This is a photograph of my mate Mr.Stink he has been sitting on my bathroom wall for a few weeks now obviously hibernating and readying himself for the new season which, I am sure cannot be that far away. I have come a long way from the squealing woman who arrived in Zimbabwe some 30 years ago and jumped at the sight of every bug that moved, and even the ones that didn't. Now I only squeal at fake plastic spiders left lying around by evil children.
Our family takes pride in our ability to improve our insect population through our more natural methods of farming and living adopted during the last 17 years in France, fallen into initially by a serious lack of capital and then continued through increased awareness and education.
The media publish articles about fewer or no insects on our windscreens, or birds found starved to death at odd times of year. I wonder what people think when they read about it? Lets give some money to a charity and absolve our requirement to do anything? Without insects the world will fall apart they all have a function many are involved in the clean up and processing of our rubbish into something that will become soil for us to use. Some are pollinators enabling us to eat. Some are pest controllers. some are seed dispersers....... the list goes on. In short we cannot exist without them. Cherish them in all their stinky ugliness and elegant, hairy, beauty.
In theory we should be open to change during covid-19, but it appears that change is a very difficult task. We have been spoilt for too many years being able to get what we want whenever we want it and are reluctant to accept that continuing on our slightly diverted current path is not the best choice. We have become so detached from our environment that we forget that we are one big ecosystem The Planet, and whatever happens on the other side of the world happens to you too. Too much talking not enough action it is dispiriting.
It was a long and depressing drive through the Charente last Monday on my delivery run in the pouring rain and floods. I had several diversions en route...... I try to speak out in support of my farming compatriots defending and explaining the reason why things are done the way they are. But after driving past so many naked fields, with no trees or hedges on the high ground from where the water runs, and not an ounce of sensible field cover with adequate root system to protect the soil from the rain and hold the water back to eleviate the flooding, I wanted to cry.
Yes there was a lot of rain I am not denying that but compounded with so little green cover did not help the situation. The headlines say how the government are going to support 7000km of hedge planting. Well p*****g in the wind springs to mind.
Cover the ground should be the new mantra, mixed and varied farming. No to moncropping. Get those animals out on the land and give those tireless insects some food to work on (if you are not keeping up with my thought processes, I mean poop) This should be something to be excited about my farming friends. No, just being organic does not count. I drove past several properties advertising their organicness with their bare monocropped fields shining and underwater. Back closer to home where we are surrounded by trees, hedges and permanent pasture there was a normal amount of run off from the ground.
Above is our water running off our permanent pasture. Please note it is clear. Why? Because the field has poop, insects and roots.
I am not going to apologise for being repetitive if you have read all this before. It needs saying often in several thousand languages to as many people as possible to spread the ideas to get down with the bugs and soil to help make some progress.
And fear not my fine farming friends next time I will be going all out for those people who insist on town planning with tarmac, concrete and digging up trees. Another depressing subject.
Ín the words of Spock "Live long and prosper"
Fixing the spillway on the dam
Happy New Year Everyone and welcome to 2021
I hope that you all have had a pleasant festive season and are enjoying the beginning of the new year knowing that the days are already lengthening. I have checked our weather book that we found after 5 years of hibernation in a box in a barn and it says that in 2010 and 2012 cranes (birds, not construction equipment) were heading north on the 3rd of February..... so that means there is less than a month before it starts to feel like Spring is nearly here. Not of course that I am not appreciating a good cold spell. The nasty pathogens and more annoying insects and some diseases can be curtailed with the cold.
The birds are chomping through the food I have put out for them at a great rate around the house. If I had a go pro camera permanently attached to my head I could have had some nice video footage of our cat, Peaches, trying to reach the cat food meercat style and not fall off the back of the chair at the same time. She failed, quickly looked around.... and then started cleaning, as if the whole fall from grace had been part of the plan. Cats (◔_◔) always good for a laugh.
