Herd immunity

Categories: Features

Richard Vines of Wild Beef on the Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme and how it chimes with the Market’s mission to support small producers and bring them closer to their customers


“People talk about the farming industry as one big, single entity,” says Richard Vines of Wild Beef. “That includes industrial agriculture—where you’ve got farms of up to 20,000 acres being managed with helicopters and satellite-controlled tractors, which to me is not farming—and family farms of 100 acres. And it’s the small family farms that are suffering.”

Farming is in many ways (when it comes to the likes of Wild Beef and neighbouring hill farmers down in Dartmoor, at least) rooted in history and custom. What Richard is keen to do is bridge the gap between generations of tradition and modern day best practise, to support those farmers who are struggling. “It’s about connecting those that have, but can’t, with those that can, but haven’t”—that is, bringing together the older generation of farmers, who have the resources yet lack skills such as computer literacy, with the younger generation of farmers who have the know-how, but need a foothold to get on the farming ladder.

“A lot of young people are well educated agriculturally but can’t get into farming because land is too expensive,” says Richard. “Then you have people who are getting old, sitting on a lot of money in the form of valuable properties and land, which they’re not using properly. We have this dichotomy which I’m very conscious of. They won’t survive if they don’t adapt. But it’s not rocket science: it’s just a question of using the young, who are educated, energetic and have much more contact with the outside world, to help their parents who have for decades been rooted to the Moor and continuing to do things in a particular way because it’s how they’ve always done them, rather than best practise.” Which is where The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme comes in.

Education and sponsorship
Set up by the Prince of Wales with the aim of providing training and support for small scale dairy and livestock farmers in the UK, the programme provides workshops on topics such as business planning, understanding accounts and budgeting, and exploring ways of maximising each farm’s potential. Part of that involves encouraging the older generation to connect with young farmers and share their respective strengths. “Through the programme I now sponsor someone called Richard Mortimore, who’s my neighbour in Dartmoor. We work together: he helps me when I need someone to do a job with me, I let him use my facilities—the farm, vehicles, tractors if he needs it. We’re linked, if you like, as a unit,” he continues. “He’s been here to the Market and worked on the stall, so he understands what he needs to do to make his animals pay. That really is what The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme is about.”

The education and sponsorship elements of the programme are just two examples of the ways in which it is helping foster the farming community and promote small scale producers in Dartmoor. “You’ve also got what’s called the Hill Farm Project, which offers total support specifically for hill farmers such as ourselves,” says Richard. “They run all sorts of training schemes: lambing classes, improved productivity of grassland, so on and so forth. They have decided, in conjunction with Dartmoor National Park, that we need to celebrate the food that’s produced on the Moor.” That includes not just meat and dairy farmers, but other producers in the area such as small batch gin distilleries, ice cream makers and a company producing rapeseed oil—all of which can be found alongside Wild Beef at the Princeton visitors centre, which is currently hosting the Eat Moor, Drink Moor exhibition to showcase those producers and their wares to the public.

Contextualising food
The idea is to contextualise the food that we eat within the landscape that produced it, but also reconnect us as citizens and consumers to the producers that provide us with it. “There’s a lot of unawareness from people in towns and urban environments about where food comes from. They often don’t understand the process of milking a cow or growing a carrot,” says Richard. “To rectify that, we as an industry in farming try to make ourselves available to the public—there’s a lot of what we call open farm Sundays, so people can visit the farm, schools come to us—and this exhibition at the visitor’s centre is a great example of that.”

It’s an important tenet of the Market, too, as a place that brings producers and customers together—something that’s sadly all too rare in today’s more clinical retail outlets—shortening the chain and strengthening trust through providing the customer with transparency and the opportunity to ask questions. Serendipitously, our conversation pauses as a lady approaches the stall to ask Richard for the best cut for beef carpaccio. “My family love your meat,” she smiles, as Richard rummages through the fridge inspecting produce. “Well, do you know about perennial grasses? No? Well, I’ll explain why it makes a difference…” And just like that, the loop is closed.