Will we be able to milk cows at the new farm? If so, by hand or machine? A jersey, a guernsey, or a dairy shorthorn? Or all three? Will we be able to set up a farm shop, and make it a worthwhile business? Can we transform the old orchard into a productive, attractive and worthwhile heritage apple grove, with a little culling and a lot of grafting?
Then I remember our financial, physical and emotional limitations, none of which are easily surmounted. And I feel a little overwhelmed.
It’s times like these that the reality of what we’ve achieved comes down to one thing. The food on our plates. And it’s times like these that I feel reassured. When I eat a piece of fat bacon, from the gloriously flavoured wessex saddleback pigs we have reared, or toss broccoli raab (cime di rape in Italian) through pasta, or taste a risotto made with stock from a chicken that lived and died on the farm, I know there’s a difference. The food we have access to has something special about it. We don’t use chemicals in its production. We do produce some serious compost. We do choose seeds from varieties that are known for their flavour, not for their commercial viability. And we do eat food, sometimes, that’s not from our farm, so we have a reference point. And our tucker does have something "other" about it.
The good news is that this specialness is available to anybody who cares to take the time to grow things. Start with parsley, a bay tree in a pot. Thyme, coriander, any herb you can sustain where you live. Once you’ve eaten your own herbs – cut mere seconds before you need them – and compared them to the imposters available on supermarket shelves, you’ll know the difference. Scale this up to the carrots from your yard, apricots from your own tree, the eggs from your girls in the chookhouse, or, if you’re lucky enough to have the space, pigs from your own smallholding, and there’s no looking back. Real food, grown and nurtured with care from the soil up, has more inherent flavour. Yes, there’s the feelgood factor of having grown things yourself. Yes, there is no doubt you’ll want whatever you’ve produced to taste better. But, and I say this as much out of astonishment as out of any kind of expertise, a novice like myself can grow and rear things with more taste, more depth, more of the ingredient flavour in it, simply by giving it a crack.
My sourdough is still far from perfect. My garlic last year wasn’t as good as the year before. The tomatillos didn’t really ripen for some reason this last summer. But most things, most of the time, meet and surpass our expectations. There have always been people out there who have grown their own food and this is no surprise to them. Maybe I sound like a born again gardener, trying to convert those who have already discovered the simple joy of sage from their balcony, or spuds from their plot. But it gives the work I do on the farm more meaning when I can see the difference in the eating, and all I hope is for others to discover the same.