When I listened to this programme (which was recorded nearly 30 years ago), I was struck by the timeless nature of the key themes that were discussed and because of this, I thought it might be of interest to SFT supporters.
BBC Radio 4’s ‘On Your Farm’ is one of their flagship early morning programmes, usually featuring a food producer or farmer, on whose farm the programme is recorded. The presenter of the programme at that time was a man called Anthony Parkin, who also happened to be the agricultural editor of the Archers.
The occasion of our first meeting was at the Royal Show in 1983, when the Soil Association was exhibiting there for the first time. We had a tiny stand in the food hall, we sold sandwiches from Crank’s restaurant, and handed out leaflets promoting our campaign to stop the Ministry of Agriculture from banning the sale of unpasteurised milk. I believe our campaign also involved parading round the show ground in the back of a pantomime cow!
I remember seeing Tony Parkin walking past our stand and rushing out to accost him. I suggested that his programme was staid and conservative, but instead of taking offence, he had the good grace to respond by suggesting that it might be a good idea to record a programme on my holding.
And so it came to pass that Anthony Parkin and Philip Wrixon came to West Wales, firstly to Bwlchwernen and then to Blaencamel, Peter Segger’s nearby vegetable producing farm, in April 1984 to record this programme.
Listening to it again, it really strikes me that although the external context has changed, most of the issues that we were discussing then are still absolutely relevant today. It was perhaps because of this that the programme evoked such a fantastic response – over 300 letters and telephone calls from all over the UK, which was apparently the largest number of letters and telephone calls (there were no emails then) in its entire 21 year history. It was broadcast again 6 months later and exactly the same thing happened second time round – another avalanche of letters, all reflecting an underlying thirst for radical changes to our food systems.
After the interview with Peter Segger was finished, the four of us sat in the April sun outside his house for coffee and somehow the conversation moved round to the Archers. We suggested that it would be a good idea to convert one of the Archer’s farms to organic production and to our surprise, Anthony immediately said that he thought it might be an interesting idea. He promised he would bring it up with the then editor, William, at the script meeting the following Wednesday.
He rang me back that evening with the news that William had agreed, and they had decided to go ahead with the conversion of Tony and Pat Archer’s Bridge Farm. The rest, as they say, is history. Over the next decade or so, I was circulated the script notes each month with a view to ensuring that the Bridge Farm story echoed the experience of real life organic farmers in the field. Over the years many people have remarked to me that the Archers was one of their major sources of information about organic farming, which is all the more interesting given that the original intention of the Archers was to provide a means of informing the urban majority about issues, agricultural and rural.
If you listen to the tape, which unfortunately languished in a damp garage for some years and has suffered accordingly, you will notice that there is a section about half way through where the sound quality goes a little fuzzy, but do stick with it, as the sound quality improves again, and the end, in my opinion, is the most interesting bit of the programme.
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