The ‘give the desk job up and go and live an idyllic life in a rural village’ daydream is perhaps one of the modern city dweller’s most frequent.
From Brooklyn-ite turned blogger Molly Yeh, who moved with her husband to look after his family farm in Minnesota, to writer Amanda Brooks, who left the swirl of New York for a sedate Oxfordshire farmhouse, our Instagram feeds are full of people who’ve chased the good life.
But what’s the reality? Living on a farm means expansive fields, clean air and a connection with nature, sure. The flipside is work – and a lot of it.
To get more insight, we caught up with mother and daughter-in- law Dale and Linda Spence, aged 27 and 55 respectively. Both women married into a dairy farming family – Dale’s husband is Linda’s son, meaning two generations working together to get your morning milk on the table.
The pair live on Lowfield Farm in North Yorkshire and are dairy farmer owners of Arla - as such, they are involved in the production of Arla Farmers Milk, from which an extra 25p per litre goes to the people who produce it, supporting dairy farmers so that the industry is preserved for future generations.
Here are their thoughts.
1. Change can be good
Both Dale and Linda had nomadic early years. “I was born in Zimbabwe,” says Dale. “My parents and I moved to Darlington [in the North East] around 18 years ago, then I started working manufacturing ice-cream. I live a totally different lifestyle now, but seeing different ways of living life has been helpful for me in deciding what makes me happy.”
Linda agrees. “My family got on a boat and moved to Australia when I was seven,” she says. “The journey took five weeks! We stayed there for nine years before coming home.” This, she says, means she’s good at rolling with the punches. “It was a culture shock when I first got married and moved to the farm, but I can handle change,” she says.
2. There is always something happening on a farm
Farms are hives of activity, with something going on for over 21 hours of each day. Eeesh. “Chris, my husband, often has to go back out and do some work or check on the cows after dinner,” says Dale. “No plans are safe from the risk that something on the farm needs attention and then get cancelled – whatever happens on the farm is always the number one priority.”
3. There’s a thrill knowing you’re doing something important
There’s something special about doing something important. “We’re helping to make people’s breakfast, coffee and tea and countless dishes happen,” says Linda. “Which is wonderful.” Being actively involved in making our cups of tea, breakfast porridge and flat whites is crucial work. “It’s not an easy way of life, but there’s something lovely about knowing you’re part of bringing such a staple to people, via their daily milk,” Dale says.
4. It is amazing to know that the public support us
Farmers need more appreciation,” says Dale. “I understood how hard they worked before I married one, but now I’m submerged in it, I know it’s not a job: it’s a lifestyle. I see how much of themselves they give to it and I see how much a good or bad day can affect the whole house. That’s why it’s a great feeling when people show their appreciation for the milk and the work that goes into producing it.” Which is why buying Arla Farmers Milk is a great shout.
5. Community is key
“We’re close to family, with Dale and our son and their children living so close,” says Linda. For Dale, farm life means she’s become tight with other people living in the same area. “I’ve made such good friends here,” she says. “When you’re quite far from the town, you all band together when something bad happens or to celebrate everyday successes.”
6. Understanding seasonality is amazing
In the age of lamb from New Zealand and apples from South Africa, getting to grips with when foods come into season in the UK can be tricky. But, with eating foods in season being better for the planet (fewer air miles) and better for our tastebuds (food is fresher and more flavourful the closer to the source it’s consumed), it’s something we should all be making an effort to understand. “I feel very connected to the seasons,” says Linda. “Farmers are always very aware if and when it’s going to rain! You see the first shoots of grass after winter, you know the moment that the sun begins to rise that touch earlier.”
7. The digital age has changed country life, too
“When we got married, there were no computers, no tech. Now, everything needs to be recorded digitally – I think that all of the tech has made life harder,” says Linda. The flipside? Advances in technology mean that storing information is that bit simpler – resulting in tighter operations in the farming world.
8. It’s important for kids to know where their food comes from
“Our children get to be really in touch with nature,” says Dale, of her sons William, four and Jesse, nearly one. “They have the freedom to run around outside, they understand the hum of the seasons, they know where food comes from and that carrots don’t come ready wrapped in a see-through bag from a supermarket.” They also get to directly observe the work that goes into making the stuff that nourishes us happen – from seeds that become veg to how chickens lay eggs – which gives them a understanding of the time, love and patience that goes into what we eat.