Down on the Farm – a summer picnic at Bryn Cocyn Organic.

“We should all become gardeners” was my take home message from Patrick Noble who, with wife Joyce, were our hosts for the day.

Of course, it is not quite as straightforward as that! But, then again, maybe it is……

The weather was hovering around being inclement most of the time. The forecast rain was duly ambushing us whenever we let our guard down – “Well I reckon it’s rained itself out by now” was my foolish sage comment a short while before another onslaught. But, hey, this was August and so the rains were warm, the breezes gentle and so we didn’t really care too much!

I was late, of course, so had to catch up the group on its orchards walk. Fairly recently planted, the trees are, by and large, maturing well and a reasonable harvest was starting already to mature. Worcesters, always very early would be ready in the next week. They have a fair variety of cultivars, for pollination and, of course, to provide a good length to their season of availability. They take clean attractive fruits to market, to sell at a good price and couple this with the production of single cultivar juices, each with its individual characteristics and, again, a very attractive product.

The tour continued through the large field of mixed vegetables where also is sited the large polytunnel, home at this time of the year to tomatoes and a range of other more tender plants, extending the range of produce they are able to offer. Outside were impressive rows of leaf vegetables such as kale and spinach beet – even a very tasty beetroot with a very dark colour.

Not success everywhere, mind, as, bafflingly, and despite a very good show of leaf, the gourds had produced no flowers at all, let alone going on to set fruit. Another row – spinach, as I recall – had lost its fleece netting cover and severely needed weeding to save a crop. This work is not a soft option, there is a huge range of tasks and often arduous and backbreaking. There are modern, sensible aids – horticultural practices have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years – but it still requires commitment. Especially so for growing organic produce, which has a wide range of certification criteria which absolutely have to be met. If you fail, you then lose the official Organic status and, with it, so the perceived value of the crops falls. You cannot get the same prices!

We walked through the livestock fields and had a chat with the cattle. They buy in six to nine month olds and raise them up to slaughter, dispatching them one by one over a long period  and having none of the traumas of conventional systems. Certainly the animals we saw seemed healthy and very relaxedly grazing. There’s also a flock of sheep, which I didn’t see, but is kept in the same manner.

Back indoors, in the farmhouse, we all had hot drinks, cake and lively conversations. I’d been to Bryn Cocyn a couple of times before and so knew Patrick and Joyce’s relaxed, amiable and ably efficient approach already but for the other ten of us it was a great introduction to this modern traditional outlook. All seemed well impressed – Harriet ready to move in!

So, sipping my tea, I asked Patrick what he felt about the movement to promote “Restoration grazing”  – RG – as the way ahead for agriculture. The idea that cattle and sheep grazing, far from being one of the major sources of climate changing carbon release into the atmosphere, could instead be used to FIX  carbon has been quite widely circulated of late, looking to push back against cries that we should all go vegetarian or vegan “to save the planet”.

He’d grimaced when I asked him this. Not to defend the idea but, as he went on, that he felt it was very far from the truth. He’d very long been very concerned about carbon loss from soils, which starts when you clear woodland to establish fields for grazing. RG, they say, reduces the intensity, reduces fertiliser use and allows an understory of roots to build up in the soil. But the amounts, even in ideal conditions, are painfully small and the animals are still releasing a lot of methane.

In practice, of course, the non RG systems use much arable land to grow fodder crops and, additionally, feed large quantities of imported feedstocks, like maize or soya to cattle in overlarge herds and very unnatural conditions.

84% of UK farmland is used to grow livestock or their fodder crops. Instead, there could be a significant increase in arable production for human consumption and still large amounts of grazing land could be returned to the far more carbon fixing and environment enriching role as native deciduous woodland.

“And we farmers should then all become gardeners” he concluded – and I wholeheartedly concurred!

Wonderful afternoon out in a beautiful location on a fantastic farm for the future – although, of course, it too could see the product mix change somewhat, as a new economy emerges……..

Chris Hemmings

August 17th, 2019

About greencentre

Non grant supported hence independent scientist, green activist, writer and forest planter.
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