Building on the successes of our two previous in-depth series, in 2021 we created Landed, a personal exploration of land ownership and colonial legacy, told by Col Gordon, a Scottish farmer’s son, as he returns home to his family farm.
In the series, co-produced by Katie Revell and Col Gordon, Col , a 34 year old baker and seed researcher who grew up on a 270 acre livestock farm in the Highlands, starts to question long-held assumptions that challenge his idea of the small family farm and the viability of its future. Over four episodes, he explores not only the current challenges of farm succession and access to land in the UK, but also of lost history, colonial legacy and traditional Gaelic relationships with the land, going as far back as the Highland Clearances and the slave trade.
This series isn’t about dismissing the small family farm, but rather, bringing it to life within its full ecological, cultural and historical contexts. It challenges us to learn from these to make our landscapes more sustainable and accessible for all.
From personal stories of the small family farm and its alternatives, to land ownership and reform, to racial, land and food justice, Landed sheds light on important issues which will affect us all as we head into the greatest change in our agricultural sector in some 70 years.
Part 1: The Family Farm
“What if we’ve been getting this wrong?”
Col Gordon is a farmer’s son from the Scottish Highlands. After a decade away, he’s finally returned to the place that he loves: his family farm. Now, he’s eager to start realising his vision for an agroecological future: a future in which rural areas are alive with culture, many more people work on the land, farms operate in sympathy with nature, and nutritious food is available to everyone in society.
But now that he’s back, Col’s starting to wonder whether this vision can be achieved within the existing family farm model. Increasingly, it seems the odds are stacked against farms like his. Many are struggling to survive, let alone to employ people and deliver good food affordably to local communities. As older farmers retire without succession plans, and their land is amalgamated into large industrial operations, the future of the small family farm looks pretty bleak.
As he wrangles with all of this, Col stumbles across something that throws his vision – and his very understanding of farming – into doubt. What does it mean to say that “The family farm is a colonial concept”? And might this jarring idea be the key to understanding the problem – as well as its potential solutions?
Part 2: Re-storying the Landscape
Over the last 250 years, Gaelic culture in the Highlands of Scotland has experienced what academic Iain MacKinnon refers to as “cultural devastation”. For farmer’s son, Col Gordon, the forced displacement of people during the Highland Clearances, and the dismantling of Gaelic language and traditions, are best understood through the lens of colonisation. Now, only small pockets of Gaelic culture remain, detached from the conditions and ways of life that they evolved in.
In this episode, Col learns about the pre-colonial attitudes of the Gaels towards the land, investigating the question of what came before the family farm. What he finds is a system based on community and collective work, with a yearly migration to the hillside “shieling” to graze the cattle and rejuvenate the spirit. Above all, what he finds is a fundamentally different way of relating to the land – an understanding that people belong to the land, not the other way around.
Could a revival of these “indigenous” practices, and these relationships to the land, provide a route forward? And, if so, how might we “re-indigenise” in an open and inclusive way?
Part 3: Colonial Connections
In Part 2, farmer’s son Col Gordon explored the ways in which the colonisation of Highland Scotland destroyed a rich pre-colonial culture and relationship to the land. But in Part 3, he learns that the story of Scotland as the victim of colonial practices is just one part of a much bigger narrative.
The Highlands is one of the least racially diverse parts of the UK, and it would be easy to think of the area as far removed from the UK’s grim colonial history – a place where racial justice and reparations have no direct relevance. But, as Col discovers, this would be far from the truth.
Col traces the connections – some indirect, others very concrete – between the rural landscape he grew up in and global patterns of displacement, exploitation and enslavement. To dig deeper, he speaks with Josina Calliste, co-founder of Land in Our Names (LION) – a Black-led, grassroots collective committed to reparations in Britain by connecting land and climate justice with racial justice – and explores what it means to be a person of colour in rural Scotland today.
Part 4: Places of Possibilities
So if, as it turns out, the family farm is a colonial concept, what are the alternatives? And if we’re to address the tangled mess of challenges we’re faced with – the climate emergency, biodiversity loss, farmer burnout, food inequality and the need for reparations – then perhaps we need to be thinking not at the scale of the individual farm, but of the entire landscape.
In this final episode, Col explores the patchwork of pre- and post-colonial land relations that already exist across Scotland. He learns more about the tried and tested model of crofting that still exists in parts of the Highlands, as well as Scotland’s community right-to-buy legislation, and asks whether, together, these could be part of a broader strategy to rethink land ownership and tenure, and even our relationship to land more broadly.
