We have a number of young people come to learn work skills each week, as a supplement to their school experience. They thrive in the more open environment where they are expected to take initiative in the workplace.
Farmer John's May 2013 blog
1 May 2013
Just under a year ago a small young lad came to our door. He was 12,
living with very caring grandparents, but had only seen his mum twice that he remembered and didn’t know his dad. Both had been drug users. He wasn’t coping with school and was frequently excluded. It was generally for verbalising what many of us probably thought about certain teachers when we were at school. Instead of checking the stock first that day we went straight to Hermitage and bought the largest child sized John Deere overalls, which were too big. He put them on with a growing pride. Next job was helping a lamb which had got stuck on its side. It took us 20 minutes to carefully coax it back on its feet. The day continued, and grandfather arrived to pick up a very different person. He had achieved, and had something to tell, and experiences to be proud of. Over the year he has been coming for 2 days a week and grown in confidence. He was especially good at making sure newly born lambs were mothered up correctly during lambing. He had also taken to feeding half the workforce with an excess of Wagon Wheels, Penguins, chocolate chip cookies and crisps. He would only eat one of the two Chicken Caesar salad wraps. I was the bin for the other one. I got fatter, he stayed the same size.
Today he arrived and cried. The game was over. The school’s patience had run out. It was special school time for him. There was an interview tomorrow and, if accepted, a taxi on Monday morning to take him to Reading. We tried to make it a good day for him, gave him a reference, said we really cared and do really hope for his future, but he is not alone in the world we are so quick to measure, judge and condemn. There are 50 staff at his new school looking after 58 young people and what stories could they each tell.
Chairs on tables, children and don’t forget, education is a wonderful thing. - S Henderson
Farmer John's April Blog
1 Apr 2013
Some years ago I heard a minister talking about St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Chapter 2.
Paul says that when the going gets difficult in life you should look at the lifestyle of others to find good role models. He gives three examples. What does the soldier do? He doesn’t get mixed up in civilian life. That’s obvious to anyone serving in Afghanistan. What do athletes do? They train hard, obey the rules and concentrate on winning the prize, and how thrilling that was for the medallists, and us watching the Olympics, last summer. He then says you should be like a farmer. Paul’s clear message was that we show the quality of perseverance, the ability to keep on keeping on, and making sure that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
For the last 12 months now farming has been very difficult. When we started silage making last June, I asked Robin Plank to cut the water meadows in Bradfield. He phoned me halfway round the first time complaining he’d jumped off his tractor and got 2 Wellington boots full of water. Was it time to stop? Harvest was interesting, with lots of weeds and not so much corn. The last field of winter oats we planted in the autumn looked far more like a paddy field, and failed completely.
There was hope for the spring but 5 weeks of freezing conditions during lambing turned the landscape into tundra and my brain into a desert. It is at such times that perseverance begins to fail and my birthplace of Leytonstone becomes obvious. I therefore sought the assurance of real farmers. Andy More from Beenham stood with me like a father and said ‘It’s alright’, John Miller at Padworth reminded me of the incredibly wet summer of 1967 and also the winter of 1963. I do remember the snow on the ground for 3 months mainly because I got caned for swimming in a frozen pond while trying to relieve the boredom of cross country running in late March. But it was Richard Plank who demonstrated that real quality. Standing in --it and surrounded by cows, his unshaven face beamed “I‘ve just bought 12 heifers” as he looked across his waterlogged paddocks going down to the Pang in Stanford Dingley one sexagenarian confided to another “Ah there’ll be some grass there soon, boy”.
Farmer John's March blog
8 Mar 2013
Our first few years of married life were spent above Blewbury on top of the Downs. The farm had been largely staffed by German POWs, who had also...
Our first few years of married life were spent above Blewbury on top of the Downs. The farm had been largely staffed by German POWs, who had also built a complex of brick buildings. One of them, Arthur, had married locally, and stayed as the farm mechanic. As I returned to his workshop with yet another piece of damaged machinery or vehicle he would shout in broken English ‘Hey Lofty, don’t reckon you can see straight!’ He was quite right. With a healthy squint, National Health spectacles were put on my head more or less at birth. I spent many hours at Morefields, the famous London eye hospital as a child, trying to decide whether the black circle on the red was clearer than the green. It wasn’t only the eyesight affecting my performance as a university-trained farm employee. Extraordinary Brain Power (EBP) was a recognised condition for such as me. Symptoms included driving out of the grain store before you had lowered the trailer, thus damaging the building and trailer in an effort to get back to the combine as quickly as possible, and reversing a lorry into the bosses Land Rover parked in an 80 acre field.
