No matter what you eat or don’t, there is no doubt that most of our small farmers are struggling, in a world awash with big supermarkets that pay peanuts and often not in advance, so this creates real risks for a failed harvest. And helping farmers also helps animals with feed, welfare etc. Also read better lives for barnyard friends.
Farmers presently have many financial issues, especially due to the rise of plant-based eating and supermarkets that pay peanuts. But rather than sit over your soup and cry, know there are some wonderful alternatives that you could use to diversify your income. You could possible earn more money, and also keep long-cherished family farms in the same hands, while making life better for you and your animals, if you’re a livestock farmer.
Hemp (it won’t get you high like cannabis) can be locally grown. So it’s great to make rope, paper (acid-free so won’t yellow with age), omega oils and beauty products. It’s also good to make locally-grown sustainable fibres for clothing. Warm in winter and cool in summer, it’s also used for bedding.
Many of us don’t eat meat. But a good book to read for everyone is Farm to Fork: The Challenge of Sustainable Farming. This offers a seasonal tour of the farming year, and can stop a lot of misinformation and bad feeling between concerned members of the public and farmers (who often get defensive, say if they bring livestock inside for winter, and nobody knows why). A book for anyone who has lost touch with the reality of where food comes from, it covers how crops are planted and what happens at harvest time, food standards and sustainability, heritage and the future of agricultural policy, outside the EU. Food and farming is the UK’s biggest manufacturing industry. So whatever your diet, looking at how to improve animal welfare is good all round.
Charities Helping Small Farmers
- Forage Aid is a charity that supplies free food and bedding for animals that are suffering in the aftermath of extreme weather or an Act of God. Set up by farmers to help those hit by heavy snow that were struggling to feed theier livestock, it supports farmers with a Defra holding number that face a clear and present risk, with hay, straw and silage, and those who have to move animals, due to being underwater. They welcome not just money, but physical donations of feed or bedding.
- Farming Help is a free phoneline that’s open 7am to 11pm each day of the year, set up by 4 charities to help farmers who need urgent help. Find free, impartial and confidential support whether your difficulties are financial, tenancy or personal. They can help draw up a plan if you are unable to work for a time (due to being ill or self-isolating) and can also provide cheaper rates and homes for farmers who have to leave their tenancies.
Help for Your Little Organic Farm
- Wholesome Food Association is a wonderful little find, which offers natural farmers a way to simply and cheaply get organic certification. This outfit works on a honesty trust basis, with surprise audits. In return, for just £30 or so a year, you get to display your goods as organic and get free literature and logos for your market, farm shop etc. It’s a grassroots version of Soil Association status.
- Community Supported Agriculture is a new idea to help small farmers that have been crippled by the big supermarkets. The way it normally works is that the farmer works all year (with risks of failed harvests) then sells their products at a pittance to the big supermarkets, who don’t pay in advance. CSA works the complete opposite: people in the community (happy to risk a failed harvest as it’s not that expensive to lose one or two each year) pay the farmers in advance. The farmers can then focus on growing their food (not needing the big supermarkets to survive) and then you come and collect your peaches, apples, cider or whatever at harvest time!
- Willing Workers on Organic Farms is a worldwide movement, where people who want to learn more about how farming works, volunteer to live and work on your farm, in return for food and accommodation. It’s a great way for them to learn and a good way for you to find free help at harvest time. As long as you’re organic (certification not needed), you are welcome to apply. Workers spend around half a day helping out on the farms, to learn about organic agriculture and share in daily life with the host.
- Natural Grower is a fantastic plant-based fertiliser that is eco-friendly and human, and also works out cheaper. It also does not attract other creatures, like bonemeal or fishmeal. Sold in bulk versions for farmers, these concentrated formulations are an effective alternative to chemical fertilisers and are rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other trace elements needed for plants to thrive. All products are certified organic. Wholesale customers get £300 off their first order, net 60 terms for stress-free payments and free shipping for a year.
- Grazers (Yorkshire) is a popular nontoxic calcium liquid that can be applied to lawns and farms (along with golf courses and bowling greens) to naturally deter unwanted visitors by making grass unpalatable. Effective to prevent damage to emerging ripe fruits and grains (rabbits, deer, mice, voles, squirrels, pigeons and small birds), you can also use it on wheat, barley, oil seed rape and more, plus there are versions to deter cabbage white butterfly, caterpillar and aphids, and another version to humanely deter slugs and snails.
Books for Your Organic Farm
The No-Till Organic Vegetable Farm is a guide to growing profitable vegetables, with no need for a spade! Earthworm-friendly and better for your back (!), this method of growing crops without disturbing the soil has taken off big time. The methods mostly use human power, with minimal use of machinery. The books includes tips on planning, record-keeping and marketing. If farming alongside animals (like dogs), ensure your farm is free from toxic plants and other hazards.
Practical No-Till Farming looks at small-scale farming that promises less work and improved soil health, and natural weed control. Includes special coverage of organic vegetable and flower no-till market gardening, by a veteran farmer.
Compact Farms is a beautifully illustrated guide to 15 real plans for small-scale farmers on 5 acres or less. Designed to harness your area’s water supply, orientation and geography to maximise efficiency and productivity (while minimising effort), the plans include urban and rural settings, to provide enough income to turn a hobby into a business.
- Transfarmation is the art of transitioning animal farms over to grow oat milk and local sustainable foods, leaving animals to live out their lives in peace. This not just helps them, but you’ll likely earn more.
- Use your land for green burial sites, outdoor weddings, music festivals and film shoots. Or you could consider portioning off land as secure dog walking fields (read how to keep dogs/livestock safe).
- One company in Wales pays sheep farmers for the poo (!) and blends it with recycled paper to make unique greetings cards – Birthday Bleatings and I Love Ewe!
- Spruce up outbuildings then rent as holiday lets at Farmstay. Ensure your farm is free from toxic plants and other hazards (some may not accept pets, due to livestock). You can also help children get to know and learn about barnyard friends.