‘Cereal’ #1: Flour, Water, Salt


Once the cornerstone of our diet, bread is now, at best a guilty indulgence or, at worst, something to be completely avoided.

How did something so basic, so fundamental, get so complicated? Why are more and more people made sick by this age-old staple?

Introducing our critical new series, CEREAL. Farmerama’s Katie Revell travelled the country to find out how the needs of industrial production have come to dictate the way that seeds are bred, grain is grown, flour is milled, and bread is baked and eaten.

Episode 1 “Flour, Water, Salt”, released today, begins to unveil the truths behind how our bread is made today and its impact on human health and the planet.

We are introduced to the Real Bread Campaign and the bakers and researchers giving rise to a new grains movement that’s good for our soil and our guts.

The radical changes that bread has undergone are revealing of much wider truths about our relationships with food, to farmers, with the land, the environment, and with each other.

If you eat food, you have a stake in this story.

In this episode, we hear from Chris MacCormack – ‘Govanhill breadman’, Kimberley Bell – the founder of Small Food Bakery and UK Grain Lab, Chelsea Marshall  – Trustee of Scotland the Bread, Andrew Whitley – co-founder of Scotland the Bread and The Real Bread Campaign, and Theo Laffargue – baker at Riverside Bakery, Stirling.

Please listen, rate, review & subscribe, and support the movement. Thanks to the Roddick Foundation for their generous support to make this series possible. Episodes are released each Sunday on Soundcloud and all podcasting platforms. And if you’d like to support Farmerama, visit patreon.com/farmerama

Cereal is produced and edited by  Katie Revell, with support from Abby Rose and Jo Barratt. Suzie MacCarthy and Hanna Söderlund also worked on the series. Our theme music is by Owen Barratt.

Thanks to Christopher, Ross, Jess, Sabine and Euan for lending your voices. As well as the voices you hear in this episode, many more conversations have helped to shape this series, thank you to everyone involved!

Leah Penniman: Farming While Black

In this special episode, brought to you by Chelsea Green Publishing, we hear from a super inspiring small-scale farmer, Leah Penniman. Leah is a farmer, activist, author and co-founder of Soul Fire Farm in New York: a family farm committed to restoring food-sovereignty and ending injustice in our food system. (Photo: Onion harvest on Soul Fire Farm credit:Leah Penniman).

In the last century, over 14 million acres of land in the US have been taken from the control of black farmers. Leah’s recent book, ‘Farming While Black’, published by Chelsea Green, is a stirring manifesto that aims to reconnect people of colour to the land, in sharing Afro-indigenous traditions and sustainable farming practices that have been aggressively undermined through slavery and colonialism. At Soul Fire Farm, innovative programmes such as the ‘Black-Latinx Farmers Immersion’ and a sliding-scale farmshare ‘CSA’, work to reverse systematic food injustice.

This is a story of one black woman embracing the land and activating a whole community to do the same. The book is at once fiercely political, deeply practical, and unashamedly spiritual, because as Leah shows us…. farming is ALL of those things.

The podcast is brought to you by Chelsea Green Publishing, the leading publisher of books on sustainable food and farming, including Farming While Black by Leah Penniman. To get this book and discover more great titles visit chelseagreen.com

This show is made by Katie Revell, Jo Barratt and Abby Rose. Thanks to Leah Penniman for sharing her recordings of field songs and Yabisi Asili for sharing his experiences. Community support is provided by Annie Landless and Eliza Jenkins.

#39: Beginner farmer tips, Piglet to Plate and small-scale farmers Feed the World

First up this month, farmer, writer and activist, Leah Penniman, of Soul Fire Farm in New York State, shares  3 top tips for farmers who are just starting out. We also hear how Leah is committed to the duty of stewarding life on her farm. Although she herself is a vegetarian, she keeps and kills animals on Soul Fire Farm and shares the knowledge of these practices with others. (The photo this month is from Soul Fire Farm. Credit: Leah Penniman.)

Leah has just written a book, Farming While Black, which is both a manifesto and a manual. It includes recipes, wisdom from diasporic African farmers, and practical techniques for setting up a small-scale farm.

You can hear much more from Leah in our special episode (out November 4th), brought to you by Chelsea Green Publishing, which digs deeper into her story of Farming While Black.


Continuing the somewhat taboo theme of killing animals, we hear from Millie Diamond in north Wales. Through her @piglet2plate Instagram account she candidly shares her experience of keeping, killing and eating her own pigs.


Next up, we head to London and the We Feed the World Exhibition on London’s South Bank. We hear from speakers on the opening night, including Theo Sowa of the African Women’s Development Fund. Theo tells us how the We Feed the World exhibition begins to challenge the dangerous myths of industrial agriculture and presents an alternative story about the passionate smallholders who understand and care for the land.


Finally Vandana Shiva shares with us some powerful reflections on what the We Feed the World exhibition means for all of us. She leaves us with her compelling call to action, stating that “it is not a luxury, but an imperative to defend the small-scale farmers of the world”!

