Growing concern

Hundreds of acres of cultivable farmland will be cleared to make way for houses as far as the eye can see. In the coming months, Mid Sussex District Council will hear applications from developers wanting to build 1500 houses between the villages of Ansty and Cuckfield. As well as residential properties, there will be shops and amenities in addition to a headline-grabbing 30% allocation of social housing. Whether or not the developments will ever release as much as 30% for social housing remains to be seen, but it needs to be there at the outset..

This major development plan faces problems, however. To begin with the new homes will generate additional demand for water in a part of the world where demand for water is already comparabl;e to desert regions.The loss of 250 acres of farmland is nothing short of disastrous: the UK cannot afford to throw away productive land.

Value or price?

Today’s On Your Farm came from Yew Tree Farm, Bristol’s last city farm. Third generation farmer Catherine Withers faces existential challenges to a business that has adapted to extensive and rapid change, but is on the point of losing access to land that is vital to its survival. Part of a site of Scientific and Conservation Interest, the farm should have been spared the predatory attention of a local property developer.

Click the screengrab to access the programme on the BBC.

Instead, acres of hay and winter feed once intended for Catherine’s dairy herd is under lock and key. The tenancy on the field concerned was terminated in favour of a planning proposal for 200 homes that has yet to be agreed. When the BBC visited, the hay in the field was ready to be cut and the livestock would have been sure of winter sustenance. However, Catherine is kept away from her crop by a heavy padlock on the gate. Being able to see the crop but not gather it in just adds injury to insult.

Elsewhere on the farm, another tenancy on a field adjacent to a local council crematorium is set to end, as the town hall plans to extend the amenities for its residents. Again, it is the dairy cattle that will lose out. Catherine has a small dairy herd, as well as outdoor pigs: she also grows vegetables, which she can sell to local residents within walking distance of her farmhouse. Bristol used to have more than 30 farms within its boundaries: as the city’s only remaining farmer, Catherine is something of a local hero, not just to her customers.

Yew Tree has a high proportion of ancient meadow in its grazing, an irreplaceable asset that has been quietly sheltering threatened flora and fauna for centuries. Its value to Bristol is incalculable, but depends on being an integrated space, across which wildlife can roam. The shift from viable and productive to long term decline is an ever-present threat and determined by factors that neither Catherine nor her many supporters can control.

Listen to the programme while it is available on the BBC Sounds website. It raises questions for all of us, regardless of whether we live in a city or a rural area.

Eggs by rail

pic Bo Jess om, Wikimedia Commons

The common sense, sturdy construction of this wooden egg crate and thousands like it ensured that once the eggs had been wrapped with a layer of crepe paper, they were good for journeys across Europe. France, Holland and Denmark all exported eggs to England in the latter half of the 19th century and on into the 20th.

Eggsistential threat

When the second world war broke out in 1939, nobody would have imagined that the ministry of food would disappear off the map. Stranger still was the process by which the ministry morphed and started to manage the nation’s food procurement arrangements from a top secret seaside town in Wales. A narrow strip of sea separates Colwyn Bay from the country’s pivotal international port of Liverpool, routinely a target for German air raids.

Had this been known to the Luftwaffe, the British food procurement system would have been destroyed in a matter of days and European history would have taken a very different course. At the time it was a well-kept secret, today the story is told by William Sitwell, in his book Eggs Or Anarchy.

The book traces the challenges that faced food minister Lord Woolton, who applied the lessons he learnt in the world of business to a series of desperate logistical impasses. These were complicated by the antipathy of a less than enthusiastic civil service with its procedural agenda.

Conventional economics makes no allowance for the inherent costs that are part and parcel of animal products. Every egg producer faces regular bills as part of raising chickens, regardless of whether or not they are in lay. If the birds are to live, let alone lay eggs, feed bills are non-negotiable.

For most of the egg-buying public, this upstream reality is literally history. Without an idea of the real world implications, an egg is no more than a disembodied food ingredient. Its price is more complex than than any monetary value that might be assigned to it. In one context it can be priceless, when it is part of a cohort destined for breeding the next generation. This is also the start and the end of humanity’s grasp of the forces of nature.