Thursday, June 06, 2013

Support your local farmers - g'wan, you know you want to!

Oh it's nearly Friday again, how did that happen?

What a crazy week, again. Mr Beehive has been back Stateside this week, so we've not seen him for 10 days. This has meant that the juggling of who needs to be where and when has been doubled this week as I can't add him into the equation of taxi services, thus lightening my load.

Still, much as I miss him, it's rather nice to not feel the need to make conversation or turn on the tv. I've been able to work later if I've needed to, catch up with some knitting and trawl ebay a bit more than normal.

Last week we sold our wooden climbing tower. It was a lovely, if not extravagant buy, for our large turf-only Scottish garden. Here in our current home of little turf, our garden is divided up into many sections, but not one of them large enough to house it. So it has forlornly sat in the corner of the garage for the last two years until we decided what to do with it, whilst the children who used to play on it grew up. It was also sidelined for the trampoline.
Would it have another life as something else in the garden? Would it keep us warm this winter? Would it get a new home where other children would make use of it?
At one point, there was a slight possibility that it may have become a tree house in our friends' new garden, but, it was perhaps as much a daunting a task to move it there, as it was to take it to the tip.
So we put it on Gumtree and last week it moved to a new garden in a new part of the UK.

But, you know, just as you think you've made a profit (well, in so far as it gave us more cash sold than it would have done as firewood!), you realise you need to fork out again. So, in the front door and immediately out the back to buy us a trailer for the car and 100 reclaimed paving bricks for the new path in the ongoing saga of flood prevention!

But then, I guess that is the life when you're trying to grow, produce and be fairly self sufficient, as soon as you grow and harvest one thing, you need to plough the proceeds back into the soil to make the next harvest. Our next buy is going to be three more chickens to replace the ones that fox took and I'm hoping that the place I normally go to get chooks, will have something good in stock.

I suppose chickens, as a whole, aren't that profitable.We feed them organic layers pellets that generally cost us around £17 a bag. The bag lasts around 3 weeks. In those three weeks, if they're all laying we should get 63 eggs a week, which will give us on average £10 a week if we sold them all, which we don't as we like them too. But factor in corn and bedding and the fact that one has gone broody again, at least two are off lay, not sure why, but I think one has always been a little dodgy (she was donated to us after a fox or cat attacked her in her original home) and one is one of my first band of girls, so is about three now and just living her retirement, we're not looking to make much cash from eggs.

I sometimes make a little cash from selling on my surplus seedlings. I have sold courgette and beans this year, but we would make more from the actual produce itself, so we're looking to 'go large' (that is a joke by the way, I just mean slightly bigger!) and have our names down on the allotment waiting list, this will then give us space for a polytunnel for tomatoes and strawberries and free up the green house for more cut flower seedlings. The outside area of the allotment I have plans for cut flowers, again, which I hope to sell at the gate with the eggs.

The one area that looked, in theory, to be more profitable through the eyes of a smallholder, was bees: honey, wax and propolis.  However, my beekeeping pals are saying that, due to the hideous winter, the losses are dreadful and nucs are looking to boom up in price, which makes a newbie start up like myself, wondering if forking out £350 for a nuc of bees is a sensible thing to do at the moment. Perhaps, if this two year ban on the neonicotinoids makes a difference to the numbers, the nuc prices will drop.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that smallholding is not profitable as a business. It  has to be a way of life because you feel strongly about growing or producing your own. I have just finished reading The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball   The Dirty Life: A Story of Farming the Land and Falling in Love
 and it's a wonderful read, particularly for the closet farmer, like myself. She really brings to the forefront the fact that you have to LOVE the land and love the reasons why you do what you do in order to want to get out of bed at 4am every morning to *milk your herd of cows (*insert what you want!). Being a smallholder is not, by even a nano fraction, the same as being a full on farmer like Kristin, but the goals are similar. I certainly do not get out of bed at 4am, god forbid, 6am kills me, but I'm sure I 'could' if I were dedicated enough to weed massacre or ensured my chickens were cleaned twice a week, or insisted on homemade everything from porridge to bread, or even had a cow that needed milking (taking three pints off my doorstep in ready made bottles doesn't even come close!

I think everyone should read Kristin's book, even if you can't bear the thought of getting muck behind your nails or eating something that lived on your land - be it once living and squawking (or mooing) or taking over your greenhouse or garden like something from Day of the Triffids and I'll tell you why;

If you are passionate about your food and what you put in your mouth, even slightly, then you should be supporting your local farmers. What they do is, frankly, awesome. To do hard, physical labour for more than 12 hours a day, 365 days of the year, with no guarantee of return some work under the glare of the sun, the bite of the wind or the chill of the cold with nature having the final say, not something that needs our support.

If you have a local veg scheme or CSA or farm shop, use it when you can. Join a pig or lamb share scheme. Our local butcher brings a mobile van into our village once a week. Or, try planting a few seeds in a window box so that you can really get a true taste for freshly picked food. The more people that demand heritage breed pork or local pesticide-free veg that looks like male genitalia (they don't sell these ones in some supermarkets, but believe you an me, at our dinner table, they're the ones we like most as they give us a real giggle!), or raw milk or home made sheep cheese and local honey; then the more the demand goes up and the more farmers will get support, the more they will need to use their fields to grow and the less they will need to sell them off to developers or put huge wind farms up that people moan about...

But you knew that didn't you ;-)

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