My last pair of glasses sadly only survived for a year. The prescription seemed to be wrong, and because I couldn’t see I kept cleaning the expensive varifocal lenses with my overalls. So back to Boots for the latest high tech eye examination, which included pictures of the back of both eyes for an extra £10! The pictures were a masterpiece which could have been from the Jodrell Bank telescope. However, I now have a new pair of correctly prescribed Jaguar (as per the car manufacturer) glasses. No more will the white plastic bag in the distance be a ewe on its back, or a dead pigeon a no-longer-living lamb. Still, I shouldn’t complain, I had measles when I was very young. I met someone recently from Israel who was my age, with the same history…only she was blind!
Farmer John's February Blog
1 Feb 2013
Many years ago I was driving to Oxford with the mother of one of our able staff. I had a very young family at the time. Halfway through the...
Many years ago I was driving to Oxford with the mother of one of our able staff. I had a very young family at the time. Halfway through the journey she burst into tears with the statement “I am so worried about my daughter”. When I asked how old her daughter was ...32 was the answer. In the last 8 weeks my daughter Elisabeth (36) and her husband have had their second child, sold on the business they owned, exchanged contracts on their house in Brixton and rented a flat in Barcelona to regroup. We have been part of that relocation process including, of course, storage of various things, including one saxophone, notes from a degree in Anthropology (again) and that massive slab of timber which had become their kitchen table has now returned to the place it grew.
Water seems to have featured strongly in our current farming conversations. It is amazing to see the Pang rising above East Ilsey and the great lakes on the road to Compton. All that water saturating and now stored in the chalk will feed the perennial head of the Pang with volumes of water and the life it sustains. Thames Water, meanwhile, have started work on a pipeline from Tilehurst to Curridge. Their compound is on Englefield Estate and a lot of our fields are affected by the work which is expected to last a year. Interestingly, and at great expense, our badger sets are avoided or given a wide birth, showing great respect for the accused in the TB debate.
March is always my favourite month with fresh grass growing, primroses, hedges coming into leaf, wood anemones, frogspawn and of course lots of lambs. We have a bumper crop due and had very few ewes scanned as barren. However some of our autumn planted crops have failed, and will have to replanted with spring barley. But this spring will be tinged with sadness. My boss’ wife Janey Cumber died suddenly at the end of January. She was much loved and respected in the family business. She always gave a clear sense of direction and cared about the responsibility which goes with stewarding the land, including the educational work here. She was a tireless worker in her local church and community in Oxfordshire and will be greatly missed.
Farmer John's January Blog
1 Jan 2013
In preparation for our Christmas Eve services* we had to move 6 cows in with another group. We had just cleaned out the pens and although bedded up...
In preparation for our Christmas Eve services* we had to move 6 cows in with another group. We had just cleaned out the pens and although bedded up with liberal quantities of straw, the concrete floor underneath was quite slippery. The following morning one of the six was lying down on her side. She was older, and had picked a fight with a younger and, as it turned out, much fitter cow. I panicked and phoned a friend. “If she’s not up in 8 hours there’s not much hope” was the judgement. I assembled a crew of cow revivers plus Richard Plank’s cow hoist and the forklift. After 2 hours of struggling, with no progress, we gave up and I again contacted my friend. He came straight after lunch and with arms folded and head shaking sadly declared that the said cow would not stand again......But if we made arrangements with the knacker man, the vet, and the abattoir and organised the passport, we could at least get some money for the carcase. All was put in place for action the following morning at 9 am sharp. Meanwhile we carefully moved the cow on the pallet forks on the forklift, dumped her in the field in front of our house, and made her last night comfortable with some straw, silage and water.
Next morning I woke to see the spot where she’d been lying shrouded with mist. On closer examination she had disappeared but was actually standing by the fence protesting at the unpleasantness of being outside. She wandered back into her original pen and we gave her a couple of friends. One of my “lads” was instructed to watch her for the next 2 hours. He’d just been put on tablets for ADHD so it was entirely appropriate to test the effectiveness of the medication. All’s well that ends well and by now her calf will have been born and, hopefully, thriving. She might, on reflection, have decided that her ‘top cow’ days are over. All I had to do was to ring the knacker man, the vet .....once again.
