Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Plus ça change, plus ce n'est plus la même chose

The whole character of my little Cambridgeshire fen-edge village is determined by the many small farms that we have. Small farms ( we are talking 150-500 acres max) mean small fields with dividing dykes (ditches) and drains and hedges, which means abundant habitat for wildlife. Small farms also mean small farmers, families that have been in the village for generations: the Fairchilds, the Burgesses, the Freemans, the Bidwells, the Dennises, the Waddilows, the Mappledorams, and so on. The farms and the farmer' famiiles combine to give not only character, but continuity.
As an “incomer” - I have only been here 25 years - I have been accepted mainly because my surname coincides, moreorless, with another local farming family name: Alsop (They call me the posh alsop because I have a second L in my name).
But things are changing. Fast. Sons are not taking over the farms from their fathers, so, when father dies, in most cases, the farm is sold. That is to say, the land is bought by one of the mighty agribusinesses of East Anglia (the "prairie boys", as we call them), and all the dykes are piped underground and all the hedges are ripped out, and lots of little fields become one huge field. But there is another awful consequence: the homes of the small farmers – a house with some land and outbuildings within the village – are sold off for development, and another estate of soulless "desirable residences" goes up.
This blog entry is prompted by the fact that another dear good farmer friend of mine, Harold Freeman, aged 70 something, died two days ago. During the night, he complained of a pain in his chest, and by the time his wife, Vera, had come back upstairs with a cup of tea for him, he was no more. A good way to go, that's for sure, but another sad loss. His farm, in the village High Street, will no doubt become another bungaloid growth once Vera decides to sell. There are no heirs prepared to take over the farm.
Let me close on a lighter note. Another farmer in the village, who was a very close friend of Harold's, while telling me the sad news, added: “Typical of Harold to disappear just before harvest!” To make a joke like that, you really have to love somebody, The sad thing is that there is no family to harvest his crops, although I am sure the remaining village farmers will rally round. What's left of them.

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