Demeter inspection preparations

 “This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”

Before I start on farm news, three other items to share with you.  

The first is that the fields opposite us are currently lined with trenches. Local archaeologists have so far uncovered evidence of a roman settlement and, possible predating that, an iron age site. Very unexpected, but then the ‘salt way’ between Droitwich and Feckenham is close by. No sign as yet as to the purpose of the settlement.  

Secondly, Alice last Sunday was giving a talk to members of a church in Oxfordshire, very well received of course. After the talk Brendan found himself talking to someone, who he discovered to be the wife, of a son, of the Hillman family, who farmed here from 1907 to 1984! There was much sharing of news as you can imagine, and they parted on good terms, with the son Mike keen to make further contact. He was apparently the ‘horsey one’, which opened up all kinds of conversation gambits for Alice.  

Finally, what a great shame that the media concentrated on William Shatners age, rather than on his words. His key message was that earth was the only alive and bright spot in space, but humans seemed determined to destroy it. I have, I have never concealed, a total lack of understanding as to why nations whose own people are in dire straits can spend vast sums of money in order to come up with ‘nuggets’ such as “1,000,000 years ago there may have been incredibly primitive life forms on Mars”.  I suppose it is all displacement from thinking about the here and now.  

Farm News

Now to the farm: After a real frost overnight between Monday and Tuesday it has actually been a dry and warmish week and has caused no upsets to programs. With all but one calf out of the barn, it was possible to clean it out and prepare it for the coming winter. We now have a fine new compost heap in the field by the drive. A range of smaller tasks have been dealt with also. We did have some rain, but the ground remains basically firm – a good thing clearly, if surprising.  

Friday morning was our annual review with our vet.  

Issues relating to cattle were discussed at length, including in particular the recent problems we have experienced with new forest eye. Incidentally we may be trying to reduce the size of the herd, but new calves keep popping out! Finally, now TB free, our market for steers has brightened very considerably. 

As to the sheep, there was some discussion on which variety we might move to from Llyen, but as so often, no clear recommendation emerged. This year we will only be putting 80 ewes to the rams. The lambs have done really well, and markets for them should be easily found.  

There was work with stock movements, not least separating out calves ready for weaning, and separating lambs from ewes. I realise that I have not explicitly gone through all the activity needed last Wednesday after the sorting and grading the lambs. Inevitably, we now, if briefly, have several flocks.  

There is no let up next week. There is a full Demeter inspection, which has required much leg work to be able to present information as required, and it is also, horn filling and burying time, so that we have sufficient prep. 500 for next year, and we will be one man down with Tim away on holiday. 

At the start of the week, Tom, a new volunteer, did a great job of clearing all reachable apples from our ancient biannual fruiting apple tree. This has actually been a great year for fruit on the trees and in the hedgerows. The apples will now go for pressing, and juice extraction at an organic unit attached to Pershore College. Usually, the result is enough juice for nearly two years. With the colourful apples gone, the garden now looks rather drab, except for the odd Rose here and there.  

Scientific reports 

As part of my regular routine, I try to scan all emails and scientific reports on a daily basis on the lookout for anything I think we might need to know. What I record is obviously selective, and some weeks I see nothing of interest. This is not one of those weeks!  

There has been quite a burst of information from very reputable sources on freshwater pollution. For some years it has been the farming community that has been seen as the worst villain. Now we know the water treatment plants are big contributors to the problem. This week has seen the publication of a twenty-page report, copiously illustrated, on the state of our rivers. It makes depressing reading.  

As is commonplace, farm pollution is highlighted, but no distinction made between effluent from fertilisers and pesticides/herbicides. As a reminder, under ‘Cross Compliance’, which demands a range of ‘seen’ good practice, all farmers are required to leave a substantial gap between ‘worked’ land and all water courses running through their territory. In large part this is to protect against ‘run off’ after excessive rain, and this is clearly a good thing. Ignoring the question of how all this is policed, there are real questions as to which additives cause most damage.   

While again discharge from treatment plants is ignored, a new report from the United States raises new alarms, for, aside from seeing the tie between fertiliser production based on fossil fuels as an activity too often glossed over, the report suggests that dishwasher tablets use organo-phosphates, and water treatment plants are unable to extract these. The danger of such chemicals means they are banned from ordinary use but, as always there is a way round all restrictions, and as far as I know, such tablets carry no warning.  

Just to ensure a level of gloom is maintained, the government Climate Change Committee reported recently that the “voluntary carbon markets are not working and are delaying net zero carbon emissions targets”. Carbon offsets, it seems, can allow some companies to hide poor performance.  

On a much more positive note, the so called ‘anti-growth’ lobby are starting to resist, led by the National Trust – a dangerous body for any party to rouse to action. William Hague, one of the best politicians to never become Prime Minister, said recently “Conservatism at its best should be based on stewardship, thought for the long term, encouraging the care that comes with ownership, and providing a strong inheritance for future generations.”  

The news that Jeremy Hunt is to be the new Chancellor rather caught me by surprise since I know very little as to his thinking on the environment or agriculture, but he has at least some ministerial background behind him.  

