Yes, This Is About Legacy

Sat, 27/08/2022 - 14:31pm

David and I have just returned from an exhilarating conference on dairy farming for artisan cheese. One fascinating session was about a French project which has designed a dairy farm to match citizen expectations. It’s a three year project funded by INRAE, the French Institute for Agriculture, Food & Environment.

The dairy farm system designed by that project team, and without conferring, was almost identical to ours. We have come away from the conference with the sense that momentum towards cow-with-calf dairying is growing, and it has bolstered us to spread the word further.

It’s good timing too, because this morning we approved the proofs of the book from the printer, and thanks to the support people have shown for this project, we’ve been able to print more than we had expected.

It’s strange to reflect that it’s less than a year since we added a small link to a survey in our monthly e-newsletter. That survey asked ‘Should we write a book?’ As anyone who clicked the link will know, at the time we were not really serious.

The survey invited respondents to ‘feel free to talk us out of this ridiculous idea.’ No one did. In fact, we were taken aback with the strength of feeling in the responses.

A lot of things happened in the weeks and months that followed, good things as well as devastating things. Over the winter we did a lot of thinking; thinking about our own future, the future of the farm and the future of the industry. Thinking about what needed to be put in place to make sure that others who go down this cow-with-calf dairy path can learn from our mistakes. Thinking about what we should leave behind.

We revisited the responses to that survey, and those heartfelt, generous comments and suggestions that our customers shared. We thought about the best way to make what we’ve learned accessible to others, in a way that we hoped might encourage others to consider cow-with-calf, regenerative dairy farming. We developed a project and gave ourselves a year to deliver that project. There are three parts to it.

It’s about our journey to regenerative, cow-with-calf dairying and its relevance for the times we are now living in

Our book, A Dairy Story, is the first part. It’s about our journey to regenerative, cow-with-calf dairying and its relevance for the times we are now living in. It’s mainly a memoir, with a section at the back that summarises our cow-with-calf system, which might be of interest to farmers who are curious about how we do things. The book is now at the printer, and should be in the hands of those who have pre-ordered it in early October.

Next there is an education aspect to the project. This will make the detail of our system accessible to agriculture students, to sustainability practitioners, to policy makers, and to other farmers. We originally thought this might be a short film, but having received emails from people in the industry in response to our book, we now think it should be a ‘how to’ e-book. This will be written by David over the winter with input from the farm team. It will include detail on our regenerative approach to farm management, as well as detail on the cow-with-calf system.

Finally there is a filming element. This is about capturing as much as possible about what goes on here in a year, with the goal of turning it into a documentary, that we hope will inspire others to adopt a similar system. Words on a page can say a lot, but seeing is a different experience altogether. Filming started during spring calving, and there’s a lot still to capture. It’s a big undertaking.

Put together these three activities will explain WHY we changed our approach, detail HOW we do things so others can replicate it, and it will SHOW the impact of those changes.

We want cow-with-calf regenerative dairy to become as normal as free-range eggs

Our goal is to make sure that nothing about our farm transformation is left unsaid. So yes, this is about legacy.

While we’re not planning on going anywhere, if you read the Introduction to A Dairy Story we shared a few weeks ago, you’ll understand the personal drivers behind all this. Thank you for the kind comments in response to that. I’m feeling well, and we hope that will continue to be the case for a long time.

Many people have helped us develop our current farming system, and many of those have done so with the hope that this system could become much more commonplace. We hope that too. We want cow-with-calf regenerative dairy to become as normal as free-range eggs.

For that to happen will require a big shift in mindset in the industry, driven by a push from the public, encouragement from government, and an understanding of the wider benefits of agroecological farming. It will also require knowledge and experience to be shared. We hope that sharing as much as possible about what we know and have learned will help.

The Crowdfunder will remain open for another two weeks. Our focus then will be getting books into the hands of those who have ordered them. Once we’ve done that, we will look at how to make the book more widely available, and we will keep you up to date with our progress on the other elements of the project as they happen.

Thank you again for supporting us on this journey.

Wilma Finlay