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June 2022

Written for Cumbria Life.

MARIA:

Our home is suddenly quiet. For the last few months we’ve had student vets and friends staying with us and now finally we have the house to ourselves. We’ve gone from home cooked meals round the table and intense conversations about sheep and mental health and then more about sheep, to John and I retreating to separate rooms to eat a bowls of cereal in front of a screen. Just for a few days though. We’re back to meals together at the table but lambing and socialising can take a lot out of you and we both felt completely knackered and completely out of words. Our home seems to have become a bit of a refuge for many people. Friends and friends of friends, ask to come and stay, in need of some nature and in most cases, some nurture too. John, for all his ‘angry farmer’ banter, really has in innate desire to care for people. I’m not a naturally nurturing type but I do love cooking for people and honest conversations round the table. I’m glad people are reaching out and asking for support and I’m glad they see us, and our home as a place for restorative care. I remember a conversation with my business mentor where we were talking about business growth. I had been nominated for a business award and in the interview process, a lot of the questions from the panel of judges had been about business growth and how I dealt with competition. I said that competition wasn’t a problem because the markets are big enough to share and don’t see competition as a threat. We all do things differently and so we will attract customers for our particular USP. And in terms of growth, I said I was happy with our ‘cottage industry’ scale and content to let our businesses grow slowly. Anyway, I didn’t win and I guess in part it was because the judges didn’t see my way of running my business as a good business model. But when I spoke to my mentor, she said, “If we think of businesses like trees, all have their own growth rate and final height. They don’t grow exponentially. Once they reach their optimum height for their type and circumstances, they stop growing. But they still function and are useful for other plants and animals, providing shelter, food, shade etc”. I thought that was great. Nothing in nature keeps growing so it’s unnatural to expect businesses to do the same. Why I’m thinking of this now though, has more to do with where myself and John are at our stage in life. We’ve built a life together, and we’re now in a position to provide support for those that need it, and more and more, the farm is taking on this role. 

John:

As Maria mentions, on the quiet I am a bit of a counsellor and mentor. I like to listen to people and this often leads to them opening up about relationship issues, traumas or self-doubt, hopes and ambitions. I guess being a livestock farmer, older brother and father, I’ve spent most of my life nurturing one thing or another. I’m never happier than when I’m helping both people and animals fulfil their potential. Maria sometimes rolls her eyes when I rush off to help someone in need and asks if I’ve put my cape and glitter wellies on. Over the years I’ve taken lots of young people under my wing especially when I worked for the National Trust. I guess it’s giving folk a bit of support when they are groping around looking for their place in the world. I keep in touch with many of those fresh-faced youngsters and some even pop into the farm for a catch up and a brew.

Many have gone on to achieve their goals whether that’s building drystone walls all over the world or reaching a managerial position having started at the bottom. Some have set up their own business and frighteningly, the odd one has retired (early).

Recently there was seven of us sat down to lunch, a collection of misfits in our way, none of us quite fitting in with the normal stereotype of our cohorts or families. Often we can be overcome by the pressures put on us to conform to what others think we should be. This seems even more of a problem now as social media as well as, television, films and magazines all push this message of the ideal. In fact non-conformists are often great thinkers and initiators. Just because you are different, doesn’t mean you are worthless. It’s the same with livestock: the push for confirmatory almost saw the end of many of our wonderful British breeds. The manufacturers want a uniform product, each one exactly the same to fit the machines, packaging or shelf space. To me it leads to a bland dull world. Monoculture in any form destroys diversity, whether that’s in crops, animals or people, the world needs diversity in all forms: misfits, broken biscuits, rare breeds and all.

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