Soil

Watch: Conversation between Barbara Bray and Kate Mayne.

"In my everyday job I was seeing these massive disconnects between what we were seeing on the ground and what the science was telling us."

"We (farmers) all have knowledge inside that we can bring that is really quite important. Sometimes it can help science, sometimes it might fly in the face of science, but it's been massively undervalued. I think if we can start listening, and harvesting that information, we could make a huge difference and really push some progress."

Press play then click for subtitles 

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 A response to Kate Mayne.  "We don’t always speak the same language and it seems our words often fire past each other, missing their target."

It was a bit of an awkward moment. I can’t quite recall what the topic was and it was a few years ago.. but I felt so moved to mention love – that we all probably have a love of nature, of food or farming that we can build on. I do remember wanting to put a ripple in the conversation, to stop the smooth dull flow of policy chat I probably wanted to create an emotional response.

Listen to audio contribution from Ewan Allinson  

Listen: While working on a drystone dyke near the Pentland Hills, Ewan Allinson considers how the eighteenth century aesthetics movement still affects the value given to farmers' knowledge today. 

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"There are truths about land, truths about nature, that are only revealed to you as you become intimate with a place. Its almost less about having an experience of that place, and more about becoming continuous with it."

Watch Nikki Yoxall’s contribution  

Nikki Yoxall gives her thoughts on the new expectation on farmers to take a role in sequestering carbon. "What I'm trying to get across all the time is my passion for working in this way with nature. Being part of the ecology... not seeing myself as separate to the cattle or the land."

Watch Jim Scown’s contribution  

Jim Scown explores how a nineteenth century soil scientist played a key role in the industrialisation of agriculture, and the hope that soil brings. "The same word means the particularity that is beneath our feet...and at the same time it speaks to the universal, it speaks to the world itself, the biosphere, earth."

Watch Amy-Jane Beer’s response to Jake

Amy Jane raises a question in response to Jake Fiennes' piece. 

"There must be a number of cattle that we can rear on the island of Britain in a way that is ethical and sustainable... and I suspect that is fewer than the number of cattle we are currently rearing."

Anna Jones responds to Amy and Nikki

Anna responds to Amy’s video about the magic cow number and Nikki’s response to the piece about Transylvannia. “The idea that here in the UK, huge parts of our landscape are intensively farmed... and we should put much more effort into protecting vulnerable ecosystems elsewhere”. 

Nikki Yoxhall continues the discussion about land sparing and the magic cow number.

"A piece of ground that some might consider to be less productive could easily host a herd of native breed cattle on a completely grass-based, pastured system with no inputs"

Audio contribution from Jack Thacker

Continuing with the art theme that was touched on in Kate and Barbara’s discussion, sit back and listen to Jack discuss the meaning of farming. From Wendell Berry: “We forget that farming and the Arts are connected at our peril...if we corrupt agriculture, we corrupt culture"

Part 2 of Ewan Allinson’s audio contribution

Ewan Allinson continues to consider how the eighteenth century aesthetics movement, in particular the philosopher John Dewey, still affects the value given to farmers' knowledge today. “Part of one's own being is attached, is constituted, by that place."

Read: contribution by Pippa Marland.

 

I'm a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Bristol. My research project, ‘The Pen and the Plough’, looks at the representation of farming in British nature writing from 1900 to the present day.

I’m interested in how certain ways of thinking about farming and the natural world recur in this writing through tropes like the pastoral or ‘the wild’. These tropes aren’t always helpful in assisting an understanding between farming and conservation – either because they promote an overly idealistic image of agriculture that, as James Rebanks said in a recent interview ‘sold the romance long after the reality [of farming] was badly degraded’, or because they present an image of the landscape from which humans and agrarian cultivation are largely missing. At the same time, in some contemporary nature writing there’s a tendency to blame farmers for all our environmental ills.

I’d like to ask three questions – to farmers, creative practitioners, and environmental humanities academics respectively:

How do farmers and land workers feel about the ways in which farming has been represented culturally over time, and at the present moment?

Do agrarian writers and artists think that they are influenced by existing cultural ‘tropes’ (the pastoral for example, or ideas of ‘the wild’), and if so how do they work through these in their representations of agriculture?

How can academic arts and humanities practitioners address these issues of representation and understanding in their critical work?

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