We would like to thank Rebel Kitchen for supporting this episode. Rebel Kitchen are all about redefining health. But they have a different kind of health message, and we think that’s great. It’s a health message that doesn’t separate the individual from the whole, and that’s based on actions instead of preaching – because, as they point out, it’s all connected. Amen to that!

Farmerama is produced by Jo Barratt, Abby Rose, and Katie Revell. Social media is led by Annie Landless with Eliza Jenkins and Olivia Oldham, and the music is by Owen Barratt.

#36: Wondrous worms, cow pats, biodynamic vines and Free Range Families

This month we hear from Jackie Stroud, a Soil Scientist at Rothamsted Research and, renowned in the UK farming community as “The Worm Lady”. She runs a citizen science project called #60minworms to encourage farmers to count the number and importantly types of worms in their soil. Jackie talks us through the different types of worms and why each one is important. Learn how to identify worms with her wonderfully simple quiz and get involved in the next #60minworms this September.

Greg Judy is an enthusiastic mob grazer based in Missouri. He talks to us about getting animals back on the land and building biodiversity in grasslands, including the importance of cow pats… all with the goal of increasing the long-term viability of your farm. You can hear the full interview with him on this month’s Short.

Then we head over to California for thoughts on regenerative agriculture from long-time vintner Paul Dolan who runs the Dark Horse Vineyard and Farming Company, a biodynamic enterprise based in Mendocino County. He tells us about some different experiments he is doing looking at water availability with his dry-farmed vines.

Finally we dip into the Free Range Families initiative at Jubilee Farm in Northern Ireland. Last month, they hosted the very intriguing sounding “Bioblitz” festival. Farmer Jonny Hansentells us about the festival, and speaks to GROW Wild manager Stephanie Bain about the Free Range Families programme.

We are also very excited to announce our new supporters Rebel Kitchen!

Their mission is to redefine health through food, business and beyond.

As we have heard from many people, health starts on the farm. It’s so important to have food companies actively supporting, and engaging with, the farming community – connecting up the dots for the wellbeing of humans and the earth. You will hear a bit more about what they do in a future episode.


One last thing, please do head to our Soundcloud to tune into the audio-diary of grower Joel Rodker, as he works to set up his first Market Garden. Joel would love suggestions and encouragement in the comments!

This show was produced by Abby Rose, Katie Revell, and Jo Barratt. Additional reporting this week came from Jonny Hansen at Jubilee Farm. Social media is managed by Annie Landless and our theme music by Owen Barratt.

#33: Kitchen Table talks, Jersey soils, trade deals, pig clubs and bee-lieving

This month we have a political focus and still manage to squeeze in some brilliant stores of soils and microbes. Firstly we share some personal stories from a ‘kitchen table talk’, on what good food means to the people of Scotland. These Kitchen Table Talks are a way of enabling the public to feed their ideas into the Good Food Nation Bill, you can hear more about this initiative from Nourish Scotland in this Short.

We hop over to Jersey to hear from young farmer Justin Le Gresely at Anneville Farm about their first attempt to produce potatoes and vegetables with zero external inputs. He shares how they’re using microscopes and compost extracts to guide bacterial and fungal populations trying out an innovative approach to growing the island’s favourite potato, the Jersey Royal.

REMINDER: If you do live in the UK, then there’s only a few days left to respond to the consultation on the Agricultural Bill “Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit”, which sets out the government’s ambitions for farming in England and seeks the views of all readers on its proposals.

This will dictate government policy in farming (and food!) for many years to come, and now is the time to get your voice heard. Have your say here! It’s not just farmers who need to respond, but anyone who cares about the environment or eats food. So… that’s everyone, then.

Next we have an update from Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University London, in conversation with reporter Marianne Landzettel on ‘Green Brexit’ and trade deals.

We’re happy to revisit Jubilee Farm in Northern Ireland, to hear an update from their CSA and head farmer Jonny Hanson chats to Dr Jude Stephens, a smallholder-turned-lecturer at Queens University Belfast, about the promise of Pig Clubs — intrigued? We are!

The show ends with a catchy tune from the bee-lievers, ooh Mr Gove, we sincerely hope you’re listening. 🐝 🐖🍭🍏

#31: Growing herbs, Christian perspectives on farming and Aquaponics on diversified farms

(Alice Bettany of @sacred_seeds harvesting herbs for her CSA herbal medicine box scheme)

Welcome to Farmerama! This month, we hear from herb growers and suppliers about the opportunities for growing herbs in the UK. We have the first of a series of reports from Jubilee Farm in Northern Ireland, offering a Christian perspective on agriculture and the environment. We take a visit to Humble by Nature, a tenant farm in the Welsh Wye Valley run by TV presenter Kate Humble we hear from an artisan pasta producer in Italy.

One of the most exciting panels at this year’s Oxford Real Farming Conference was all about growing and selling herbs in the UK. We learned that there’s real demand for good quality UK-grown herbs, and that more growers are finding ways to grow commercially here on a relatively small scale. We caught up with a few of the panelists: herb producer and medical herbalist, Helen Kearney; Managing Director of The Organic Herb Trading Company Jim Twine; and Alice Bettany who runs a CSA herbal box scheme (you can hear her on a ‘Shorts’ over on our soundcloud page).

