Last Sunday (9th June, 2013) was “Farm Sunday”. Farm Sunday is a National initiative where a selection of farms open wide their gates, arms, and hearts to the public so that we can better understand what keeps Britain Great. We chose “Down Barn Farm” at Tarrant Rawston, Dorset.
Now, whilst I am always excited by farms, Garden Centres, and National Trust Gardens – this Farm really captured my imagination and fired my passion. I’d grown up with a fashion for specialised farms. One farm would host a dairy herd, another farm would be beef cattle, there’d be a pig farm, and, of course, lots of arable farms. Not so “Down Barn Farm” – this farm was dairy and beef and arable… and successful!
I’ve been revisiting that most wonderful of BBC series, “The Good Life” – where Tom and Barbara Good throw off their dependency on the world and pursue self-sufficiency in suburbia. They too had to have the whole farming mix: Geraldine – the Goat, Pinky and Perky – the Pigs, the gardens and allotments full of veg, Lenin – the Cockerel, and, of course, his harem of chickens. Effluent from the animals was even used to fuel the generator. What I really liked about both “Down Barn Farm” and the fictional “The Good Life” was that the reality came shining through. Yes, this is a form of near autonomy, and equally ‘yes’ – it is very tough work… but it’s worth it.
“It’s not failure, it’s farming…”
So why my title? Well, here’s the heart of how “Down Barn Farm” and “The Good Life” inspired me. I’m in my 50s now. My work as a trainer has disappeared over-night. It feels like ‘failure’ and, more to the point, I feel like a ‘failure’. This is entirely my fault. Why? I relied on third parties to get sufficient work in – and now they say the work is only for a select few – not old Lexiboy. As for me, I haven’t been sowing my seed for future business. Only a foolish farmer would look at his or her fields day after day and complain when their crop isn’t coming up, if they hadn’t planted their seed!
But my “problem” is deeper than this. The market has changed. It may be that there will never be enough training work again to sustain my life. With this in mind, I have been seeking ‘proper’ employment, going back to ‘Sir’ and asking for a job. Well, as the excellent band, “After the Fire” said in one of my favourite songs, “Who’s gonna want you when you’re old, and fat, and ugly?” In my 50s it looks as if it is “Game Over” for a sensible job with a sensible salary. The cult of the young and the new is worshiped at every employment agency and by their devoted employing followers. You and I know how foolish this is, but it is the state of the environment in which we live, and move, and have our being.
Is this the end? No. I am inspired again. If the employment market doesn’t want me, they won’t have me! But I will need to go back to a more balanced model of farming. I will need to continue to present training programmes, but I will need also to take my programmes on-line, and onto podcasts, and vodcasts. I will need to generate an income from my photography, but also from my video work. I need to make greetings cards and prints and T-Shirts. I will need to farm my imagination as a writer, but also offer my services as a ghost-writer. I will need to publish and promote others who are younger. I will need to have that market stall with food and flowers, plants and prints, Teas and T-Shirts. And I’m happy about this. It’ll probably be harder work than ever before, and that in itself is motivating.
Come to the Standard, and Rally Round the Banner
So, you post 50 year olds whom the world doesn’t want – rally round the banner of “Down Barn Farm” style farming. The posh writers call it “portfolio careers” but I prefer “Farming”! You’ve got plenty of seed, get sowing, and don’t rely on one source of income from now on. This is old wisdom from Ecclesiastes and from “The Merchant of Venice” – but sometimes we forget, don’t we? “Cast your bread on the waters: for you shall find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for you know not what evil shall be on the earth…” (Ecc 11:1-2)
Remember Margo and Jerry
Tom and Barbara, in “The Good Life”, actually got a bit arrogant about self-sufficiency. The reality is that they couldn’t have achieved their dream without the constant support of their neighbours and friends, Margo and Jerry. “Love thy Neighbour”!!! Family far away is one matter, a neighbour who is near is better. Once you begin to move in a spirit of boldness again (rather than fear), you will be pleasantly delighted by the level of support you will get from the most unusual sources. Say “Yes” to help, don’t try to do this alone. Farmers know they are part of a living system – not an island all alone. I say it again, accept help. When your harvest comes in, you can give them a lettuce!
If you had seven or eight ventures, what would they be? How could you make a step forward in each one – perhaps focusing on one per day for the next week (didn’t you know, farmers work all week? Some work an eight day week!) And if you are younger than 50, wake-up, your time is coming, and ‘they’ won’t want you either – so prepare; don’t be stupid like I have been.
As for me? Now I need to go and dust off my ‘Combine Harvester’ of a Recording Studio that’s been sitting idle for months! Harvest is coming, and I need to reap 30, 60, and 100 fold all those ‘free’ seeds that I’ve sown over the years!