Joseph Campbell

I wrote last week about Joseph Campbell. His interest in the mythology of American Indian tribes is where he began, though he never gave up his position as a Professor of English at an American University.  Anne and I read one of his many books in the 1960’s and listened to a number of his lectures on the American Public Service channel. His book, as was true of many he wrote, coincided with a time when I was much involved in the work of psychologists, and indeed was toying with the idea of becoming a Jungian therapist. We both enjoyed the book a great deal, but felt there was an overemphasis of Freud, Jung, Zimmer, and Nietzsche, which rather spoilt his argument. Zimmer is only known through Campbell’s four books, which were based on Zimmer’s work on Eastern mythology, and were not printed in his own lifetime. 

The lectures we heard, broadcast in the year before he died, were much more mature and impressive. His final thesis was that there was a common run of ideas behind all such beliefs that were held, and that a nation lacking agreement on these basic myths was heading for trouble. Attempting to apply these ideas, these ‘basic myths’, to our own nation goes back no further than the introduction of Christianity. The ideas of our basic Anglo-Saxon ancestors can be best gleaned from the continent and Scandinavia. Campbell himself saw Wagner as expressing some of these ancient beliefs.  

I tried last week to differentiate myth from mythology; as difficult is identifying the difference in meaning between mythological, as we might use to describe King Arthur, and mythology as used by Campbell to mean that bundle of myths by which our ancestors tried to make sense of why we are here, how we were here, and to what end. All questions that are answered for a large part of society by organised religion.  

As so often, the usual caveats apply to what I have written, and in this instance all the more important because this is not an area I naturally warm to, even though I think his efforts are well worth studying and considering.  


I have slipped in the word ‘Anglo-Saxon’ because recent research underlines ideas I have expressed before, and also underlines another truth. Examination of some 420 skeletons, half of which came from this country, and all dating back to the period between the third and seventh centuries, confirm two things. Our ancestry is overwhelming North European, that our ancestors arrive in waves of migrants, and that it was clear from one skeleton that among the migrants were people from Africa itself. What a nonsense racial purity is! None of this is really new, but sometimes I think we need to be reminded of basic truths.  

I shall end with another truth that seems unacceptable to far too many people. The recorded history of the world shows the empires are part of human nature, and that they come and go despite what people may hope. These are not European phenomena, but characteristic of all people. You may have read an interesting article on the rise and fall of the Benin empire in West Africa. It flourished for at least two centuries and was brought down by a mixture of hubris and the ending of their major source of income – selling slaves. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to camp at Great Zimbabwe just about the time that realisation was coming that this was African not Europe. Basil Davidson was an important aid to this understanding though his books.  

Which allows me to end on another great truth. It was not the British who were the first great European explores, but the Portuguese. It was they who first had contact with African empires in 1400 and were later assumed to have built Zimbabwe. Behind them trailed the Dutch, and eventually the British, scenting rich pickings became interested, and eventually controlled the seas for over a century. So, any myths on which our history is built are just that– not, in fairness, that that the reality was unknown.  

I have skipped over the obvious fact that algebra comes from that culture and was not invented to provide fodder for school curriculums, but as a means to solve problems, though I admit it has a beauty all its own. A conversation about education is clearly brewing.    Choosing a poem is usually difficult and so it was this week. I dithered considerably. I wanted to share another poem by W H Davis but found so many of his poems deeply depressing that I turned to the Internet. I ended with a poet called Eugene Field, an American who lived until the end of the 19th century, but found nothing that fitted so, in the end, given my words on streams, fell back eventually on that old favourite by Tennyson ‘The Brook’:

The Brook by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I come from haunts of coot and hern,  
I make a sudden sally,  
And sparkle out among the fern,  
To bicker down a valley.  
By thirty hills I hurry down,  
Or slip between the ridges,  
By twenty thorps, a little town,  
And half a hundred bridges.  
Till last by Philip’s farm I flow  
To join the brimming river,  
For men may come and men may go,  
But I go on forever.  
I chatter over stony ways,  
In little sharps and trebles,  
I bubble into eddying bays,  
I babble on the pebbles.  
With many a curve my banks I fret  
by many a field and fallow,  
And many a fairy foreland set  
With willow-weed and mallow.  
I chatter, chatter, as I flow  
To join the brimming river,  
For men may come and men may go,  
But I go on forever.  
I wind about, and in and out,  
with here a blossom sailing,  
And here and there a lusty trout,  
And here and there a grayling,  
And here and there a foamy flake  
Upon me, as I travel  
With many a silver water-break  
Above the golden gravel,  
And draw them all along, and flow  
To join the brimming river,  
For men may come and men may go,  
But I go on forever.  
I steal by lawns and grassy plots,  
I slide by hazel covers;  
I move the sweet forget-me-nots  
That grow for happy lovers.  
I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,  
Among my skimming swallows;  
I make the netted sunbeam dance  
Against my sandy shallows.  
I murmur under moon and stars  
In brambly wildernesses;  
I linger by my shingly bars;  
I loiter round my cresses;  
And out again I curve and flow  
To join the brimming river,  
For men may come and men may go,  
But I go on forever.

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