“We make our plans, but God has the last word” Proverbs 16 verse 1 GNB
*Thank you to those who came and all those who helped. £2,000 was raised for the Kilimanjaro Charity which looks after 69 orphans in Tanzania.
Farmer John's November Blog
1 Nov 2012
We were waiting to go into the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle. The lady with the large hat in front of me whispered “I’ve been all over the...
We were waiting to go into the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle. The lady with the large hat in front of me whispered “I’ve been all over the world, spoken to many different peoples but I am so nervous”. I warned her of the damage her hat could do to Prince Charles and suggested that she bowed carefully. With that her name was called and off she went to receive her honour. It was a very special experience to stand before, perhaps, our future king and hear his words of affirmation and encouragement. The sun did shine that day for Lindsay and I and two of our daughters and Windsor Castle looked magnificent inside and out. We were continually welcomed as we arrived and wandered through the splendour of the State Rooms in awe and wonder. We were, for this occasion, guests of the Queen, and dressed very smartly.
Back at Rushall Farm we do try and keep the place clean and tidy but still overalls are the best thing to wear. I have often suggested to pregnant ladies that if they have any problems with the maternity unit at the Royal Berks, our facilities at lambing time here are the best. I have never had even a hint of a positive reaction to my generous offer. Mary, at the first Christmas, had no option but to accept the rough accommodation available, furnished with a feeding trough, not really ideal as a crib. Jesus’ birth is foretold in Isaiah 9. There was never any doubt about His journey to sovereignty but it started in such humility in a stable. There is no need to go to Windsor to hear words of encouragement and favour from His throne of grace. He hears us from wherever we are, whatever we are feeling and however we are dressed.
“A child is born to us!
A son is given to us!
And he will be our ruler
He will be called Wonderful Counsellor
Mighty God, Eternal Father,
Prince of Peace
His royal power will continue to grow;
His kingdom will always be at peace”
Farmer John's October Blog
1 Oct 2012
Mark Wiseman has the nickname “Sparks”. He is the arable manager on William Cumber’s farm at Marcham near Abingdon.
Mark Wiseman has the nickname “Sparks”. He is the arable manager on William Cumber’s farm at Marcham near Abingdon. He normally starts his day at 6.30 to exercise his dog. On Tuesday this week he woke late so changed his route to get to work on time. Minutes in he came across an older man with tear-stained cheeks who explained how he had lost his dog the previous evening. He had hunted for him until midnight, but to no avail. Mark said he’d look out for the dog and make a special effort with the farm quad bike later. Continuing his walk, his dog became upset on the edge of a huge field of maize. Mark battled through the crop and found a totally exhausted, mud covered animal, which could no longer walk. He carried the dog back to the man’s car. Reunited; and as a passing comment, Mark asked the owner the dog’s name. “Sparks” the old man replied. Mark didn’t get to work on time but sat wondering at the chain of events which led to such a happy conclusion.
Still at Marcham, William’s beef manager Neil was one of the 3 finalists in the Farmers Weekly “Beef Farmer of the Year” competition. The event was held at the Grosvenor Hotel in London. There were 15 categories of prize winners. It was an altogether a glitzy affair with Lord Coe speaking and presenting the awards, with notable captains of our industry taking part, including a standing ovation for our recently sacked Minister of Agriculture. The voice of the National Lottery compered....We were invited to join the celebration. I must say I found the man upstairs in the customer service in Newbury M&S most helpful. I rarely go shopping but if I do I take a minder. Lindsay couldn’t come. As I was kitted out for the evening and then went on to organise a morning suit for Windsor Castle on the back of success, a lady near me spent the entire time trying to trace a £5 potato peeler she had ordered on the internet. We had a great time in London. Neil did not win, and the last time I saw Mark he was still wondering.
Farmer John's September blog
1 Sep 2012
At last we have a dry week to keep the combine rolling, and get on with the harvest. Yeilds are reduced due to the cool summer, but it will be a...
I have just seen a picture postcard sunset over our much loved Pang Valley. The promise of “Red sky at night, shepherds delight” was blazoned across the horizon, giving hope for the September harvest still to be done. October is unashamedly autumn. Mist in the mornings, glorious leaf colours and chilly nights herald a new season. Yes, we have all had a difficult farming year, but still we start again. The rams go in with the ewes. The flock is split into 3 groups of 250 and then tupped 10 days apart. This gives us plenty of room at lambing to give proper attention to the newly born lambs and their mums. The last group to be mated are the breeding flock, where all the ewe lambs are retained as replacements for 2 years time. Our finishing lambs are grazing red clover before moving onto main crop turnips and then turnips sown after harvest. The cattle will soon be housed. We start drilling our autumn crops after the middle of the month to reduce disease and weed competition, which was a huge problem this year.
