By Margaret Griffin.
It seems a strange question. But. What is a farm? Recently the word farm has been hijacked by the big multi national supermarkets in order to sell their wares. In reality the produce came from a factory unit in an industrial estate. Well the produce must have come from some sort of a "farm" originally but would most consumers call where it came from a farm? Somehow I doubt it.
There is a massive disconnect between consumers and where their food comes from. Years ago small farmers grew and reared their own food sufficient for their requirements and sold off any excess. The food was fresh, local and for the most part unadulterated. They were farmers and they lived on a farm. Today they would be called (somewhat disparagingly) smallholders or hobby farmers.
When I first moved to this area, my neighbour was a small farmer. He and his sister had farmed their few acres all their life. They reared a few cattle, had a couple of cows for milking, pigs and chickens. Hugh had a horse for ploughing and used love telling me he had the "knack" with horses and could get them to do anything for him. I don't doubt it for a minute. He was a real old fashioned countryman. Knowledgable about the land, the seasons, the animals and he was big into animal welfare. I had a huge amount of respect for him and I learned a lot from him. I'd like to hear the big farmers try to tell him he wasn't a farmer.
The real farmers around here can't and don't make a living from it. They all have a "laying hen" at home. A partner who is usually a teacher or a nurse with a guaranteed income. So are they real farmers?
Today the average household spends around 10% of their income on food. Back in Hugh's day it was closer to 50%. When I mention what I spend on food the usual reaction is shock. But I would rather spend my money on food than on anything else. For me it is a long term investment. I want to avoid at all costs getting sick, getting disease and having to rely on a failing health system to cure me. I also want to ensure the animals that I eat have had a good life and have been fed what I feed myself. If you are what you eat then the same is true for an animal.
But back to the question. What is a farm?
To my mind it is very simple. It doesn't matter what size it is as long as the animals raised on it live their life as nature intended. So you can have as many animals as you like as long as you have the space for them. Having thousands of animals crammed into a concrete shed is not a farm. It is a factory. It is an industrial processing system. It should not be called a farm. It should not be called farming. And the produce that comes from it should not be entitled to any label referring to farming/farm/farmed.
You see it's very easy. Stick a label on what now is called farmed/fresh from the farm and other such euphemisms and change it for what it really is - factory or intensively produced and then question consumer sentiment. Yes, there will be some who won't care, some who can't care but there will be a much bigger market than you think for the real deal.
The problem is that people just don't know. The programme that is currently being aired this week by our national broadcaster RTE - On the Farm, should really highlight this difference. So far it has failed to do so and that disappoints me massively. Yes, they are showing cute lambs and calves who get to live lovely natural lives grazing on green fields but what about pigs, chickens, laying hens? What about the muck, the wind, the rain, the death? Show farmers grieving for loss of an animal. Because good farmers do. Show consumers reality. Then just maybe they might understand why good food costs. Stop showing a chocolate box image of farming and show real farming not factories, warts and all.