Jonny Hanson is an environmentalist who’s involved in setting up Northern Ireland’s first Community-Supported Agriculture scheme, at Jubilee Farm, he tells us a bit about what they are building and what Christianity has to do with it all.

We meet Andrea Cavaliari, whose family have been producing pasta in Italy for generations by what he calls the delicate method. Finally we hear from Beca Beeby who setup and runs the Aquaponics project at Humble by Nature, a diversified farm in the Wye Valley, Wales. She is very clear that aquaponics is a brilliant addition to a mixed farm, but definitely not a substitute when it comes to growing food.

#30: Gove, agri-CULTURE, Human Ecology, Sanfoin and Pollarding

Hello and welcome to Farmerama, episode 30! This month we bring you stories from the 9th Annual Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC). The Conference this year was a bit different as politics took centre stage, we have a few words from Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in conversation with Zac Goldsmith. His positive words we hope will bring positive actions.

A brilliant part of the conference was the launch of The Soil Never Sleeps, a book of poetry from the Pasture Fed Livestock Association (PFLA), written by their poet-in-residence Adam Horowitz – you can get a copy here. We hear two PFLA farmers, Fidelity Weston and Chris Jones, share their experiences of working with a poet and read poems written about their farms.

Human Ecology and holistic food systems in cities are explained by Abi Morden of Propagate, who run Glasgow based food projects. Richard Smith, farm manager at Daylesford talks about his favourite crop, Sanfoin and just how beneficial it can be.

Finally we hear from Ted Green who is focused on pollarding for fodder – if that doesn’t mean anything to you (it didn’t to some of us) then listen in and all will be revealed!

This episode was produced by Abby Rose, Jo Barratt, and Katie Revell. Thank you to Joy Rose, Annie Landless and James Fryer for helping us capture stories at the conference. Thank you also to the wonderful fiddler Becky Dellow who played the music at the start of the show, performed between poems from the Soil Never Sleeps launch. And thank you also Katherine, Nessie and the ORFC team for making ORFC 18 such a success and pleasure to cover!

#29: Biodynamic vines, Catalonian chickens & medicinal plants

We have passed the darkest day here in the UK, every new day eeks out a few moments more light. To tide us over this month we have some slightly longer stories for you from 3 young farmers scattered across the globe.

First up, is young Welsh biodynamic farmer Dave Morris. He grows and makes natural wine at Ancre Hill Estates in Monmouthshire, Wales. Biodynamic farming is often seen as pretty esoteric but Dave makes it all seem fairly straightforward and sensible.

To get a biodynamic certification you must prepare and use both the 500 and 501 sprays. Preparation 500 is an animal horn manure and Preparation 501 is animal horn silica. Dave explains how he uses each in the vineyard.

We hear from Jaume Pretel, a chicken farmer in Catalonia who is moving towards making a living off the land and why he is doing this. Finally, Ari de Leña is the owner-operator of community-supported Kamayan Farm, near Seattle. As well as being a farmer, Ari is also an educator with a focus on the land and plants as medicine.

For the year ahead we’re excited to hear more stories from the fields, what’s important to you? We make Farmerama to share knowledge amongst the independent farming community so if you’ve got another story for us, do let us know.

A very happy new year to you all!

This episode was produced by Katie Revell, Jo Barratt and Abby Rose. Thanks to Joel Rodker for sending in the story about Catalonian chickens and to Annie Landless for all her support on social media.

If you have something you’d like to share, please get in touch. We’re farmeramaradio@gmail.com and you can find us easily on twitterinstagram and facebook.

#27: Agroforestry with sheep & chickens, female farming voices & starting a market garden

(find the transcript for the whole episode below)

This month, we dip into the wonderful world of agroforestry: John Tucker, head of Woodland Creation at The Woodland Trust, talks us through the different types of support they offer farmers for planting and managing trees on farms. We also hear from two farmers who have already taken advantage of this help. First up are Paul and Nicole Renison, sheep farmers in Cumbria, who have about 50 new trees and lots of new hedges through the agroforestry scheme. Secondly we hear from David Brass at Lakes Free Range, who planted trees almost 10 years ago on his chicken farm and says his tree investment paid back within a year.

Abby reports from an event in California celebrating women’s leadership in farming. We hear from the organiser, Caiti Hachmyer of Red H Farm, about the importance of surfacing a diverse set of voices from the farming community, as well as her thoughts on land tenure in the US.

Photo of David Brass at Lakes Free Range. Credit: The Woodland Trust

Finally we have the first in a series of dispatches from a young farmer, Joel Rodker, who’s setting up a new market garden from the ground up in a sharing agreement at Whitehall Farm, Stephen and Lynne Briggs’ farm in Cambridgeshire.

This episode was made by Abby Rose, Jo Barratt and Katie Revell. Thank you to Joel Rodker for contacting us and sending in his report, and thanks also to Annie Landless and everyone else who helps out behind the scenes in big and small ways – and of course to all of our guests. We’re looking forward to sharing more stories with you next month from fields and barns across the country and around the world.