In the end, Col concludes that it’s not the case that the family farm is no longer relevant – it’s just that on its own, it’s not enough to deal with what the future has in store. Instead, the family farm must come to understand itself as part of a much broader landscape – one made up of a kaleidoscope of different understandings of, and approaches to, what it means to be Landed.
Launch event: Landscapes of Hope
What does it mean to say ‘the family farm is a colonial concept’? What do reparations look like in the context of land relations? And what alternatives are there for how we relate to and engage with land?
In our online launch event, we were joined by powerful voices from around the world to explore these questions and more:
- Josina Calliste (founder, Land in Our Names & featured on the podcast)
- Erin Matariki Carr (co-lead, RIVER)
- Severine von Tscharner Fleming (founder & board member, Agrarian Trust)
- Col Gordon (series narrator)
- Abby Rose (host & facilitator)
Landed was well-received in the media, receiving coverage in publications ranging from the likes of the Herald Scotland, Observer Food Monthly, and the Farmer’s Guardian, to Scottish Field, Bella Caledonia, and more.
Landed also received widespread support and acclaim from listeners across the UK and around the world. Below is just a small selection of thoughts from some of our audience.
- “Every time a new farmer steps onto the land, their vision of farming collides with the material reality of the broader food system. This podcast series from @farmerama__ and @waltorangeboy promises to give this moment the deep reflection it deserves! @AgEcoCollective” – Adam Calo (@adamjcalo), Assistant Professor, Radbound University
- “I found this podcast as riveting and view changing as the #1619project. The small farm as a colonist idea & reparative justice as the means to repair our relationship w/each other and nature. Thank you @farmerama__ for this incredible series.” – Evelyn’s Crackers (@EvelynsCrackers), heritage grain bakery, Toronto
- “The latest in @waltorangeboy & @farmerama__ important series on the status of the family farm in relation to imperialism & colonialism, & drawing attention to Gaelic human ecology. Part 3 continues the theme, asking important questions about the Highlands and British imperialism.” – Iain MacKinnon (@IainMacKinnon75) Assistant Professor, Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University
- “‘How is your farm really sustainable if only 1% of people can afford your food?’ Also the need for community-wide scale as highlighted on @farmerama__ Landed series. Inspiring to see innovative answers to my long-held questions/reservations.” Meredith (@commonplacejoys)
- “I’ve been saving this podcast and now two episodes in already dreading it being over. It. Is. So. Good. I don’t agree with everything said, but it is all making me think and…. Wow, this world can be rough, but there are good people in it.” – Jess Shoemaker (@ShoemakerJess), Steinhart Foundation Distinguished Professor of Law, Nebraska University
- “Just listened to the amazing Landed series @farmerama__ with @waltorangeboy. A thorough + tender exploration of the past and present of Scottish farming & land ownership + it’s relationship to a just future. Must listen for all at the intersection of social/land/climate justice! Also a completely critique of rewilding in ep. 2 plz listen” Emmott Baddeley (@emmottbaddeley), student, MA in Landscape Management, University of Sheffield
Landed was produced by Col Gordon and Katie Revell, with Executive Producer Abby Rose. Our Project Manager was Olivia Oldham. Huge thanks to Josina Calliste for her guidance and input and to Sarah Nicholas for all her help and support. Thanks also to Jo Barratt. The music for Landed is by Dagger Gordon and Col Gordon.
Alongside Col, Landed featured the voices of Cate Bulmer, Adam Calo, Dagger Gordon, Sarah Nicholas, Alice Starmore (artist, textile designer, crofter, author and founder of Virtual Yarns), Sam Harrison (Manager, the Shieling Project), Iain MacKinnon (Assistant Professor, Centre for Agroecology and Water Research at Coventry University), Raghnaid Sandilands (writer, Gaelic translator, cartographer and publisher), Josina Calliste (co-founder, Land in Our Names), David Alston (researcher and author of Slaves and Highlanders: Silenced Histories of Scotland and the Caribbean), Srik Narayanan (relational body psychotherapist, dance/movement and somatic practitioner, and eco-psychologist), Philomena De Lima (Professor of Applied Sociology and Rural Studies and Director of the Centre of Remote and Rural Studies, Inverness College UHI), Marian Bruce (co-founder Bioregioning Tayside, director and master distiller at Highland Boundary and farmer at Kirklandbank), Helen O’Keefe (Scottish Crofting Federation’s 2021 Young Crofter of the Year), Patrick Krause (Chief Executive, Scottish Crofting Federation), Calum MacLeod (independent sustainable development consultant and academic), Adam Calo (assistant professor, Radbound University), Will Frazer (farmer, previously at the Food Farming and Countryside Commission) and Emma Whitham (co-founder, Highland Good Food Partnership).