Last year we picked our own pumpkins for the first time and I think a new family tradition was born. Beluncle Farm in Hoo (Kent), have been running the PYO pumpkin concept for five years and it seems to be going from strength to strength. Granted, last year was our first but the growth in just a year seems amazing. Everyone I know now seems to be talking about it, whereas before I’d never heard mention of it. Last year there were a few small problems with payments and the pumpkins ran out quite early. This year the organisation of the event had been impressively improved. There were stacks of pumpkins and the payment process was really slick (cash or card in the middle of the field). Aside from the obvious fun of traipsing through a muddy field, there were also some other fun bits and bobs. Like picking your own sweetcorn straight off the plant. The children actually had no idea what was inside. They loved peeling back the papery sheaf and stringy threads to reveal the golden nuggets. There were also marrows available and an unbelievable variety of pumpkins. The spooky caravan was brilliant too. The children nearly burst my ear drums when we opened one of the drawers (I won’t say more in case you’ve not been yet). To give you an idea, our group of children were aged 3-5 and they absolutely loved it. Aside from the fresh air and muddy fields (wellies are compulsory), it is a brilliant way to talk to them about where our food comes from. Plenty of children have no idea about agriculture and truly believe vegetables come in perfect form, packaged in plastic from the super market. Personally, I absolutely love a misshapen vegetable. (Especially the crudely shaped ones that provide a little titter!)
I feel quite strongly that we should – where possible – try to support local business and eat local. Earlier this year we went to Shotford Hall Farm in Norfolk for an open day. This open day turned out to be Open Farm Sunday, a national event where for one Sunday every year, farmers open their gates and welcome the general public. This day is dedicated entirely to educating the general public about agriculture. This requires huge investment from all the contributors and a real desire to make the day a success, which for me it absolutely was. It was easily one of our best family days out this year.
First highlight was the machinery. The boys just loved the toys and got to sit in the driving seat of some impressive machinery. Next were the animals and a sheep shearing demonstration. Jeez those farmers work hard for their money. Those animals are not small and the farmers throw them around with (what appears to be) total ease. The really interesting part was the conversation it prompted with my 4 year old about wool and clothing. It’s something I’d just never even considered talking to him about. Introducing new concepts to children is relatively simple at such a young age, but watching them process the information is so precious. The questions he asked stopped me in my tracks and I can only imagine that will increase with his inquisitiveness. Up next on our tour of the farm was the egg sorting machine, which fascinated me as much as my boy. Of course anyone who reads my blog knows my obsession with eggs is well documented and I was so impressed with the rate at which the hens produce the eggs. Onto the cows and for my son Jared, this was definitely his favourite activity. He is a huge milk drinker and seeing how the cows were milked first hand, really impressed him. As it did me to be fair. Milk prices have become a hot topic in the months since and I am 100% in support of the farmers. People should see – or at least understand – exactly where their milk has come from and the process that supports getting it into our fridges. Each cow produces 25 litres of milk TWICE daily! In fact, the dairy manager told us that high yield cows can produce up to 50 litres twice daily. This is the highest quality white stuff and the proof was in the taste. Raw milk provided by Fen Farm Dairy. Creamy, wholesome and delicious, it was like no other milk we’ve tasted. So much so that Jared basically stood open mouthed under the sample dispenser! We literally dragged him away and that was with a litre bottle, which disappeared within 12 hours. All I know is that he proceeded to request raw milk every day for the rest of our holiday. Is there any better endorsement?
The final highlight was a tour of Shothall in a tractor. It was a clear day and the views were incredible. Our guide – Farmer Mike – gave us all a few home truths about farming. For example, due to the impact of volatile factors such as the weather, farmers are faced with up to a 25% margin of error in their planning and budgeting. 25%! No business could expect to survive with such a high figure of potential loss. And yet the farming industry face this year on year. Milk prices have hit the news recently but farming as a whole requires consideration and appreciation. I’m no farmer, statistician, politician or indeed anyone with any clout, but I know what I saw. These farmers work incredibly hard to provide quality produce and they should be remunerated appropriately. Initiatives such as Open Farm Sunday and PYO Pumpkins really raise awareness, help us educate our children about food and encourage us to think about sustainable food. If you have time, have a quick read of the statistics about how little we know about our food sources. The phrase “food for thought” never seemed more appropriate.