We had thought that after the hecticness of the Christmas period, some of you experienced it at the market and I thank you for your patience....... weeeellllllllll...... it didn't quite pan out like that. So 40 something sheep later we have done a rather intensive lambing in the freezing cold. Not the best environment to lamb outdoors in. So there was much too-ing and fro-ing in the trailer at all hours karting the mamas and the babas from field to the house and to the sheds. Not too many under red lights, not too many stillborns all things considered.
So next New Years day if you are feeling slightly under the weather then I recommend a brisk walk in the morning at minus something, carrying warm slimey animals, a bit of a jog and some rugby tackling of warm fluffy animals, followed by a few hours in the afternoon mucking out and moving manure from the sheds to the garden, to start early preparation for the vegetable garden raised bed, no dig system. Followed by an evening stroll at minus something to rugby tackle and carry fluffy or slimey animals again.
The key to survivng this regime, the Franklins have decided, are copious quantities of tea, large roasted meat joints, warming potato, pasta and rice dishes, pink fizz, beer, chocolate and ice cream. If there is no time to prep half a tables worth of vegetable dishes then throw lots of onions and leeks in everything and you are good to go.
The butchery has had a 6 monthly clean, paint and tidy up and now our rented cold room has been taken away I am trying to work out how to organise the butchery for the next year and wondering whether we will have to make some more permanent modifications. All should be ready to be back rat the markets this coming weekend ready for some more seriously cold weather. The key to weather management is appropriate clothing.
Gavin is going for his 3 month check up with the surgeon tomorrow for the next phase of decision making. The physiotherapist has already moved him on to the next phase of exercise and this week that included doing a squat on one leg and then jumping up out of it. Interesting. Now don't go breaking anything trying this at home. It is not a challenge. But let me tell you it is not easy. At all, even if you have not had knee surgery.
Take care of yourselves and happy eating during 2021
Helen 😃 xx
So it was an entertaining week last week and in the spirit of the festive season it contained.....5 rendez- vous's, 4 trips to Chalais, 3 broken cars, 2 morning markets and one de-livery service. All in all a busy and expensive week. More expensive than I had been planning on as once again I discovered that insurance is never what you think it says on the tin. Even though the pick up from the side of the rocade in Bordeaux was fast, efficient and competent, the effort involved with repatriation of a vehicle to its home is exhausting, annoying and expensive. We believed that the towing of a vehicle was partially covered by our insurance policy, but in fact if your car breaks down on its own without being in an accident, it is not covered. 500 euros later we have our car back home. Gavin thinks it is not terminal, and will be writing to the ombudsman about the lack of clarity with the policy that we have. Oh to be super rich and only have to cover yourself for public liability, third party and maybe legal assistance. But that is the fate of the lower incomes, pay out a whack of money all the time to cover you for something that in fact you don't actually have.
If our current circumstances had been different, we could have hired or borrowed a trailer to tow our own car but with Gavin unable to drive and the other 2 of us so busy it just was not practical nor even cost effective. So chalk it up to experience (again) and move on (again!).
"So Helen, what have you learnt most about yourself in your 50th year?" Hmmmm, that is easier for me to be pragmatic when I have shouted so hard at someone I have blown several gaskets in my own internal combustion engine.
In other news the boy sheep are with the girl sheep this week, so may there be many baby sheep in about 5 months time. Let us hope for some lovely warm, grass growing weather in the next few weeks so the winter period is not short on the grazing front. So that the sheep are fat and content and all our lambs are strong, fit and healthy when they hit the ground with my repaired husband, who with any luck will be running around come lambing time. Though possibly with a little less stamina than in previous years.
Yes I know it is going to be a strange and perculiar Christmas for everyone, to go with the strange and perculiar year. However the practicalities have to be dealt with unless we are going to be ostriches and bury our heads in the sand, which, by the way is a complete fallacy because they don't, they sit on the floor and lie their heads and necks along the ground so they look like big rocks. Or they put their heads in their nests on the gound to roll their eggs, and then I suppose their heads may disappear behind their eggs because their eggs are easily bigger than their heads. Such a dim bird. One of my least favourite encounters during my farming life......
