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John shares the day-to-day of organic farming

Date Published: 07/12/2011

In a world where pretty much everything seems to happen online now, you would expect there to be a wealth of useful content on the practical aspects of organic farming.

John Pawsey, discussing his crops while leading the farm walk on his land during National Organic Cereals 2009
John Pawsey, discussing his crops while leading the farm walk on his land during National Organic Cereals 2009

Somewhere among all those celebrity tantrums on Twitter and videos of cute kittens doing funny things, there really is a wealth of helpful, real world information – but not for organic farming. Or at least there wasn’t until one man took it into his hands, literally, to document in video the day-to-day realities of being a British farmer.

That man is John Pawsey, a well-respected Suffolk arable farmer who approached the organic sector with his head screwed on and has learned first hand that, done well, it works – both in the sense of making a living and delivering environmental benefits.

In very viewable, short bites, John is capturing the many and varied jobs and responsibilities involved in being a farmer. Much of it will be an eye-opener for the uninitiated on any form of farming, but there’s also a wealth of fascinating explanation of the methods that organic farmers use to produce good yields of healthy crops.

Armed with nothing more high-tech than a Sony compact camera with video recording capabilities (soon to be replaced with an iPhone 4GS, sporting HD recording and the ability to upload immediately), John’s videos usually run to one or two minutes, looking at everything from preparing land and sowing crops to heating the farmhouse, office and workshops with a woodchip boiler, managing his SSSI woodland and keeping the machinery on the go in often demanding timeframes.

That may not sound like the stuff of Hollywood epic movies and, indeed, it’s not, but for anyone with a vaguely inquiring mind and even a passing interest in what it takes to be a farmer, it’s strangely absorbing stuff.

We wondered what had sparked this initiative in John’s mind. He told us: “This year I bought all of my other family members out of the last bit of the farming business that I did not already own, so I wanted to mark that event for my children by making a series of short video clips of what their dad was doing on the farm to mark that event. I then thought that it would be fun to put those clips up on YouTube as an education resource.”

And a resource they are. John’s efforts are building into quite a body of work that is following life on the farm through a year, as the different seasons bring different tasks. His explanations are accessible to all, not just those who already speak any of the farming shorthand. But there’s also much in here for farmers. Everyone likes to have a ‘nose around’ on other people’s farms when the chance presents itself, but rarely does that experience give this much insight.

Similarly, non-organic farmers are finding John’s films a reassuring way to de-mystify what it takes to produce organic arable crops. They are able to see quite plainly that there is no magic involved!

The response has been positive, as John explains: “I have had some feedback which is really good and interesting for me. The interesting stuff had been the comments about “I thought that you were going to be doing some really weird hippy stuff because you are organic, but in fact it all looks like something that I recognise” which is really exciting for me because it means that I am dispelling some myths and hopefully encourage more people to think about conversion or at the very least the sustainability of their own system. I hope it comes across along the lines of “this is what I do” rather than “you should be doing this”, as the organic versus non-organic debate has been very confrontational in the past, which does not help either camp.”

What’s even more marvellous about this is that John, an OF&G licensee, hasn’t needed to engage a video or multimedia company, or spend a fortune on web hosting. He can use low cost devices he already owns and upload the resulting clip to Google’s YouTube video platform. And it’s all free.

John says his plans are not grand. To have a record for his children and wife of the first year of their full ownership of the whole farm comes first. If it proves to be a lasting educational resource, so much the better.

Through the depths of winter expect a couple of updates per week from John, who plans to pick up the pace again in the spring, when the demands of the farm increase once more.

We thoroughly recommend that you go and take a look. You never know what you might learn. And if you have children (or even their teachers) who don’t know the detail of farming life, we would urge you to share the link with them.

Perhaps the best part about the whole project is that John says he’s “having great fun doing it!” There are lessons aplenty for UK farming generally in this. Simple technology is providing ways to open up farm life and explain food production from the horse’s mouth. You could be doing it too…

  • If you’re keen to watch, why not start at the beginning, with John’s introduction:
  • Note: At exactly the time this piece was being planned and before we’d even been in touch with him, by a strange coincidence, John was writing about it himself for his NFU blog. We’d thoroughly recommend taking a look at that piece too, not least because John deals with his experience of social media and you might be surprised at what he has to say on the topic: “Social Networking: Get With The Now Granddad“.