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This beautiful portrait of the people who keep farming alive today is part memoir, part social history
In Field Work: What Land Does to People & What People Do to Land, Bella Bathurst identifies a series of painful truths about Britain’s relationship with its land. This is a country whose self-identity is closely bound up with its agriculture, and yet farmers have, over the course of a generation, become “the sort of profession which everyone disrespected without really understanding”. Farmers are responsible, so the narrative of several books goes – see Mark Cocker’s Our Place and George Monbiot’s Feral, for instance – for genocidal cruelty to the animals they process, and for the destruction of the countryside and its ecosystems through a mixture of hyper-intensive agriculture and devastating chemicals. We want our farms to be picturesque yet productive, cruelty-free and yet able to provide us with cheap and tasty food.
Field Work’s aim is to broaden and insert nuance into our understanding of farming. Bathurst moves to live in a cottage attached to Rise Farm, a 180-acre Welsh hill farm run by Bert and Alison Howell. She recognises almost at once that “what I thought I knew of farming was based on living beside it, not within it”. The book is a record of life at Rise Farm and the lives of other rural characters who contribute to the little known but essential functions of British agriculture.
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