I’d already been to Becketts Farm and Hatton World prior to this lengthy trip. Before I had no real active learning about Farm shops and Farming itself, because I didn’t have a conversation with any experts, I just went to observe and take photos, which I now see as a good preparation for this trip.
The process of arranging this trip was difficult to arrange because I wanted to get permission to take photographs from all the farms I planned on visiting. This proved to be the wrong way of doing things because each of the farms (except Berry’s farm) were too busy to reply to the emails, so I thought it would put my study in jeopardy. My glimmer of hope was rested on Berry’s farm because Bridget gladly accepted my request to interview her and take photographs.
‘Jonathan, we have no problem with you taking some photographs of the Farm Shop- just let us know when you would like to come?’
‘Can do thurs afternoon- briefly as packing to leave that evening- 3pm? You could take photos earlier with better light? Will let Farm Manager know, Benita Jacoibs. I suggest you have lunch at the Farm Cafe.’
This solely would be a great learning curve and an interesting opportunity to learn more about farming. Berry’s farm has been around since the middle ages where it bred pigs, sheep and cattle, but they decided to diversify into the cafe and farm shop in april 2012, so the recent, fresh change in business objectives will give some great information for my study. Other than Berry’s farm, I arranged a visit to some family friends who live near Brimham Rocks in ‘Brimham Lodge Farm’. They are an example of a more traditional farm that doesn’t have plans to diversify, nor do they see it as a benefit to their business. Therefore, having just these two farms would offer a broad study into farming and the benefits and drawbacks of diversification. Even though these were the only two farms I arrange to visit, I did plan to visit more farms uninvited, with the strategy of purchasing something and talking to the owners to establish a friendly relationship between both parties. This way, when I talk about my study, and the fact that I want to take their portrait, the conversation would be a lot easier and more relaxed.
I’d arranged to visit Berry’s farm at 3pm on Thursday, so it left me sometime to find another farm to photograph in the morning. Berry’s farm was just outside Layburn, so I looked on the internet to find a farm close by. I found a farm called ‘Big sheep little cow’ just outside Bedale which seemed like a nice little farm where children could go on tours round the farm to see all the animals. In unbeknown to me, this would be an excellent farm to use for my study. I head out and went through the motions of purchasing something, talking the owners, and photographing round the farm. The owner Carol Clark gave the most valuable information to me, she knew the business of the farm, and the business world expertly, and it taught me a lot about the issues of farm diversification (which I will explain in detail in a later post). I didn’t take the portrait because she was busy, but the conversation was incredibly valuable, and arranged to take the portraits on a later date.
After that visit, I headed to Berry’s Farm for my arranged time. I ate the most delicious lunch there, which really showed how far they’d come in the 2 years of being open. I observed the exquisite decor around the cafe, and was greeted by the friendly service. The whole feel for the place was incredibly warm and relaxed, which really complimented the movement of farm diversification. Bridget came to meet me after I finished my lunch and took a few photographs round the farm. We talked about the hurdles that Berry’s farm had been through, and the stereotypes of farmers. An interesting reason why they went into the farm shop and cafe was because Bridget’s husband saw the cars going past off the A6684 as ‘wallets going past’ which was previously on a bad location for the farm because of all the traffic, but now its seen as a plus. She went on to say that a lot of children don’t know about farming, and that part of the plan is to educate children on farming so that its not forgotten in this current economic climate where the convenience of supermarkets is preferred. However, she likes the stereotypes that farmers have been labeled with in past years, and the way that they’ve been shown. Even though farmers are arguably exploited in adverts, they do show them as a positive to help their campaign, even though these adverts aren’t 100% truthful. Bridget sees this stereotype as a positive; she’d rather been seen wearing stereotypical clothes and speaking in a stereotypical accent rather than being shown as slick money grabbing people wearing Armani suits. One review of her farm was from the trip advisor, saying that he / she thought they were paying 30% for the view, next time they’ll bring their own sandwiches and sit and look at the view in the car park. To which she said ‘next time you come to look at the view with your sandwiches, there won’t be a view to look at because there won’t be animals, it will be overgrown’. This just shows that people don’t realise how much of an edge it is, if they want the countryside to stay as it is, then they will need to support the local retailers and the farmers instead of going to the big supermarkets to buy (on the most part) exploited food. Going to Berry’s farm I experienced interesting interpretations and real life experience that support my study. After this day I’ve really come to appreciate the amount of effort farmers put in; if supermarkets put down their prices to get more people to buy their food, they really need to look at the people their effecting. People that are working incredibly hard to educate the populations of tomorrow, not just to make a living, and ultimately, education is the key to make people realise this paradigm shift of a reduction in food quality. Everyone used to go to the butchers to buy top quality meat because they cared, and because they didn’t know any better. Now the younger populations are feed advertising campaigns to suggest that supermarkets and fast food restaurants are the new best option, and with the recession, many people have accepted this reduction in quality, and forgotten about the real hard workers; farmers. Because these businesses have a voice in the digital age of advertising, they have the step over farmers. So farmers need to be given a voice to speak the quality alternative, and even though my project isn’t going to achieve a substantial shift, it will hopefully show some issue that supermarkets have presented our economy. Something needs to be said.
