, in our particular case, being compost, seeds and new laying hens.

The dark months of winter having stolen almost all of our ability to produce a stable income, the expenses of living still greedily continue and, just when we are about to run out of cashflow completely, the most expensive time of the year arrives. This is often accompanied by a late frost that steals the first three weeks of earnings, or a late housing notification for bird flu, doubling our bedding budget for the year. These spring surprises happen every year, so we scrabble together more bankroll to keep the bookies at bay. These early year stresses flare up our adrenal glands before the fun of the year even begins. Before we battle the chaos of the Scottish weather, negotiate the constantly evolving consumer palette and try our best to survive the unavoidable dangers that keep all self-employed people terrified; possible illness or injury. Which is ridiculous really, as in this industry there is no sick pay or days off – the animals we care for need feeding irrespective of our personal circumstances.

So yes, I may have leaned on a fence post enthralled by the beauty and splendour of the land I am fortunate to live on, but I am no longer naively seduced by her beauty. Our relationship is still very much a romance, but it is a fiery, passionate one. We risk all for our life together and she takes no prisoners in her demands for love. Sleepless nights where mental cashflows are negotiated are common. Early rises to rotate hen houses, moving pastures before animals even wake is a given. Prayers for a break in the rain of winter are matched by their twin cravings for summer moisture. Each season a new negotiation, another dance with survival, another back and forth between the land and ourselves. And always aware that she is the one in control, we merely at her mercy, beseeching her for a successful season, an ample enough harvest to see us through another long dark winter.

Yet I wouldn’t change it for the world, grumpy as I am on this ridiculously early morning, stress having robbed me once again of my precious slumber. See, she is an entrancing lady indeed, this land. For even in the cold darkness, a farmer remembers the earlier moments when the dance glided effortlessly. Those bumper crops, the summer rays, the quiet frosty days of late autumn. So entranced are we by the memories that we gamble once again, because the only thing more terrifying than losing the bet is not playing at all, and taking a life away from our temptress, our bookie, our love. For it is love, you know. I have seen the love in almost all farmers’ eyes. Older and knackered, frustrated and trapped, new and naive. Look into the eyes of farmers as they survey their land and you will see nothing but love. Well, on a dry, sunny day anyway. 

BearingsK M Tait

I’ve never grasped the art of street navigation,
My landmarks growing up, never written down,
The strips, the race, the steading, the quarry,
Directions given to navigate work,
Along-by, down the bottom, around the back.

Sheds all purposely titled although purposes change.
Old dear words in a tongue seldom used,
The byre, the bucht, the midden, the bothy,
Forbidden and exciting land over boundary fences,
Of farms and forests, estate tracks and castles.

We map our time here, titling our possession,
Initials and dates carved, painted and set in concrete.
So hard to separate your people from your place,
To remember that others have made their mark before you,
And others will as landscapes change.

But for now, this map in hearts stands,
The bearings of the farm like a secret code,
Passed down through the generations,
Ours, loved, known, familiar,
Etched in minds and held in worked hands.

Fencing – Will Evans

Photo by Will Evans, used with permission.

After an early start and a good breakfast we load up the truck with posts and wire, and I hitch the post-knocker to the telehandler. One last look to see if we’ve remembered all the tools we’ll need – hammers, wire pullers, chainsaw, bar and maul, staples and nails; we say that it looks like it’s all there but it’s a long way to come back if it isn’t.

It’s cold today. I mean bitter cold. Changeable early April freezes the very marrow in your bones cold. We’re both wearing lots of layers so we can shed a few when we start the job because it soon warms up when you’re moving.

The old man and I have worked together for so long now that it mostly happens by instinct. We know how one another operates and it usually goes well enough now we’ve both mellowed with age, although there’s still the occasional flare up and harsh words but that’s fathers and sons for you.

We arrive at the open field on the wide flood plain that’s so wildly unprotected from any shelter and the west wind is screaming down from the mountains of the Berwyn Range full of spite and swirling sleet and drowns out anything we may or may not say anyway.

We quickly unload what we need to make a start. The old man isn’t as strong as he once was; those arms that lifted countless thousands of bales of straw from newly harvested fields to stackyard and threw hundred weight bags onto broad shoulders to go up sandstone granary steps year after year are beginning to fail now. We both know it, so I do the heavy lifting as discreetly as I can.

At some point today I’ll hear him mutter ruefully that when he was young he could knock posts in all day long by hand without breaking sweat, and I won’t be certain if he’s telling me or talking to himself. Or perhaps it was just the wind, I don’t know.

It’s a patching job, this one. Repairing after the latest flood that took everything in its wake away with it in January. They used to say this kind of event happened once every twenty years down here and my Grandfather always told the story of 1949 and the black water in the village streets and the people on coracles but they’re a regular occurrence now. Politicians sometimes come and look earnest in their suits and expensive wellies whilst making promises both they and we know they can’t keep, then they go away again. “A fo ben, bid bont”, but no.

