This week we are exploring the topic Woolness & The Land and our guest curator is Paula Wolton – the passionate farmer and creative force behind One Hut Full and One Change. One Hut Full is a touring shepherd’s hut with a multimedia installation celebrating the wool farming year in Dartmoor. Conceived to engage, inspire and educate, the hut has traveled widely, bringing wool workers, craft demonstrations and stories of sheep to town centres; agricultural fairs; and festivals. One Change is a related initiative encouraging consumers to be more curious and questioning about where our food and clothes come from. Both these projects deeply celebrate wool and its provenance. For this week of Wovember, Paula will introduce us to many of her friends and comrades in wool, bringing a rich and diverse range of perspectives on the meaning and significance of Woolness & The Land. For now, here’s a beautiful piece that Paula wrote by way of an introduction to her own farming ethos, and to the topic of the week. We at Wovember were blown away by it and think it’s a perfect introduction to the theme.Thank you, Paula, and welcome to Wovember!
My hands tell the story.
I have been farming for over four decades.
The physical aspect of my farm work now is nowhere as great as it use to be.
At the start of my farming career my family grew from zero to four very young children very fast, a herd of sixty five Jersey milking cows, twenty Anglo Nubian dairy goats, a flock of two hundred and fifty ewes, a few pigs, a couple of working heavy horses, my dogs, hens and my cousin’s bees.
In the 70s we started our own small milk and cream business alongside a goats cheese/milk enterprise, developing one of the first ‘box schemes’ in the early 90s.
We farmed organically and as sustainably as possible during a time when organic farming was barely on the horizon and sustainable was not a word used in conjunction with farming.
We could not afford paid help so relied on ourselves, with family and friends to help during busy times.
Hard, demanding physical and mental work in a time before home computers, mobile phones, social media, online selling and the trappings of modern technology!
A few years ago I sold my cows partly due to Farmers’ Lung – an autoimmune disease which can develop from years of breathing in moulds present in hay and straw – and the sheer volume of hard physical labour that comes with cattle being kept in for seven months of the year due to the wetness of our land.
I still have a farm. With a diverse network of hedges. A multitudinous patchwork of original meadows. Ancient woodlands. Newly planted woodland. Rivers. Streams. Ponds. Sheep. Dogs. Hens. And my large growing family….
I don’t have a fitbit or watch or any exercise related paraphernalia. I do however carry my phone, which is my camera, and this tells me distance, steps and the mysterious ‘flights climbed’. These calculations aren’t exactly accurate as our farm lane is 0.45 miles long equalling 0.7242048km precisely and my phone tells me it’s 0.5km.
My daily average so far through 2017 has been 12km, 40 ‘floors’ and 16,000 steps – add on a bit and there you have it.
I walk. I walk around my farm every day.
I check my stock on foot. Slowly walking through them, talking to them and watching them.
This is something I’ve always done and will continue to do.
I have observed and learnt from animals all my life. I’m particularly interested in non-verbal communication and herd/flock social organisation in different management systems. It’s a fascinating subject, but not for now.
However welfare and wellness certainly is.
In my experience giving our domesticated animals enough time, space and age allows them to bond as a unit and to form specific social structures within their herd or flock. I also find it’s important they are given the opportunity to seek out a variety of different foods and minerals on extensive, diverse, herb rich pastures with access to shrubs and woodland. The beneficial effect this has on individuals and the group is untold.
The animals thrive. The land thrives. Wildlife thrives.
Wellness of land, wellness of stock.
I also walk as I become part of the living earth. There is a communication between us that’s deep and ancient. A totally engagement and sensitivity of all the senses. I smell and taste weather, wild animals, the soils and vegetation. I hear the plants and trees, the insects, birds and small mammals.
The hairs on my skin alert me to movement and changes. My brain is alive and aware of the effect I and my dogs have on the environment we’re moving through. My eyes give me sight. To articulate these intense sensual experiences is difficult.
For me walking is also a moving meditation. A time that allows space. A space to think or to invent. To put ideas and plans in place. A space to reflect or rest and absorb the extraordinariness of the world around me.
Don’t misunderstand me – farming in not a bucolic idll. It’s bloody hard work. There’s heartache, pain and failure. A huge physical toll on the body and sometimes mentally destroying. It’s how we learn to cope with the downside that’s important. The benefits are rich.
My hands tell the story
The wellness of my family , the wellness of my animals and the land - coexisting with the wellness, richness and diversity of wildlife is, and always will be, my passion.
All content and images © Paula Wolton and used with kind permission.