If you would like to be reminded of any parts of the show, you can read the whole transcript here:

Katie: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Farmerama – bringing you stories, ideas and experiments from smaller-scale farms around the world. This month, we dip into the wonderful world of agroforestry. Abby has been in California, and she reports from an event celebrating women’s leadership in farming. And we have the first in a series of reports from a young farmer who’s setting up a new farm – from the ground up.

Jo: Thank you, Katie, and hello to Abby, who is with me in London. Katie’s in Glasgow.

Abby: Hello. To start, here are some voices from the first agroforestry conference in the UK. The conference brought together farmers and foresters: two groups who, it turns out, rarely find themselves in the same room. By mixing farming and forestry, a well-managed agroforestry system can produce as much as 40% more yield from the same plot of land than if you were growing the two crops independently.

Jo: The Woodland Trust is one of the organizations leading the charge on farms in this area by helping farmers to plant new native trees on their land. John Tucker is head of Woodland Creation.

John Tucker: Woodland Trust is charity. I guess we’re like the National Trust for trees. So, we’re an NGO. We have a number of aspirations, and one of them is to see more native trees and woods in the landscape. So, we were formed in 1972 and, probably for the first 35 years of our existence, we did our own thing, you know – we bought woodlands, or we bought bare land and planted trees to create new woodland. And about 10 years ago, we realized, if we really wanted to make a difference, that model just wasn’t going to work, so we had to find a way of working with existing landowners and help them make a difference for us.

So, our starting point is: you’ve got to understand the objectives of that landowner. Everybody’s objectives are going to be different, and then it’s up to us to come up with, you know, what difference – how trees can make their objectives work, and it will be different for all sorts of different landowners.

So we have a number of schemes depending on what people want to do. So if it’s agroforestry systems, we have financial support through AccorHotels. We can pay a certain number of euros per tree for schemes that come in. So that’s one way. We have a scheme if people want to do slightly bigger areas. If they want to plant say, half a hectare of woodland, we have a scheme called “MOREwoods” where we can cost-share through that scheme. If it’s being planted with a contractor, we can do all the design, we can organize all the plans, we can organize the contract, and then we’ll split the cost 50/50 between us. If the farmer wants to plant the trees themselves, then we cost-share: we pay 60%; the farmer pays 40%. So there are some good support mechanisms out there. There are lots of – you know, we deal in various farm tree packs as well that people can apply for online.

So my suggestion would be: go to our website. There’s a, you know, they can go on there. There’s a place you can contact us for more information. Just come and talk to us.

Abby: On the day, we heard from all types of farmers who’d benefited from the scheme, from potato farmers to small, mixed cow and grain farms.

Jo: Nicole and Paul Renison raise sheep and cows in the Pennines. We chatted to them about their experience, and how they ended up working with the Woodland Trust.

Paul Renison: Hi. I’m Paul Renison. I’m with my wife, my good lady, Nic Renison, and we farm on the East Fellside near Penrith. We’re predominantly sheep, but we do have a dairy heifer-rearing enterprise, and we’re starting a small suckler herd.

The Woodland Trust have given us help with building tree boxes, which they’ve planted. They’ve built the tree boxes and they planted them up. So we’ve got about three or four different tree species in each box. We’ve probably got about 40 or 50 tree boxes around the farm, and they’ve also just recently helped with 200 metres of hedging on the entry up to the farm.

Yes, our long-term plan now is to keep planting – basically keep going with it, because we’re seeing an economic advantage from doing it – and keep going ’til we run out space.

Nic Renison: Well, our farm is in the Pennines and it’s bleak. There’s lots of stone walls, hardly any trees really. No hedges. And so we’ve got these sheep, and we’ve got to keep them alive, and we’ve got to produce lambs. Shelter’s a real problem. So the hedges help with the shelter, that the trees that we’ve planted in, in the kind of – to create shelter belts – that, they help keep the lambs alive. But also it’s: we’ll be there for quite a few years, and trees and hedges just make it a nicer place to be. And you don’t really want to just spend all your life living on a bleak miserable hill farm. So hopefully it will help us make money and look prettier!

Paul Renison: When we first started at this farm, we were lambing indoors, and we’ve soon come to a conclusion that it’s pretty labour-intensive, and we wanted to lamb everything outdoors. So we’ve moved away from having fairly unproductive hill sheep towards a whiteface flock, but with that comes the fact that the lambs are probably slightly less hardy, so what we thought, well, we’re gonna need to make some more shelter, more windbreaks. And, luckily, Pete Leeson turned up on the scene and given us an awful lot of help with planting our trees and also his knowledge and understanding of the subject.

Nic Renison: He’s quite an environmentalist and worries a lot about soil and stuff, and I… because of my background – I was kind of brought up on a farm, so it’s all very commercial – and he wanted to… So we took a fence up, and he wanted to double-fence it with three metres wide which is quite – a long amount of, a much, you know, quite a lot of field to take out, so we had quite a lot of arguments in the field with the fencing contractor. They got quite heated. I don’t think I cried, but I could well have done. And, well, my concern was that it was going to take a big chunk of perfectly productive grassland out, so I had to get over that, and watch all this perfectly good field being fenced.

