Kate Peters - The Walronds, Glebe Farm, Somerset - England - #3
Glebe Farm on the Somerset levels has been in the Walrond Family for 200 years. Rob and Lizzie have seen first-hand the huge changes that have taken place in British farming, from the introduction of chemical fertilisers to the pressure of supermarket monopolies to what they say concerns them most – the extreme weather patterns that now dominate food production in the UK. ‘There has always been unpredictability because it’s the weather and we’re in England’ says Lizzie. ‘But in the past you might have had a ruined harvest due to flooding or drought once every 20 years, now it’s happening far more often’.
Despite the challenges and its small size, Glebe Farm has continued to thrive and now offers an array of over 100 types of vegetables from its on-site farm shop. Lizzie and Rob put this success down to three things: the organic system they converted to twenty years ago, the huge diversity of produce and the decision to sell direct to their customers, ‘who are a little more understanding than the supermarkets when flood wipes out the onions’. As Lizzie says, ‘It can be more work, managing many different activities such as planting trees, hedgerows and medicinal herbs for the sheep but it has allowed us to work with Nature in a woven interplay of predator and pest that is more resilient to extremes’.
These changes in the weather are affecting the whole community. Long wet winters are delaying planting which means the ‘hungry gap’ (the traditional period in Spring when there is little fresh produce) is getting longer. Meanwhile hotter summers leave crops like barley struggling for moisture and brassicas are often wiped out by pests which would normally be killed off by the first frosts. ‘It’s not a healthy pattern’ says Rob, ‘and you never know what you’re going to get next’. Last year, the Walronds’ neighbours brought in the last wheat in early December – unheard of in the UK where the traditional wheat harvest is August.
Rob believes we all have a role to play in the stewardship of our food and farming system, especially with climatic instability. ‘It’s the most important thing for our health and our life, yet we degrade it and don’t value it properly. Farmers do their bit by producing the food but we can only produce what people will buy. At the end of the day, whoever buys the food has the final say’.