As we start laying posts out on the ground we’re both thinking about whether we can keep on paying the landlord’s rent and losing crops like this but there’s more immediate issues to be concerned with now and that conversation will have to wait for another day when there’s more time, whenever that will be.

By lunchtime the fence is starting to look like a fence reasonably should and we agree that a blind man on a galloping horse would say it looks straight as we drink luke-warm instant coffee from a Stanley flask and eat our ham and mustard sandwiches that everyone knows put hair on your chest in the truck out of the still raging wind, looking out at our efforts. Posts every 3 strides, sheep netting, and two rows of barbed wire above; staples knocked in at an angle so as not to split the grain of the post as the old man taught me before I was even strong enough to swing a hammer. Life lessons tend to start early in families like ours.

We spend a few minutes talking about the weather and current cattle prices before the old man announces suddenly “Come on, time’s ticking” like he has a thousand times before and after draining the last of our coffee and throwing the dregs on the ground we’re back to it again. There’s a lot to do before the end of the day and there’s cattle and calves to feed later on, and no one else to do it for us.

During the afternoon in a moment when I stand to stretch my aching back I see an old brown hare with a torn ear crouched low and secretively in the neighbouring wheat field and I smile as I always do and always have at the sight of them. We’re blessed with their presence here and I awkwardly think of them as my spirit animal or totem though I’m not sure if I should just because they remind me of my home. The mythical Ysgyfarnog belongs to no human after all and the next time I look he’s gone like he was never there at all.

A few hours later all the posts have been knocked in and all the wire has been pulled tight and all the curses have been said. The fence is finished, and we grunt our satisfaction at a job well done. “That should keep them in for now anyway” I say, and the old man purses his lips and nods his head in agreement.

We load the tools and any unused posts and wire back into the truck, making doubly sure not to have left anything in the grass and head back to the farm together. Our faces are dry and glowing West wind red, and my notoriously soft hands are cut and torn from the brambles and barbed wire, though the old man’s aren’t, much to his crowing delight. “I’ve told you before boy, you should piss on them to harden them up” he laughs, and I roll my eyes theatrically before laughing too. It’s moments like these that I know I’ll remember when I’m the old man in the story.

It’s been a good day’s work and a good day’s living and I’ll sleep tonight.

Contributors’ Biogs

Helen Ryman is a farmer and artist based in Wigtownshire, Galloway.  Living on her farm near Whauphill, she also manages the land, cattle and sheep at Mochrum Estate, including the historic Mochrum herd of Belted Galloways. Working predominantly in oils, her artwork has been exhibited in Edinburgh and London and has sold internationally.

Helen Ryman and Belted Galloway friend

Will Evans is a beef and arable farmer from near Wrecsam in North East Wales, where his family have farmed for hundreds of years, and lives on the farm with his wife and four young daughters. He is also a Farmer’s Weekly columnist, an Oxford Farming Conference director, and produces the award-winning podcast, Rock & Roll Farming. 

Kirsty Tait is farmer’s daughter who like many, have made their lives away from farming.  However, she remains connected to the land through her career and her family tenanted farm in Perthshire. She advocates and works for a fairer and more equal land ownership and use system in Scotland.  She captures and tells stories through her photography and filmmaking and is enjoying beginning to capture and tell stories in words.

Peter Lundgren started his farming career in Sussex on his father’s dairy farm; he is now a conventional arable farmer in Lincolnshire growing combinable crops. Peter is also a campaigner on sustainability issues, most recently working on reducing pesticide use and promoting Integrated Pest Management.

Adam Crowe returned to farming in his early thirties and with his partner Helen keeps native breed sheep and cattle. Their work in nature conservation informs their approach to farming. The couple and their young son are moving this year to the rented farm on which Adam grew up.

Sam Osborne is a holistic meat famer.


Ed Green is a seventh generation farmer on a family farm in Somerset on the edge of the Mendip Hills. The land is one of undulating grassland hills and vales with a patchwork of hedgerows and wood copse and through the Chesterblade Hills project has become a hub for regenerative and agroecological land management to address climate change, increase habitat biodiversity and help people reconnect with the natural world Ed’s first book, It Leaves Me The Same, was published in 2018, and told the tragic Great War story of his Great Uncle who once worked the same land.

Jennifer Macdonald and her husband run an 80 acre social enterprise farm on the Isle of Arran focused mainly on no dig market gardening and regeneratively grazed free range hens.  They have been there for four seasons and love what they do but are not shy of telling the truth about the challenges they have faced. 

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  1. I found this writing immensely interesting, thought provoking and meaningful. These are all excellent writers, and I hope they continue despite the draw of actual farming life. We need these perspectives.


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