Tomato Soup with a side of wisdom…

One of the benefits of being a farmer, which isn’t often talked about, is the easy access we have to ingredients and how having connections with other farms can help us stock our pantries with all manner of items. It’s easily one of the most overlooked bonuses of running a tenant farm and is something that really makes me feel closer to my community of fellow tenant farmers.

It all started with a bunch of tomatoes…

My early days as a farmer were fraught with worry and confusion. I was completely new to farming when I first started, moving from the city to a scarp of land in Hampshire in 2002. I had a plan, but with no previous experience I felt like I was doomed to failure, or at least some costly mistakes.

After moving into my standard issue farmhouse and buying in my starter crops I was ready to start farming, but there were so many little things that I was worried about. Was this the right time to sow my first seeds? What if my first crop fails? What happens if I have a bumper crop but no one to sell to? These worries kept me up at night, constantly second guessing my next moves and hampering my progress.

My salvation came in the form of a visit from a neighbouring farmer. Janice had been farming carrots and turnips for a decade, she was an expert in her field and a great cook. She brought with her a sack of her produce, along with a flask of warm carrot and coriander soup. We discussed the perils of starting out over steaming bowls of the stuff and she gave me sage advice which I have followed to this day:

‘You are always going to make mistakes, the only way you can move forward is by making them.’

It was a proud day when I could return the favour and bring round a flask of soup, made with my own produce. The recipe is below, if you’d like to have a taste of it:

My British Tomato Soup

Ingredients:

  • 25g Butter
  • 2 Onions, peeled and sliced
  • 900g Tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp Sweet Paprika
  • 6 tbsp Dry Sherry
  • 1 tbsp Sugar
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • Bunch of Mint
  • 400 ml Vegetable Stock

Method:

First, melt the butter in a large saucepan with a lid, then add the onions and cook them slowly over a low heat until they’re soft.

Add your tomatoes into the pan, along with the paprika, sherry, sugar, salt, mint and stock – stir, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Once the time is up, leave to cool and then puree with a stick blender or in batches using a food processor until smooth.

If you desire a smoother soup you can sieve the soup back into the saucepan before serving with a few mint leaves as garnish.

Taking a holiday from the Farm

One of the problems that all business owners face is the issue of holidays. It’s not easy to step away from a business for a few days, let alone two weeks, especially when there are hundreds of animals to look out for, as well as staff and land to keep an eye on. It can be so difficult to take a break, in fact, that many farmers simply decide to not take a break at all.

When you own your own business, every minute that you spend feels precious. Every second that you spend not doing something is a second wasted, you can almost feel the money drip out of your bank account. For that reason I spent the first 12 years of my farming life in a relentless sprint, not stopping for even a day to take a breather. This might sound a little extreme to those not from farming backgrounds, but seasoned farmers will know otherwise.

Farming can be a 365 day-a-year job, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in that you’ll always know what you’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis, but then it’s a curse knowing that same thing too. It took a stern talking from my parents to shake me out of this cycle and an even harder separation period for me to come to terms with leaving my farm for two weeks for the South of France.

In the end, they had to buy the flights for me. So stubborn was my refusal to go on holiday, that the entire thing was organised by my parents who insisted on frog-marching me to the airport along with my sister and her family. The notion of taking a holiday was so alien to me that I was nervous when it came to entering the airport. I couldn’t remember the last time that I’d stepped on board a plane and I remember looking at my nieces who were happily swinging their bags as they stepped aboard.

My parents had chosen villa in the south of France based on the recommendations from some friends who insisted that it would be the place for me to unwind, but it felt like the opposite was happening. With every mile that was put between myself and my farm, I felt my chest tighten and the urge to call and check if everything was OK was close to unbearable. Of course, I couldn’t get a signal on the plane and when we landed in France my phone had run out of battery.

The warm sun on my face was the first distraction that took my mind away from my business. We hired a car at the airport and set off for the villa. I sat in the back seat of the Volvo with my nieces who’d fallen asleep. The landscape outside was verdant, filled with forests and I could even see mountains on the horizon. I tried to think about the last time that I was driven anywhere, there was something so liberating about it.

I took a deep breath and relaxed for the first time in years.

Bringing Up Baby On The Farm

My wife and I honest hadn’t considered starting a family when we first got the happy news.

We had just put our first deposit down on our first slice of land and were eager to get going. The land was a good stretch of pasture, perfect for our purposes: rearing and milking dairy cattle. What we hadn’t counted on was an extra little pair of hands that would be arriving to make matters a bit more complicated!

Jessica and I met at a Young Farmers’ Dance back in 2006. Those were fun, care-free days. I was still a lad at school, struggling to keep up with his homework whilst getting work done for his parents early in the morning. My parents never pushed me into the farming life, it simply presented itself as the most logical option. I’d spent my whole life, it seemed, rising early, putting my boots on and stepping out into the fresh air with my parents. In truth, there was no other lifestyle that I could think of.

Those were fun, care-free days. I was still a lad at school, struggling to keep up with his homework whilst getting work done for his parents early in the morning. My parents never pushed me into the farming life, it simply presented itself as the most logical option. I’d spent my whole life, it seemed, rising early, putting my boots on and stepping out into the fresh air with my parents. In truth, there was no other lifestyle that I could think of.

I’d seen TV series and movies, of course, which depicted American Dads getting home late with rolled up shirt sleeves and tired, dejected faces. Salesmen, managers, shop assistants: these were the jobs that I was familiar with and they seemed stressful and joyless. I didn’t make a conscious decision to become a farmer, it just seemed like the life that would be right for me.

Imagine, if you will, an awkward chunky teenager shuffling along to Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy‘. The sweat is seeping through the white shirt on his back and he’s desperately hoping the girl in front of him won’t notice. There’s a greasy flop sweat beading on his forehead too, but he’s able to casually wipe that away with a sleeve whenever he feels it collecting there. He’s trying hard to smile and look relaxed like his Mum told him to, but it’s difficult to do so many things at the same time. What a mess.

Luckily Jessica didn’t see a mess that night, she saw a friendly (if a little bumbling) teenager, who was a good foot taller than everyone else and trying gamely to dance to a song that he’d never heard before. Two years later we were sat next to each other in an Agricultural College equidistant to both of our homes. We both learned about how to run a Dairy business and decided that one day we would have our own land where we could raise our own cattle.

It’s funny that we never once talked about having children, I suppose we both saw it coming, just now quite as quickly as we thought!

A week into moving into our new home, a month into starting our first business together, we found out that Jessica was pregnant. From that point a clock began ticking. 9 months. 9 months until we had a new member of the family to feed. 9 months until we’d be waking up throughout the night, with the ever encroaching dawn-rise just a few hours away. 9 months to take our patch of pasture and transform it into a business.

I thought they were the busiest 9 months of my life, but I was soon to be proved wrong!