After learning a lot from day one, I became confident that farmers want to get their stories out there because they will be as passionate about my project as I am. I hadn’t arranged any visits for this day, but I found three farms to visit that would fit into my project. Beadlam Grange, Cedarbarn Farm, and Whole Hogg farm. First I visited Beadlam Grange, a farm that diversified in 2007 to a farm shop and granary tearoom. I again made a purchase in the tearoom and had a conversation with the workers in the café, as it turned out, the owner Jenny Rooke was sat in the café, so we arranged an interview and photo shoot in the next 15 minutes. She explained all the diversifications of the farm, going into bed and breakfasts and a caravan site. She just wasn’t getting returns from what she was producing in the farm, so a diversification was needed, hence the need for the farm shop; which involved applying for a farm grant to expand the business, and now all their stock goes through farm shop. Even though it was very scary, and a lot of hard work, it all worked out and they’ve now got a reputation for quality. Even though ‘We can’t compete with the supermarkets… we can’t compete on price’, people do say that their cheaper than Morrison’s, to which she replied, ‘just go out and tell everyone that’. After having a length discussion about the works of the site we did the photoshoot to try and capture the farms essence. Originally I did plan to photograph all the portraits using flash, but I figured that they wouldn’t be as natural (I am photographing a farm, how more natural can you get) as taking a nice warm portrait of the face of the farm, surrounded by the environment. My shots do look rather staged, but none of that was to do with me, not a single portrait was solely directed by myself. I asked the people where they wanted to stand and they stood in that exact space, I just photographed the truth, the altered smile, the essence. What I came to accept was, that they didn’t understand the art of my project fully. I got the feeling that they want more exposure to the public through my photography, so they wanted to show off the parts of their farm that they are most proud of so that people will see what a happy place the site is. I understood this in Hatton World where the employees welcomed my presence where I would otherwise (in supermarkets) be turned away and at that point I realised how important the farm’s image is to them. In a digital age, public relations is everything, supermarkets don’t want people taking photographs of the store because they are conscious of the authenticity of their food and prices. Farms on the other hand are proud of the quality and authenticity of all their stock, so they want people to present what’s there, and they are not afraid of anything. It would be wrong to alter what the farmer wants, it would be wrong to do what I want. Farmers know what they want, and my job is to present the truth and show how important and hard working they are with a set of images that are engaging and warm.
After Beadlam Grange I visited Cedarbarn farm, a nice little farm shop and restaurant. Again, it was a warm environment with very happy workers who welcomed me after I enjoyed my delicious meal. I had conversations with the daughter of the owners and a worker who worked with the meat in the shop. I photographed portraits of both of them and around the farm shop but with no recorded interview because the true owners were unavailable. But I felt like photographing the workers showed how happy they are to work there, selling quality stock that they are proud of, is everyone in supermarkets like that? I know for a fact that some people who work in supermarkets aren’t passionate about the stock, or passionate about the job, they care about the money they get at the end of the day, just like the owners of where they work. This surely shows the mess that business has got itself into and the distance between supermarkets owners and there staff. ‘Money is round, its meant to go around’, not just go in to the supermarkets.