But soon as we started planting and it started to grow, I had to kind of eat my words, because it has been a huge benefit to the farm. It’s probably saved many lives and it’s only been up for two years. And now we’re looking at doing more and planting, you know – more kilometres around the farm as hedges.

I think – lots of farmers say to us, “So how much did you get paid for planting this hedge?” – and I think, as an industry, we, we’ve got to realize that we’ve, some environmental things we just need to do off our own back, just for the good of the countryside and for future generations to come.

Paul Renison: We’ve seen a benefit from doing this in terms of shelter. It just seems like a no-brainer. And if other farmers did it, they would definitely see a benefit, but it’s a, it’s a wider issue than that really. It’s, the next step is to try and get this in the hands of the government and see if we can put it into the next Common Agricultural Policy or whatever’s it’s going to be called in the future.

Abby: David Brass started the Lakes Free Range Eggs Company, one of the largest producers in the UK.

Jo: They source from a collective of farms, including their own, and produce 300 million eggs every year.

Abby: On all of these farms, at least 20% of the farm must be planted in trees, and they have research which suggests that the trees benefit the chickens, as well as greatly reduce the amount of ammonia from chicken poo that’s put into the environment.

David Brass: I’m David Brass, and I’m up in the Lake District, and we farm chickens – free-range chickens – in the Lake District. Where things, we do things a little bit differently is we plant lots of trees: instead of open fields outside for them to go out into, it’s kind of wooded area, which they’re much happier with. They come from jungle fowl. I know it’s a bit cliché, a bit naff, but that’s what they do. They like – they’re timid animals so they like if they have somewhere to hide from buzzards and things.

We, it started sort of 1997 when we first started planting trees. We just saw that, on open fields, tree – chickens would, if there’s the odd tree in the field, chickens would go underneath it and stay there rather than be out in the open field. So we thought, to encourage birds to range outside, we’d plant more trees, and it worked, so we’ve just kept doing it ever since.

Plant what’s there. Grows very well. It also improves the biodiversity of the area, so why not? Plant them in rows, four to five metres apart, two metres apart within the rows, because they’re easily managed for the first few years. You can just drive up and down the rows with a topper to clear the grass out rather than have to do it manually. And then look after them: keep looking after – they need more and more work. Well, not more and more work, just every year they need some maintenance to look after them.

Like I said really, we plant what’s there. We do employ a guy who is consultant in tree, wood planting and technically it’s called an “upland W8 limestone woodland”, but actually it’s just what’s there. If we want to improve the biodiversity of what we’re doing and the marketability of our eggs, which are all free-range, why not improve the environment for red squirrels and bats and barn owls and things? At the same time, some people maybe plant apple trees. We don’t: we just go for the, what’s native to the area.

Biggest issues? Ah, all little issues really. As you go along, you just gradually change the way you plant them, and the planting plans and some of the species that you did that don’t do particularly well. And then the biggest lesson really that we learned was to make sure you maintain them.

It doesn’t take a lot of work, but it just, every year there’ll be something different that you need to do to look after your trees. They don’t just grow them… Well, they will grow themselves, but it’s a much slower process.

It’s kind of interesting. Over the years, we’ve worked with a, it’s a research establishment down in Oxford, the Farm Animal Initiative, and they put some science into what we do, and so we actually do know the numbers. 16,000 bird type free-range unit, if you plant the trees, 20% of the ranging area with trees, it’ll probably cost you maybe three, three-and-a-half thousand pounds to do it, plus your own labour to actually plant them.

But that’s a direct cost. You recover that back in the first year. So after that, you have three thousand pounds a year better profitability. The birds don’t die, the share of mortality is less, they’re less stressed, they don’t get the same diseases. So that gives you more, better-quality eggs, so it pays you back, yeah. It’s a no-brainer. Once you get into chickens, it’s a no-brainer, really. And, at the same time, when you walk the dog at five o’clock in the morning, it’s nice to walk through trees rather than just open, muddy fields. So, no: there’s no downsides to it at all.

Katie: Caiti Hachmyer is a farmer, a food activist and the organizer of a symposium on Women’s Leadership in the Food Movement. It took place near Sebastopol, California back in September, and Abby was there. She spoke to Caiti about her roundabout route into farming, why the event is so vital, and the ways men in the food movement can support their female colleagues.

Caiti Hachmyer: My name’s Caiti Hachmyer. I am the owner-operator of Red H Farm, among other things. I studied anthropology as an undergraduate at University of California, Berkeley, and I ended up in a political ecology class. It’s really where I came to understand the way the different communities around the world engage in the environment, and that the destruction to the environment that I was seeing and that was causing my kind of misanthropic tendencies was very specific to Western ways of relating to the land and to the environment.

And I ended up staying at UC Berkeley for an extra semester and studying agroecology and urban farming and environmental justice, and then I spent a couple of years doing advocacy around small farmers for Food First, The Institute for Food and Development Policy and Community Alliance of Family Farmers.

