Last night Lou and I went on an organised walk around Offley Hoo Farm, a large farm estate just beyond Luton. This was the view coming back through the cow field to the farm at the end.
Along the way, we learned about ‘beetle banks’, the ridges of wild grass through the middle of fields, left for the insects. Margins are a similar environmental measure, leaving a gap between the hedgerows and the main field, so that fertilisers and pesticides don’t contaminate local wildlife. The farmer explained crop rotation and pointed out which fields were in which stages from the top of a hill. We met some rare local breeds of sheep and English long-horn cattle, bred here to maintain diversity in the national herd.
I learned that the nearest abbatoir to Luton is in Essex, and the cost of hiring a shearer to come and shear your sheep is more than the wool is worth.
Lou met a tiny pony with a big quiff. I was more interested in this year’s lambs, particularly the ones in burger form.
Offley Hoo has been farmed for two thousand years, judging by the Roman remains that we saw in one of the fields. The technology has changed, but the basic skills of reading the land and handling the animals are the same.
Over the coming decades, as population rises and cheap energy declines, food security is going to be an increasingly urgent matter. The more we can learn about where our food comes from, the better.
To that end, I’d like to mention Open Farm Sunday. On Sunday 7th June, farms up and down the country will host open days. There will be guided walks, machinery demonstrations, food tasting, rides and no doubt lots of strokable animals. Have a look on the website for your nearest farm, and take the children along.