Don't forget to order your gammons before this Saturday 15th November. Be warned please, that I may not be able to squeeze you in this year as a late orderer as I have done in the past.
And so lovely people, go forth with a song in your heart and have a lovely week.
I will see you all soon
Oh my! it has been so long that I have just had to read my own blog to find out what I said last. And much has happened since then.
To catch you all up on the stolen sheep scenario no-one was caught, no lamb was found, no insurance payout. Situation sadly normal.
Gavin has had his cruciate ligament replaced in his knee and is making steady progress. The physio said today that rehabilitation is long winded for this one and he should just be patient. Easy to say, less easy to achieve for someone used to working a 14 hour day and being outside 80% of the time. It is surprising what he has been driven to do with his spare moments this week. Strip the chainsaw, dismantle the quad (he got told off for that one) cook shepherds pie, mop the floor, clean the bath, do the accounts, pay the bills and help me put away stray sheep by calling them, as they dont know me so well, and banging his crutches together from the safety of the road to get them back in the field.
Gavin finally found our old weather book whilst sorting out the accounts (don't ask about the state of our office zone) as we were contemplating whether the change in air pollution levels and also cloud disturbance, due to the reduction in air traffic this year, has had an effect on the climate. It does feel like South Wales, rather than the Dordogne we have been used to for the last 16 years. The book showed us that rainfall in the past had fallen in shorter spurts with longer stretches of sunshine inbetween. Completely unscientific theory based on limited data and lots of gut feeling. However I do not believe for a moment that the quantity of air traffic has no effect on cloud formation. Below is a photo of the weather at home last Friday morning whilst we were at the market in Ribérac.
We seem to have had a much greater variety and quantity of insects around the house this year I wonder if this is also due to reduced pollution. I have had fun trying to capture some of them to share with you. And its a good job I spent several years in Zimbabwe to desensitise myself to most bugs.
Lastly because we always like to keep things calm and easy at Franklin Farm we got a puppy :-O or as we like to call him a convalesence dog for Gavin. So here's Mushu....
See you all soon at the markets, on delivery or at the farm.
Well it seems I have been a little idle and have not written anything since July....shocking....one could assume that it is because nothing ever happens around here. Which is of course completely untrue. Summer came and with it the arrival of the children with them much eating and drinking was done. they did a little light exercise, shearing sheep, feeding lambs, sheep and pigs. And then once they had acheived an improved level of fitness some of them left and some stayed behind to assist the ailing parents, one of whom (not me) will shortly be undergoing knee surgery to replace his crusciate ligament, which is just his excuse to have a bit of a lie down as it means a month of crutches then no work for a further 2 months then building up strength over the next 3 months. so come lambing next year we should be back to normal... whatever normal is.
Normal service will be maintained, though if you could give me plenty of warning for orders, and yes even Christmas orders it would be much appreciated. Sorry I know it is early but I will have to be super duper organised this year espacially on the ham front. Goodness knows what will be happening though with the delights of covid and brexit all happening in the same year.
As some of you will already know there was a bit of 2 legged wolf activity on the farm during the summer so we were relieved of 20 lambs ready for marketing. Our friendly organic sheep farmer up the road has provided us with some bottle fed lambs to replace the missing stock and we have spent the last few weeks feeding 3 times a day.
Abbey, our chief sheepdog had surgery to remove a lump, thankfully non cancerous, but the very large scar is taking a while to close up. as she does not enjoy being left behind at working time. The cone of shame that she wore for 3 weeks is finally off and she is happily eating a bone outside in peace and quiet.
This year has been a "control" year for the business. 2 at the market checking hygiene and cleanliness, labelling and such like (we passed). One on the sheep and goats blood tests for brucellosis (they were clear) and then finally a check to see if our fields had grass underneath the trees (they did). Lordy! I think all the civil servants must have been thoroughly bored with confinement and just wanted some fresh air. So now I am waiting to go back to the markets and suspect that there will be new regulations to do with handwashing and mask wearing and lots of other joyful things.
