Is the family farm the best farm?

In the world of baking you hear a lot of talk about ‘tradition’, particularly in contrast to the post-war industrial processes that dominate breadmaking today. But tradition can be an insidious thing, its origins obscured by the mists of history. Despite feeling right and proper, reverting to the traditional option isn’t necessarily what’s best.

Landed, the current Farmarama podcast series, is written and presented by Col Gordon whose grandfather rented, and then bought, a farm in the Scottish Highlands. Having grown up there, and recently returned to co-run his inheritance, he’s convinced family farms pave the way to an agroecological 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”.

Progress is slow and he’s not sure he’s making much of a difference in the face of ‘Big Agro’. And then the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 happen. Like many people with more than a modicum of privilege he finds himself questioning a lot of things he’d taken for granted. In reading about BLM he comes across the phrase “the family farm is a colonial concept” which throws him, along with the discovery that the family farm tradition in the Highlands is only a few generations old. Prior to this, farms were run very differently. What if the family farm is actually part of the problem and there’s a better way to do things? 

We’ll have to wait to find out the answer as this is just part one, but it’s a really intriguing start and raises some pertinent and maybe difficult questions for those working to fix the food chain. We’ll be following with interest! 

If you’re new to Farmarama be sure and check out Cereal, their previous series on the Real Bread Campaign.

Three podcasts

This week we’re recommending three podcasts that we’ve enjoyed and been inspired by over the winter.  

Farmarama is a podcast dedicated to regenerative farming which they define as “taking a more ecological approach, observing the natural ecosystems on a particular plot of land and working with them in a way that recognises the place of people within nature, not outside it.”

Their 2019 six-part series Cereal is incredibly inspiring and eye-opening, examining the industrialisation of bread making over the 20th century and subsequent reduction in quality. It also highlights the great efforts of small scale farmers and bakers to resist this trend and revive long forgotten grains and bring back quality healthy bread.

Since listening to and being inspired by the stories in the podcast we’ve started connecting with local farmers and millers and have been baking with a number of heritage grains. The results have been very pleasing and we plan to offer them for sale in the near future, ensuring Loaf is fully engaged with the local grain economy. 

Slow Rise: A Bread-Making Adventure came recommended by Sian, one of our regular customers. It’s a classic Radio 4 book reading by a proper theatre actor – warm and cosy, like listening to a kindly grandfather in a potting shed. 

Robert Penn embodies a self-effacing curiosity about how fundamental things work, and here decides to grow wheat from seed to make his own bread, along the way researching the history of bread-making from the dawn of civilisation to the industrial processes of today and meeting with breadmakers across the world. Best of all, it’s in 15 minute sections, perfect for a brief stroll or while kneading your dough. Lovely stuff.

(His previous books are about wood carving and cycling, so he’s evidently doing a tour of Stirchley High Street. Expect the next to be on fudge or plumbing.)

We talk about Loaf being a “workers cooperative”, but what does that mean? This two-parter from Upstream is a great introduction to the concept, why it appeals and how it works, socially, economically and politically. It manages to balance the invigorating rabble-rousing theories of the likes of Richard Wolff with sober analysis and case studies of actual co-ops on the ground. Entertaining and inspiring and highly recommended.