Furthermore, after Cedarbarn farm, I visited ‘The Whole Hogg’, which was the smallest farm shop that I’d been to, established in 2010 converted from a cart shed by owner Robert, with marketing foundations built by wife Jean. To find the correct look for the farm shop and café, Jean visited a lot of different diversified farms. She decided that a more traditional look to the site would be more beneficial for them. All the food in the café is homemade with stock from the farm shop sourced from other producers as well as some of their own. Even after all the research and attention to detail, the location that they are situated on doesn’t fully benefit their sales. When the seasons aren’t generous, they get very few visits from the impulse customers who go past on the A169 Pickering to Malton road. But even with this issue, they are proud of their progress and the quality of their produce. I don’t think I’ve visited a farm that isn’t proud of their work, even with stiff competition, they still want to educate and tell there story to whoever asks.
The last day brought an end to the spontaneous farm shop visits. I’d arranged a visit to Brimham Lodge Farm, a more traditional farm that hasn’t diversified; and ‘Big Sheep Little Cow’, for the interview and the photo shoot that I didn’t do last time. At Brimham Lodge Farm I had a in depth tour of the farm from Gavin Clarke, ho had to be the most passionate farmer that I’ve ever talked to. I learned an incredible amount from Gavin about farming. Brimham Lodge specialized in cow lactation (milking cows) and the sale of the cow meat after they were too old to produce the required amount of milk. Machinery has benefited the farm largely in the past few years with new tractors, digital cow tags and crystal computer software. The later was incredibly important and efficient for the farm to work with because it told information about the average amount of lactations a cow made so the farmer could then try and catalyse a change to the figures. Gavin said that new technology coming in has made his job a lot easier and lot more beneficial. With these changes, it has changed farming for the better, but with supermarkets low prices, its still incredibly difficult. Even though Gavin enjoys his job immensely, it is incredibly frustrating for these money grabbing giants to come in and influence the consumers mind when it comes to meat. On the topic of diversification, he sees that if you stick to one thing that you know you can do, then you can get a better result and rally through. The tradition of farming is changing, and if farming sticks to the best quality than that’s what’s most beneficial to make it best for those who wants quality. With supermarkets using low prices ‘It makes your blood boil’ with supermarkets like Morrison’s investing 2.1million into a new slaughter house because they can afford it, they have the opportunities smaller farms don’t have, and that’s not fair. But if they want to go as a loss leader, that’s their choice, but don’t do it on the farmers backs. If supermarkets were to give farmers a little bit more money, they could find ways to make it cheaper. But the only ways that they do it now is to drop farmers wages so that’s why business isn’t right. If those who do the hard work aren’t appreciated, its not fair business. Consumers ‘aren’t too fused about where it comes from, its price now’, there is a 40% that do care about meat, but they are the older people, the new generations will make that proportion get smaller because there is little in education that gets people to appreciate quality food. The red tractor stamp is given to food that is produced in UK, but people are trying to get rid of it, but it’s the only way people can guarantee that its good welfare. But there is milk powder produced in Brazil and created into milk in the UK, but its given the red tractor stamp and sold in supermarkets because the supermarkets don’t care about the quality. A similar thing happened with the supermarkets and the horse meat scandal, how do people know where there food is from anymore. The only real way people can tell is if its sourced direct from the small UK farms and sold in small local retailers, that’s how it used to be and that’s how it should be from the best recognition and the best quality. He said that if there is something out that will get people to appreciate farming a lot more, to listen to the farms, that it would be brilliant, but its unlikely that something like that would happen, sadly. It was really interesting going to Brimham Lodge farm and seeing the passion of Gavin. Its horrible knowing that he isn’t happy with the wage, and that large supermarkets get large profits from exploiting people like him and he doesn’t see anything that will change that. Britain used to be a keen producer of many different things, but with supermarkets and large international business’ coming in, we’ve lost that status in the media. We still have people like Gavin, Jenny, Carol, Robert, Jean and Bridget to produce this quality produce, but unless their stories are told, there is little that can be done.
I then traveled back to ‘Big Sheep Little Cow’ for the conversation with Carol. We talked for a long time about the state of the economy, the media and farm diversification, but there is a lot of information about it so I’ll address it in another blog post.
Overall, this is the best that the trip could have gone. I got a lot of photographs and video footage and even more knowledge about farming and farm diversification. I learnt that the farmers are as passionate about this project as I am myself, and I can’t wait for them to see may photobook.