I am waiting in anticipation for the call from the fridge repair shop to tell me the van is fixed has passed its cold chain test is ready to roll, and in the meantime because you know there was nothing else to do I have repainted the butchery floor and walls.
With any luck now we should be covered for the next couple of years.
Oh and tomorrow I am going to do a course on how to prepare your flock of sheep for the arrival of wolves in the district and I do mean the 4 legged ones this time. The joys of wildlife, farming and country living.
See you all very soon
Have you ever visited somewhere or driven down a road and wondered what ancient human thought when he or she arrived at that very same point, when that place would have been untouched by humnkind. Well I do.....
On a trip to Saint George Didonne, with all the necessary health and safety precautions observed, I sat on the beach and looked out across the ocean at the gap between Royan and the Pointe de Grave. There was a boat/ship sailing passed the estuary and the enormity of the space in front was striking. Had I been someone who had never seen the sea and had no comprehension of the horizon, I wonder if I would have been fearful or inspired to explore.
I had a similar experience again today driving back from a delivery close to Villeréal when I came over the brow of the hill on the N21, and in front lies The Dordogne Valley. Even with the human disturbance it is a very beautiful site. Hardly surprising that it became developed over time. River Valleys lend themselves to human settlement with their freshwater, fertile soils and ease of transportation. At this point it appears to have managed to maintain some of the natural landscaping. Let us hope that Bergerac does not grow too much, lose that natural touch, and that future developments are planned empathetically, with the preservation of the environment uppermost. I am overwhelmed by the amount of construction that has happened there in the 16 since our move to France, and not all of it is beautiful, nor well thought out. First human would be disappointed I think.
Familiarity breeds contempt, said some clever soul...Chaucer in the 1300's, I am told by my quick internet search..... Not wrong. It sums up peoplekinds relationship with the planet. Loss of respect for what provides us with life.
I have a new sign for the stand at the market. It is very large and sometimes I have to be brave to put it up as it often brings people to ask me questions about what it means and what we do. This requires me to be energetic and entertaining. Not always easy at 8 in the morning, not in your mother tongue. Of course that is the job of a sign if it has been well designed, thank you Mark Davies..... So, the other day a woman around my age walks backwards and forwards past the stand, observing my other clients and their purchases and finally stops and says, ''I don't usually eat meat, but I think I will try yours''. Progress. A woman who recognises a small business trying to make a difference and work with and within the environment, and is willing to step out of her comfortable, familiar habits and explore other avenues.
I never really know who reads these blogs other than all you lovely people I probably know already, but I hope one day I can inspire another stranger to step out and explore.
See you all very soon, masks on clean hands. Be careful.
It has been a while since my last blog. Life has been busy, full of meat, driving, markets and people with both familiar and new faces. I have barely entered a supermarket in close on 3 months and am currently rearranging my own shopping habits to find more satisfying and less harmful, planet destroying, packaging filled, corporate methods of purchasing anything in my life. I have binned Amazon forever and have discovered routes by which I can buy locally, or directly, from the small business at the beginning of the global chain.
Many of the companies I use online are supporters of tree planting, including my toilet paper supplier, and although tree planting is not the global answer for the environmental damage already imposed by ourselves on the planet it is one solution of many. I am currently battling with learning how to use a different social media platform from the familiarity of Facebook, “MEWE” it is called. Not the best name in the world as it brings to mind my toilet paper supplier but I guess it is memorable for exactly that reason.
We are going to try a few other ways of supplying everyone from here on in as we are aware that there is still a great deal of anxiety about going out too often into places where there are a lot of people. Chalais market will no longer be on our timetable as most of the people who see us there are people I have delivered to in the past. So I propose to start up a monthly or more frequent delivery service to your door around Chalais and to the north and west. We are also looking at delivery into Bordeaux. If you think you would be interested in being on one of these routes then please send me a quick email to email@example.com.
I used to think that I was someone who liked the ease of routine..... however the challenge of change is invigorating.