I came to a point where I felt like it was really important to understand farming first-hand if I was going to continue doing the work and doing the advocacy. This was about a decade ago. I also wanted to get out of the Bay Area, which is a region in California that is very progressive, and it’s very easy to espouse certain ideals to like-minded individuals. So, I moved to Minnesota – which is kind of the heart of the Midwest corn and soybean country, which is very different – and worked on a diversified vegetable farm, kind of surrounded by corn and soy there, and learned that the farmers who were part of this industrial system all around me were a lovely, wonderful people – and that it was much more complex than my 22-year-old mind had really realized.

So, I’ve been working in the food movement for about a decade now, and what I’ve noticed over time is that not only do I know, factually, that women grow half the food in the world or more but, anecdotally, my own feeling – and what I discovered was shared among most of my female colleagues – is that the food movement itself is very heavily populated by women.

In the nonprofit sector and academia all these different avenues, it’s women that you see everywhere. And yet the voices here in the US that really prevail are male. So the leading chefs are male, the leading journalists are male, the farmers that we hear about all the time are these, like, old, white, male farmers. And it became very frustrating and kind of enraging, and I just felt like I really wanted to create a space where we could celebrate this more quiet leadership that’s happening, because the people that are actually doing the work on the ground – again, anecdotally, to me, it feels like it’s women doing a hell of a lot of the work. And figuring out ways that their voices are not appropriated by the male executive directors of the nonprofits and things like that – it seemed really important to me.

And so creating a space where everyone can come together – so it’s a conference celebrating women, but it’s certainly not only for women. The more men that come I think the more powerful that is. So that women from across the movement, whether they’re farmers working in policy and academia and advocacy, can come together and cross-pollinate and learn about the different things that are happening.

This year’s theme was around storytelling and connection and collective resistance, because we’re all struggling with this very dire political situation here in the US, that I also felt like bringing that theme – kind of a more politicized theme – this year was also really important, to help strengthen people’s morale and also just the connections that can be built through that.

This work is really hard. It’s been quite a challenge for me to figure out how to balance doing the work on the land – which keeps me grounded, and I think makes me feel more genuine and rooted in the work I’m doing – and also doing this more systems-level work and trying to bring voices together and be this bridge. It’s not hard emotionally. I mean, I’m exhausted, for sure! But it’s hard financially. It’s like, you know, it’s work that is not traditionally financially valued in our society. And so, figuring out how to make this all financially viable is definitely a big step and figuring out who really wants to support this work is a big step that will help with the longevity of it.

From a personal standpoint, it’s, like, everything that I want to be doing. You know, I mentioned at the end of the conference today that yesterday I was thinking, “OK, this might be it.” Like, you know, “This is, it’s a lot of work, like, it’s amazing, but it’s a lot of work. I have no idea how many people are gonna come.” And then as soon as the first panel was ten minutes in, all I think is, “Oh my God. How can I not do this?! I have to keep doing this. I have to keep bringing these people together and doing this work, because it’s so, it’s so moving and inspiring and like, I feel like it’s so important for us to all come together like this, so.

I think it’s time to start listening. It’s time to quiet your own voice, and it’s time to make space. I think that there’s this idea that, oh, as long as we, like, hire women in our companies and make jobs for women, that somehow that is feminism and that is creating gender equality and things like that, and I think it’s actually about more than that. It’s about taking a step back in some ways and actually opening up that space for women who are doing this work, and who are doing it more quietly, to step into a space of, not necessarily recognition, but, like, a space of being able to shine in the work that they’re doing.

I don’t know if in the UK you have this concept called “mansplaining” that we have here in the US? It’s baffling the people that talk to me about the food system: the men that, at the farmers market, want to explain the food system to me, and I have to stop them and say, “I teach this at a university. I don’t need you to explain it to me.” Stop and listen. Like, know that the women around you have an amazing amount to say, an amazing amount of wisdom and knowledge, and create that space – is one is one huge piece. And then provide allyship. We all know, convening here, how much power there is in this room, and the amazing work that’s being done by women around the world.

There is an issue around women trying to make that understood by men, and what women need are their male allies to make that understood to other men. We need men who are on board and who get it to be schooling the people around them – the men around them – that are still living in the Dark Ages, around what all this means and what they’re not seeing in the world. And that kind of allyship is going to be really crucial. First be quiet and listen, and then speak out to your brotherhood.

Katie: Caiti also spoke about the multiple pressures of expectation placed on small-scale farmers, and why the current land tenure system makes this situation untenable. Her comments relate to the USA, but they could also apply to the UK and elsewhere.

Caiti Hachmyer: So we’re in a situation here in the U.S. – I mean, I could say a lot about this issue of land justice. There is a book that was just published by Food First, the Institute for Food and Development Policy, called Land Justice: Reimagining Land, Food and the Commons in the United States, so it is U.S.-specific, but I think that the themes and the dialogue are certainly applicable across the world and particularly in a place like Britain. There’s a lot of dialogue around colonialism and race and class and things that I think are really applicable to anywhere in the Western world.

I wrote a chapter that looked at the issue of land access and land security and tenure for the new farming generation. And we have this huge conundrum here that I’m sure is similar in Europe: the production value of land can never match the market value, so food production and farming, ecological farming, will never support the land that it needs to grow on. The market for ecologically-grown products is inherently in areas where the land values are the highest – all sorts of political layers to that, of course – but it makes farming really difficult, because farmers really have very insecure land tenure.

