I’m new to all this. I was meant to continue my urban, cappuccino fuelled life and become an architect or have progressed in the less than earthy career of PR. I was quite good at it too- strutting around with a starched collar barking those awkwardly loud but ever-so ‘powerful’ conversations into my phone. The suits still hang and the delusion of importance from a pinging notification remains- but there was a void. A yearning for the outdoors, for a physical satisfaction, a more primal connection to my work.
There’s no family farming heritage, no logical stride into running a farm- just a peeking curiosity over a hedge and an already established love of food. Having a farm seemed to fit the bill. Couple of friends did it- they were happy. What’s more, the agricultural industry will suggest that it’s all but impossible to become a farmer. Entry should be guarded by barriers built on generations of hard work and protected by a lifetime of traditionally honed skill. Challenge accepted and one shrouded in the luxury of being completely my choice. I am now a tenant hill farmer with hundreds of sheep, hundreds of acres and dozens of cattle. Right on track.
Its a decision that has bought great delight. Even after the thousandth time its still a privilege to watch a ewe, consumed with motherly affection, ever-so gently nuzzle and chat to her lamb as it staggers it’s first steps. The peace in standing high in the valley, just as the sun sets over the hill, to watch Red Kites circle the swaying trees that bask in the low, orange light. The sensual pleasures of hearing the whoosh of a peregrine falcon, the sight of a wild stallion gently tread through the purple hue of heather or the smell of sweet, fresh hay on the breath of some nosy cattle. I still haven’t got over the child like fun in driving big, shiny, powerful kit or the freedom in regressing even further to dress yourself however you fancy. Shell suited orphan-chic is haute couture in the Black Mountains of Wales. There has also been the life affirming pleasure in having my dogs at my side each day- untarnished in their loyalty and joy as they bound field to field. There is something extra in the relationship when working dogs. You are a team. You are in the journey together. Farming (in my case livestock farming) is fascinating with thousands of nuances to study, learn and apply in order to constantly improve. Information is always evolving and always available.
However, as the years role on and building the business normalises, challenges also surmount. Farming is a lonely job- especially sheep farming on top of a hill. It’s very nature is to be isolated. Sheep roam where people don’t venture. Days can drift by without social contact. Tasks are relentless and the constant linger of not finishing your homework haunts you. There’s always a job to do- changing seasons see to that and spending time with friends and loved ones become an inconvenience to getting it all done. Working hard is an attribute but pride in the toil, in sleeping less than your peers and in giving more and more of yourself to the farm is an unhealthy culture of the industry. So too only talking about farming…to other farmers. Margins are tightening, help can’t be justified but expansion is crucial. The drive for unsustainably cheap food is here to stay and despite all the potential for romance- life is measured in units. It’s mirrored over many parts of working life but heritage, freedom, beauty and enjoyment doesn’t pay. Its a world of commodity to the lowest common denominator. This relentless pressure to work doesn’t justify the means. Bills are ever more expensive and returns only getting lower.
Things have become a struggle. I may now be stubbled, strong and have hands like sandpaper but emotionally I have never felt so vulnerable. Depression creeps up on you- it consumes you little by little. It’s more than being a bit glum. It aches in your bones, it weighs at your shoulders, it surrounds you in a dark haze and follows you wherever you go. This smog causes such anxiety- the outside world is getting at you and there is a longing to hide. It is also deeply selfish and consuming. An invisible, unreasonable, self obsessed, insular blight. Famed depressive Stephen Fry describes it beautifully by saying “You can’t reason yourself back into cheerfulness any more than you can reason yourself an extra six inches in height.” This often isn’t fair on those around you- no matter how well meaning. You wear it in your posture and force it upon those unlucky enough to be in your company.
But things do change- this is the whole reason for writing this blog. Rather than just give you, the reader, an egocentric vent of my doom and gloom I urge you to talk about anything that may chime. Farming is rife with depression. The isolation, difficult economics and intensity are powerful causes and when out in the open it is amazing how many others share your feelings. Trudging through days engulfed by the weight of your worries doesn’t help. Whilst many of us may work alone- we aren’t alone in the world. It took time to see this but it has made an enormous difference. I have been lucky, people I care about very much have been willing to listen and been kind. I wasn’t dismissed, I wasn’t laughed at, I wasn’t seen as weak. Although a slow process, just admitting something was up has lightened that weight on my shoulders and cleared most of the haze. The skip to my step is returning and my little farm with it’s grand plans is an invigorating and exciting place again.