Farmlife is pottering along in its usual fashion, though Gavin recently decided to practice some ballet in a hole in a field whilst chasing some sheep and discovered that his foot and knee are not designed for 4th position and he is booked in for an MRI scan on Wednesday. Luckily walking is sometimes more comfortable than not walking so he still hobbles around doing as much as he can. And there was me fearful that someone would get covid and we would be hamstrung. Looks like Gavin just got hamstrung :)
Enjoy the random photos, see you all soon
Hello Peeps it is such a beautiful day outside that I thought I would write something. Anyone living near me on this day will understand what I am saying.
So we are on release or rather limited release from confinement. Not that things have changed much at all for us. Gavin has still gone out to see the sheep and pigs I have still gone out to the markets or on delivery and have seen people at a distance from behind my mask. Alice has been at home and done her schoolwork, read, cooked, helped out, walked, watched A LOT of telly and not had a really awful time I don't think.
I am relatively calm today. We are having a new water heater fitted which is super duper economic. And hopefully will save us a whole load of money. With the gorgeous weather it is nice to have the doors wide open and the electricity and water off for a bit. All the super dry dogs and cats are in the living room around my feet not at all fed up with the fact that someone is in their house making noise with a drill. And the dogs are not cross that Gavin has not taken them to stare at the sheep yet.
During the last couple of months I have driven a few miles as far north as Saint Mathieu and south as Marmande. Jumilhac la Grande to the east and Jonzac to the west. But.... "here I am stuck in the middle with you"..... name that tune? answers on a postcard.
As you can see from the above. if you don't solve the problem at the top of the hill, then the problem at the bottom of the hill will never be solved.
....sorry, I get distracted easily at the moment.... anyhow what I was going to say was the countryside is very beautiful and varied and I have seen many a Chateau I never new existed. But I have become extremely aware, once again, of how much work needs to be done with education about soil erosion and how to prevent it. And have come close to tears at seeing how some of the farming is carried out in my little corner of the planet. I will reiterate soil is a finite resource if we don't make it. To make soil you need to have active micro flora and fauna in a soil. To acheive that you need to have actively growing things on the soil all the time if at all possible. Bare soil is bad. Too much grass cutting of lawns is bad. The first because soil blows and runs away with rain and wind, and also burns away under the hot sun, releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Effectively it dies.
Too much lawn cutting stops root regeneration underground reducing organic matter, leaves the soil to bake in the hot sun and grass will no longer absorb carbon from the atmosphere if it is not actively vegetatively (meaning leafily) growing. There is nothing wrong with a bit of untidyness in a garden or a farm it allows nature a moment to live longer. Stop measuring neat lines and trimmed everything to be the norm. Fluffy and rugged around the edges is the goal. We have to let nature "take back control" ( my apologies for the quote but it seemed appropriate).
Without soil there is nothing. No internet, no holidays, no chocolate, no wine, no people, just a whole heap of pandemic.
Take care of the planet people and it will take care of you.
Be careful out there
Helen :) xx
Well I am angry I had hoped to make it through a week without being angry but it is not working out. Luckily I have made my own platform where I can moan to my hearts desire. I am the first to admit that my french is not great, but on the whole I can understand what is required of me and at the moment I understand that circumstances make life quite difficult for everyone.
I try to be a good citizen I attend our local markets with local produce through rain, wind, shine and covid pandemics. I deliver and sell fellow farmer produce when I know they are having a tough time and I try to be supportive where and when I can by sharing and liking on Facebook. I call and text people to make sure they are well and take a few moments at a distance to enquire after my various customers states of mind and health. It is a small gesture, I like to do it. I feel like I am giving back to society a little of my freedom as I am allowed to move about selling food.
This morning a post arrived on Facebook which was important for people to know about, a single payment for businesses in need as they are shut. I shared it as I am in an enviable position of still being able to trade.
Farmers do not get a single payment, because we have food to sell.
