An ageing farmer recently confided that he hadn’t expected my father to see a second harvest when he took on Riverford Farm in 1952, what with his, “fancy cows, combine harvester, silage and new-fangled ways”. Two generations later this neighbour was willing to accept (slightly begrudgingly) that John Watson might have got a few things right.
Steep learning curve
There is no doubt that he got a lot of things wrong though. Had he been able to merge his new ideas with some local knowledge and wisdom, life would have been a lot easier. Instead he spent 30 years on the verge of bankruptcy before the ratio of success to failure improved and things finally came good. It was easier for the second generation; we had imbibed some knowledge along with the milk from those cows and had the benefit of witnessing his cock-ups, but we are still regarded as ‘blow-ins with attitude’ by the hardcore locals.
Learnings on our French farm
That is how I feel on our farm in France; after four harvests, only one year has as much as broken even. A wet start to 2013 sunk us before we were off the blocks. Since then we have been playing catch up and despite the valiant efforts of my staff and my monthly ‘blow-in’ visits, we haven’t made up for the drowned carrots, beetroot and courgettes. If I had my time again I would have put in drains and formed the land to serve them as most veg growers around here do. It looked brutal to move all that soil around, but I’m starting to see the wisdom in it now. Not that I am going to give up; I am as pig headed as my father and we have got used to the lovely early season veg that bridges our hungry gap so well. We will give it at least another year for the locals to laugh and the French Exchequer to suck some more blood from these English veins.
Back at home I hope you can see from your boxes that we’ve had a much better year. A perfect summer is merging into a perfect autumn that’s bountiful, flavoursome, mud free but not too dry; farming bliss. Long may it last.