So, essentially, this is the deal: we’re expecting this new generation of farmers to make high-risk, high-cost, low-return financial commitments which, in a neoliberal economy that we are stuck in, we would never expect anywhere else. And I think that what we’re doing in expecting this, like, bohemian class of farmers to just keep doing it for the love of it, and to continue this movement and kind of this new wave of back-to-the-land, I think we’re kind of building a house of cards.

We’re expecting farmers to steward the land for future generations, to manage these environmental systems, to create this whole new food economy that we want to create, this cultural situation that we want – which is really what, like, these boutique farms that I am a part of are doing – and, most importantly, the biggest thing that we’re expecting globally is for small-scale farmers to essentially be on the front lines of mitigating climate change. And we’re expecting all this from people who are essentially sharecropping on wealthy people’s land.

You can ask anyone who’s rented in the food system, any grower or producer that’s rented: it’s so complicated and it’s so challenging, working with landowners. And it’s no-one’s fault; it’s just about different expectations or different understandings and personalities and all those things. It’s not that anyone’s to blame, but we have this private property system here in the U.S. that means that farmers can’t actually afford the land that they need to farm on, and yet we’re expecting them to solve all of these social and environmental crises that we have.

Land is like a farmer’s investment portfolio. There’s certainly financial benefits to ecological production quickly, but the real benefit is these long, deep, complex ecosystems that are built – these landscapes that are built over time, decades, generations – and if we want farmers to be farming in that way – when they could make as much money farming still organically, but, like, in a much less regenerative way – then we need to figure out ways that actually makes sense for them, and that they actually have tenure on their land.

And that’s a piece of the dialogue around land justice that I can bring, and there’s certainly a much larger political dialogue around indigenous land, around Black agrarianism, around gender and land… all sorts of things. And the piece that I’ve engaged with is kind of this piece that I have a very personal connection to.

Jo: OK, so thank you to Caiti and Katie. Abby, you were at the conference. What did you make of it?

Abby: I just, I had actually never been to a conference that was all women speaking. All of the many different stories the women were telling were really inspiring. So, in a way, I guess it’s like any great conference you go to. It was a really nourishing experience. It was about how can we all work together to have a more diverse voice coming from the farming world? Because there certainly are many women working in the farming world. How can that be more reflected in communications and in leadership roles? And in particular they were asking, you know, “What does it look like for, if you have a female rancher?”

Jo: OK Abby, so for listeners in the UK, a rancher is, that’s like, somebody who has a lot of cows.

Abby: Exactly. Someone who has a lot of cows or sheep, and they range over a large area. So there was a rancher there who’s about my age, and she was asking questions like – you know, the reason she got into ranching was after many years in the farming industry she’d really got an affinity with regenerative agriculture in terms of how she can use these wonderful animals to regenerate land on a large scale, and also she has a real affinity with animals. And she was saying, what does it look like to like manage animals in a more feminine way? Because for her, a lot of the people she’d seen managing animals did it in a very kind of aggressive, sort of taking charge of the animals. And for her – well, physically, you know, she wasn’t in a position to really be doing that. And so it’s questions like that, like what are those differences? And she put it as like, “What is a feminine land ethic?”.

My main takeaway is that there are already many exciting women working in the farming world and the food world. And that we need to be more proactive about surfacing those voices.

Jo: Thanks, and that’s actually something that we’re, we take quite seriously when we’re putting Farmerama together, and we are about to start publishing some data about the diversity of the people who make the show and the people who we have on air. It’s been interesting to look at the data from the last few episodes and sometimes we think we’re doing a good job, but this is really actually holding ourselves to account and saying, “Are we doing as well as we thought?”. And I think the answer is we can do a lot better.

Abby: Yeah, agreed.

Katie: We rely on supporters to keep the show alive, so if anyone wants to support us, or know someone they think would like to, then please get in touch. We’ll send you our Supporters’ Offer with more information.

Abby: Over the next few months, we’re going to be checking in with a farmer who’s taking on the job of creating a market garden from scratch.

Jo: Joel Rodker is just at the start of this journey, and we’ll be along with him for the ride, learning with him and sharing experiences which I bet are oh-so-familiar to so many of you. Here’s Joel to introduce himself and set the scene.

Joel Rodker: My name is Joel, and I’m setting up a market garden in Cambridgeshire, just outside Peterborough. I’m on an existing farm which is run by Stephen and Lynn Briggs, and they’re arable farmers with some fruit tree agroforestry. They’re opening up a farm shop soon, and I’m going to be growing the fresh produce for the shop, so that’s hopefully going to include vegetables, herbs and flowers.

They’ve got a five-acre field which has been allocated for my use, but I’m only planning to use a small area of that. This autumn, I’m hoping to have prepared or at least covered an area of about 0.28 acres. 0.28 – so not very big, and then if things go well, I will expand next year. I’m going for 30-inch beds with 18-inch pathways. I’m going to have 60 beds to start with, and that’s gonna be divided into six blocks of 10 beds with 1.5-meter pathways between each of the six blocks. The cultivated area will only be about 0.16 acres.