Well yes we would have, were we allowed to go to our established places to sell it. Every farmer I know who trades at the market has lost one or more sales days per week due to market closures and reductions in size. Some farmers now spend 1 or 2 days per week tracking down clients and selling online and then organising the logistics of delivery, payment, route planning etc. I am not moaning just stating facts. We still have to do the same amount of farming and preparation in between all these other extra curricular activities. However that is not why I am cross. I am cross because for a pandemic that promises to be around for some more time, as it has already been around for some months, the organisational capabilities of people leaves me cold. The incomprehension of the powers that be that as a meat seller you cant just pop into the field one day and pick a lamb leg to come to market. To be legal you have to go to a state registered abattoir for resale of your own farmed meat. This requires the farmer to guess what people are going to eat the following week, as you have to book in your animals at the abattoir the week before you take them in.
I was waiting for my call to confirm my place at our local market this week which I had been told I would be allowed to attend and had planned and catered for this appropriately. In my innocent stupidity I believe people when I am told we have to circulate those with similar products as there are not enough places at the market it will be every 15 days. Great I think we should be in a fairly strong position, as far as I am aware there are no other farmers of lamb selling at the markets I attend, others sell pork products so fair enough. So my 15 days rolls around and as no one wants to answer my calls I await my phone call like a good girl and…….. I am cancelled once again for this week.
Now my cold room is full once again and I have to once again spend the week emailing, preparing and delivering the final product that with a bit of empathy from the organisers could have been averted by me having an ability to plan ahead. If you are wondering what the response was when I asked why they could not fix a list of dates for each standholder and make a timetable for each standholder, the answer was well we dont know how long it is going to go on for…… rolled eye balls…… really…… I suggested in polite terms, which was difficult for me at that point, that it was unlikely that any of the markets would be operating at capacity until the end of the summer so would it not be best to have a plan in place. If I had had a wall close by I would have been banging my head against it.
And then on my way home from the accountant where I had an important rdv to avoid being penalised by not having my vat returns in on time, despite there being a pandemic, I drove past Intermarche and Lidl with busy car parks and tried to stop my head exploding with irritation. If we return to the status quo after this period of triumph for nature I will lose faith in humankind and society, and will probably become some dried out, wizened, bitter old woman ressembling the witch from Snow White who spends her life wondering why life did not become what she thought it ought to.
I am going to do like the dog and put my head in the water and wait for things to pass.
See you all soon
Somebody asked me to write something in my blog at the market last week that was funny. This has been a challenge as most of my humour seems quite black at the moment. So other than be told at the market today "I hope you survive this" by a friendly customer wishing me well with regard to the economy and the business ;) , I thought of a quiz option which means that you will have to know me, live in France or read a lot of blogs to understand where I am coming from.... In the age of the pandemic which of the pictures below allows for self isolation and is touched by fewest people?
.....and yes which bins did they change us all over to only a couple of months ago? The question is does anyone like the new bins? I think not.
In other news, yes we are trading, any which way we can. As you can imagine with all the cancelling and uncancelling by various Mairie's around the country people are understandably confused. The markets that I attend are all functioning. Only with food, and don't be alarmed if you go there as the stands may be jumbled up with our efforts to maintain at least 2m between each stand. Nothing like a challenge at 7 in the morning :)
As well as that I am trying to locate people who need to be delivered to for the interim. Whether I can find some other things to deliver to you from my fellow standholders I will let you know. It would make it very much simpler for me if you could follow our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/franklinfarm/ then I can keep you all up to date.
So as well as all those exciting things lambing has started. Thank goodness for some fine weather to assist an already busy schedule. The grass is beautifully green and some of our sheep have gone into group isolation at the neighbours.
Home school seems to be going well and my youngest has discovered how much time there is in a day if you can work at your own speed. So we have had a plethora of baked goodies, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, american pancakes and I am waiting now for some vienesse biscuits. This confinement lark is not going to be good for my waistline.
We have also been having more aperos and we made some more lomo which we ate over the weekend I should have taken a photo...but I ate it too quickly ;)
Keep well all of you, wash your hands often, lots of warm drinks and enjoy the sushine and the lack of teleslescalls if you are in my part of the world.
I am farming sheep and goats on the Dordogne/Gironde border with my husband and our 3 children. We have an on farm butchery and sell our meat direct to the public via the markets and delivery points in our local area