As the UK’s core supermarkets struggle to keep up with increasing demand and the most vulnerable in society are forced to stay home due to Covid-19, farmers have been out en masse – not just spring planting, lambing and feeding the country as normal – but going the extra mile to help the elderly, vulnerable and those who cannot get basic supplies.
Farmers Guide spoke to just a few of these heroic farmers, who are putting the needs of their communities above their own.
Norfolk farmer Tim Briscoe is one of a countless number of farmers helping to support his local community in these troubled times, and now starts his day early so he can deliver 12.5kg bags of potatoes to the most vulnerable in his area, within a 5-mile radius of the farm.
Tim, who manages the Buxton Potato Company, has also set up a point-of-sale box shop at the entrance to Dudwick Farm, based in Buxton near Aylsham, offering a “totally isolated shopping experience” so customers who are able to get out can collect potatoes and leave cash in the office without interaction.
Usually the farm supplies to many restaurants and pubs but since the UK went into lockdown and these businesses closed, Tim realised those that were self-isolating or vulnerable in the area would need a safe, hassle-free way to shop. The farm also managed to get 84 sacks of potatoes to a man in Costessey, Norfolk, who started a local help group for his area. Tim said it is “incredible” what people are doing and “everyone is really pulling together as a community”.
Similarly, Essex potato farmers Laura and Robert Strathern have responded to the crisis by setting up a free home delivery service for the local community. Fairfields Farm, based in Wormingford near Colchester, is delivering sacks and boxes of potatoes and hand-cooked crisps.
Like the Buxton Potato Company, Fairfields usually supplies to various food outlets including restaurants, pubs and schools, and when the Covid-19 situation broke, Laura and Robert decided to do what they could for their local community and beyond if possible. Other local shops had run out of potatoes, so many people in isolation were calling on Fairfields to get basic supplies. Robert said: “It’s a feel-good thing to do when the community really needs that support and you see the community pulling together to help each other.”
He added: “I hope that it’ll make people value the importance of buying local produce – it’s good for health, it’s good for the local community and it’s good to support rural businesses. It’s good for farmers and local people.”
Laura told EADT: “We wanted to do something to help and thought home delivery would be a good idea. Since launching, we have been so busy with our home delivery service around the local area. We are so happy to be able to do something to help and to serve our community. Things on the farm are also really busy, with the team out planting for the new season.”
They are still supplying to the very limited number of local businesses that are open, including a pub that puts together meals for local people. Laura and Robert are hoping to broaden their home delivery radius as resource frees up.
Meanwhile, the Probus Young Farmers group in Cornwall is helping the elderly and vulnerable in their communities by taking shopping lists of food and medical supplies, collecting them from local shops and delivering them to those who are at particular risk if they leave their homes.
Young farmer Sam Oatey said: “We saw other organisations and people offering support and thought what a great idea for us as young farmers with a good network of people across the county, we can go out and offer our support.”
Local demand for the service has increased this week as people are taking the pandemic increasingly seriously and the government has stepped up restrictions on our normal way of life. Commenting on the unprecedented times we are facing, Sam added: “Now is the time for us to come together as a community; the more we work together and support each other, the quicker we will get through this.”
Another farmer, Andrew Ward, is helping the local and wider community by taking to social media, giving the public a window into his farm and country life, as many are stuck inside and unable to enjoy open spaces.
“A lot of people in towns and cities are isolating in their houses and not able to get out at the moment,” he said. “A lot of their amusement is going to be coming from social media, so I wanted to try and do something informative to show what we’re doing out in the countryside and on the farm.
“What I want to get across is that we are still farming even though the country is in lockdown, but we’re taking the virus extremely seriously and putting in lots of measures to keep contamination out. With so many people at home and on social media it is an ideal opportunity to help bridge the gap between urban life and the countryside, and dispel any myths that farmers don’t care about the environment and climate change. We care about the same things that everyone else cares about.”
In the first video post on Twitter he said: “The virus is causing huge problems all over the world, and it’s no different here in farming. I just thought I’d start every day posting a video of what I’m up to and what we’re doing out in the countryside and on the farm.”
Andrew will post a video a day under his twitter handle @wheat_daddy.
A glance at social media reveals an almost endless number of similar acts of kindness and community spirit among farmers up and down the UK. Third generation farmer Chris and his wife Amber have also been out delivering bags of potatoes to vulnerable people in their local community in Lincolnshire, after their local parish identified a list of residents unable to get to their shops.
Amber said: “Potatoes are really good for you. They’re versatile and they keep. We’ve had a great response from those we’ve visited and we’ve also had a couple of phone calls saying how thankful they are for the deliveries which has been nice.”
Addressing the public in a post on social media, NFU president Minette Batters summarised the incredible actions of British farmers in recent weeks: “I want to give a massive shout out to each and every one of you from farmers right across the UK. We are working 24/7 and we are absolutely determined to keep on producing the high quality, affordable, high welfare food that you enjoy and I just want you to know on behalf of all farmers, we have got your backs.”
While farmers are out feeding the nation, it is also critically important for them to protect themselves; although the isolated nature of many farming operations reduces the risk of Covid-19 spreading, it is important that farmers observe social distancing and hygiene advice from the government when coming into contact with the public or workers outside the immediate family. For further guidance visit: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
Are you going above and beyond for your local community, or do you know a farmer that is? We want to hear from you! Email [email protected] or get in touch via Facebook @FarmersGuide1979 or Twitter @FarmersGuide.