So, so far – I’m in the third week now, and I’m only here two or three days a week – I have dug over 360 meters squared. It’s pretty slow-going. The soil is really amazing. It’s very light; it’s very fertile. But there’s quite a lot of couch grass root in the soil, so I’m trying to get as much of that out as possible, which is heavy going. I can’t really think of an alternative to digging it out with a fork, but I am probably gonna cover some of the area with silage sheet, just so I don’t have to worry about the weeds coming back until I get around to digging it.

I’m getting lots of transplants in plugs from Delfland Nurseries because I haven’t had time to sow anything myself. So I’ve got lots of brassicas, some onions, spinach, a few other lettuces and things which I am going to put in and have been putting in. Over the winter, most of that won’t need covering, shouldn’t need covering.

I guess, at the moment, things that I’m a little bit concerned about are the lack of irrigation. We’re still applying for an irrigation license, so there is a sort of temporary watering system setup. But it’s not that efficient. I can use watering cans, but that takes quite a long time. But hopefully, given the time of year, it shouldn’t be too dry – although it hasn’t rained much recently.

I’m thinking about how I’m gonna arrange the post-harvest infrastructure. That’s quite a big job. I’m not quite sure where that’s going to go, and how that’s going to be designed. And getting ready for sowing in spring I guess is another big challenge that I’m thinking about: what seeds I need to order; what crops I want. So there’s a lot of different things going on in my head at the moment, but I guess while I’m digging out the couch grass I’ve got a lot of time to think, so I can mull those things over in my mind, and once I’ve dug enough ground to plant the plugs that I’ve bought, then I can maybe start to look at some of the other infrastructure that needs doing.

I guess the best thing so far is has just been starting, because I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and to finally be setting everything out and doing what I’ve been thinking about for a long time is quite hard to believe, actually, so that’s a great feeling. Yesterday a friend came over and took some drone footage, and that was really nice to see – what I’ve done so far and see all the beds laid out and see that I’ve got all the straight lines right and see the rows of plants. Yeah, to see the, to see the plants in the ground and doing well – that’s a really nice feeling. So hopefully by next spring there’ll be a lot more of that.

It’s very early days, but hopefully they’ll be lots more to share and I’m looking forward to learning and I’m looking forward to a productive next season.

Abby: We know that we have lots of people listening who have been in a similar position, so we definitely encourage you to get in touch with Joel – maybe through us – and share what you’ve learned with him. Maybe you have a suggestion for helping him get rid of that dreaded couch grass he’s dealing with!

Jo: Thank you for listening to us. If you’re new to the show, do have a look and a listen to our back catalogue on our SoundCloud page, because as well as the regular monthly shows – and we’ve got them going back now for, there’s 26 other ones – there’s some more short features available, which you won’t find on the podcast feed, so it’s worth checking out. We call these “shorts”.

Abby: Toodle-oo, and thanks for listening.

Jo: Yep. Thanks for listening. That’s it from us. See you next time.

Katie: This episode was made by Abby, Jo and me, Katie. Thank you to Joel for contacting us and sending in his report, and thanks also to Annie and everyone else who helps out behind the scenes in big and small ways – and of course to all of our guests. We’re looking forward to sharing more stories with you next month from fields and barns across the country and around the world.


#26: Fungi above & below ground, our microbiome, chicken homes & vines in the UK

Welcome back to Farmerama! This month we hear more from Dr Christine Jones, this time talking about why we plant cover crops and the wonderful world of fungi below our feet. If you missed her last month talking about carbon cycles and healthy plants/soils, then check out that episode here.

Young farmer Harry Boglione runs a truly mixed farm nestled amongst the Dorset hills. We visited earlier this summer and were amazed at the many different things he has going on at Haye Farm. He told us about his experiments to build the perfect mobile chicken hut and how the bird-flu threats earlier this year took his thinking in a whole new direction.

Patrick Mallery is a fungi fiend. He runs Upcycled Mushrooms and is all about using fungi to convert waste materials into something delicious and nutritious. We heard his tips on growing mushrooms outdoors and particularly how they can be a great companion crop to fruit trees.

We caught up with biologist Ann Bikle to hear how soil microbial underworlds are linked to human health and the microbiome. Anne and her husband David Montgomery are a geologist and biologist duo that have written a series of books about soil, microbial life and how this all relates to agriculture. We also spoke to David about good soil health and their most recent book – Growing a Revolution – and this ‘Short’ is up on our Soundcloud page.

Finally we headed back to Dorset at Bride Valley Vineyards, where vineyard manager Graham Fisher told us about his thoughts on growing grapes in a changing climate.

This show was made by Abby Rose, Katie Revell and Jo Barratt, with an additional interview from Abi Glencross.

Thanks again to our supporters E5 Bakehouse. If you’re ever in London, go try some of their bread – you can even see the grains being milled on site!

We’d also like to thank Annie Landless for the help she’s been giving us managing our social media. We are @Farmerama__ on Twitter and Instagram and you can easily find us on Facebook at Farmerama Radio.