I was fortunate enough t o spend my childhood in a house with a large garden. I have often said that the garden, not the house, are really where I lived; certainly my memories of it are stronger. Until I was 17 I knew a kindly green landscape where the wheel of the year was punctuated by the emergence of leaves, buds, fruit and nuts, all without any apparent ‘gardening’ whatever, and all free for the gathering, picking, eating, and – in my mother’s case – turning into jellies and jams.
The books I read as a young child undoubtedly romanticised farms and the countryside, and in my suburban garden, stag beetles, fox cubs, furry caterpillars and toads were common sights, and I thought myself a country girl for all I was living in a city suburb.
As an adult, I finally came to live in a village. For the last ten years my home has been in what feels, to me, a very much more rural setting, though as this already-large village expands, some neighbours feel it’s ‘not a village any more’.
I disagree. From the butcher’s shop where meat and dairy goods produced by local farms are sold, to the simple fact that a seven minute walk from my house in any direction will put me in a field, this, to me, is the contemporary countryside.
Most especially, I count farmers among my friends and acquaintances – unheard-of back in the city of my childhood. And those farmers and the things I’ve learned from them have shaped my experience of living here, and inspired many of the songs that comprise my ‘Cloth of Gold – Songs of Sheep and Farming’ collection. (1)
Farmers have it tough here. This townie-born Green activist knows the lure of the romantic idyll, the mixed farm with the named beasts, the five-barred gate, the speckled chickens in the yard, the vintage tractor – these are still the stuff of childrens’ books and TV series , though we should know better. The truth is that farmers are under pressure to diversify because the food they grow and raise often fails to cover its costs. The price of cheap food – and I know that many are hungry in the UK, to our shame, and that ‘food deserts’ exist in many of our cities – is that many farmers have left the land, and increasingly, our food will be grown by agribusinesses whose sole aim is to make a bigger profit than they did last year.
Don’t blame the farmers for the corners some may cut, for the less-than-sustainable choices some may make, when you and I do as much in other aspects of our lives, when we are under pressure and lacking better options.
The farmers I know, from the shepherd who spent most of April’s nights standing in death’s way for her lambs, to the farmer who taught me to kill and draw a chicken for the pot (I am not vegetarian, no. I challenged myself to do what was needful and take responsibility for the birds I raised that they should have a good life and a fast death, and that they should not go to waste) and the farmer-shopkeeper-and-cafe-proprietor who has had several careers in other fields … sorry…! … and who cares passionately about good food and the community who eat it – he sent out a tray of hot sausage rolls for the volunteers when a fundraising event was taking place on the pavement – and the much-missed farmer who sat beside me on the Parish Council making me giggle with his dry observations, drawn from a lifetime on the land: whose cattle were his delight, and who would disagree with me across the council table with gentle humour and civility and a big grin… none of these were or are, careless of the land, nor of the beasts in their care.
Townie-born, I know there is a depth of ignorance on the part of the city-dweller for the countryside, and vice versa as well. As with every other division between us diverse human souls who bleed the same kind of red and are all as prone to despair and loneliness as each other wherever we live, this division serves best those who are laughing down their sleeves at the lot of us, who make the biggest and most powerful national choices in our names, who think that fracking for oil and gas is a good idea, who think that licensing chemicals which are exterminating our bees and other pollinators is a splendid and profitable plan… those same people who have created systems in which good food is deliberately spoiled and sent to landfill while the most vulnerable in our society go hungry – yes, and have in cases starved to death. (2) Yes, in fair England.
I love the land. I always did, in a romantic way, a childlike way; trees were for climbing, streams for fording, grass for rolling down hills in. Now I have a little patch of land to tend and garden, and I know how deeply it feeds my soul, and the demands it makes on me, and I have learned that farmers carry that same weight manyfold.
Some of the songs on ‘Cloth of Gold’ were written about the flock of sheep I am privileged to know. (3) Others inspired by the BBC TV series ‘Wartime Farm’ (4) and still others emerged over the years as again and again, I have tried to tell in my songs the stories in my heart about the land and those who work it. Here are the sheep I know, here is the barn into which I helped harvest hay, here are the people who spend their hearts and strength serving the land that we live on, and here are the ways it matters to me. I hope you will enjoy the songs. Thank you.
Talis Kimberley, May 16, 2016
 Cloth of Gold at Talis’s webshop: http://www.marchwoodmedia.co.uk/talis/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=11
 The death of Mark Woods: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/feb/28/man-starved-to-death-after-benefits-cut
 Alfie Purl, a most remarkable Cotswold sheep: http://alfiepurl.co.uk/
 BBC’s Wartime Farm: http://www.open.edu/download-your-free-wartime-farm-booklet