At the moment Lindsay is going up to London for a few days once a fortnight to look after our grandson. She decided to go for a later train this evening. I argued that she should be on the earlier one. When we got to the station the earlier one had been cancelled, and her choice was late. We started talking to a young man who had travelled with his girlfriend from Basildon in Essex to see the wolves at Beenham. He had just graduated and was training to be an accountant. As he asked me about farming he began to convince me that it was a joy and privilege to be working on the land, especially compared with what he’d experienced in an office. I knew that from years ago but sometimes it’s hard to hold onto. As we parted, Lindsay added, “Now will you stop moaning, and, did you notice that sunset?”
‘Listen, God! Please, pay attention!
Can you make sense of these ramblings, my groans and cries?
King-God, I need your help. Every morning you’ll hear me at it again.
Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your alter
and watch for fire to descend.’
Psalm 5:1-4 The Message
Farmer John's August blog
1 Aug 2012
The prospects of finishing harvest before the South Berks Ploughing match on the 4th September look very bleak.
It’s the middle of August and it’s ‘rain stopped play’ again. Unlike the last 2 years grass has continually grown and there has been no shortage of the colour green around. This is entirely as a result of the able offices and efforts of Richard Benyon. The much feared drought and repeat of the summer of 1976 all disappeared almost as fast as you can say “hosepipe ban”. I’ve decided that 3 months of very wet weather has made me feel quite “under the weather”. The origin of the term was said to be in the early 1800’s, when sailors feeling ill in bad weather conditions would rest below deck to avoid getting even worse. Forecasters today still describe a series of low pressure weather systems coming across the Atlantic as a deep depression. Is it just a coincidence that bad weather often makes us feel depressed? In spite of it all, we have silage and hay for the winter, sheep are sheared and 300 lambs away, as well as oat straw baled from the Estate. We’ve probably completed a quarter of our harvest.
Perhaps it’s just as well that a Prayer Safari on tractors and trailers has been organised for the 16th September. We will be travelling around Theale and Englefield, with stops asking for God’s blessing on our fields, farms, workplaces, schools, shops, homes and communities. And, of course, we will ask Him to be with us in ALL situations, including when harvest isn’t going too well.
Today a lad called Joshua joined me to help for the morning. He is 16 and has learning difficulties. For some weeks I have been trying to improve his self esteem. When he arrived I asked in a rather negative manner how he was. He replied “determined and confident*”, at which point I bucked up and did a good day’s work weaning lambs.
*God’s word to Joshua was “Be determined and confident, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” Joshua 1 v9
Farmer John's July 12
1 Jul 2012
We arrived in North Devon in driving rain, with temperatures more appropriate for November. The two cottages we had rented for the week were suitably...
isolated for our growing family and accompanying dogs. From the window we could view Woolacombe Bay, Baggy Point and Lundy Island, weather permitting. Surrounding our temporary home were well shepherded flocks of Swaledale sheep, finished Suffolk cross lambs at foot looking well fleshed and fit. The crops of beans, winter barley, oats and herbage seed were manicured perfectly. Farming at its best, though not much space for wildlife to prosper or feel free to escape from narrow boundaries.
And so it rained, and if it wasn’t raining a thick mist descended. The South West News featured empty beaches, forsaken shops and piles of deckchairs padlocked together in the absence of customers. Forlorn traders talked of business being down by 25%. The local Post Office summed it up as the 6th bad season in a row as I bought yet another batch of postcards to fill my need for communication with the real world.
Then, on day six at 4pm, the sun came out, the sea glistened, the sand became golden and Devon’s patchwork of green looked at its best with foxgloves, campions and honeysuckle lining the narrow roads. On a grassy bank overlooking the sea, butterflies replaced the big black slugs from just hours before, and swallows and sand martins suddenly became obvious. Was there a chance of some tangible tanning evidence for my daughters that we had been on holiday? Alas the forecast is rain again tomorrow but we have glimpsed what is really here, had a very good rest, and not got too upset watching Wimbledon basking in sunshine.
I was very surprised but honoured and thrilled by the award in the Queen’s Birthday List. It has only been achieved as a result of the support, encouragement and correction of those Lindsay and I work with and live amongst. So, thanks to all of you.