Plaw Hatch and the Modern Farm

Plaw Hatch farm is a place where farming still stands for something more than ‘yield’. Food is not something to be ripped from the animals and soil, the result of a bloody war of attrition and siege. Farming is not what happens when an unfair treaty is imposed on nature. All these metaphors are false. May we forget them.

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Plaw Hatch farm offers a simpler, kinder alternative to these modern stories of ‘how-farming-must-be’. And if they have managed it, so can others…


Nestled in the trees beneath Forest Row is the future of farming. It is probably also the past, and it is certainly (happily) the present.

This farm follows bio-dynamic practises, as defined by Rudolf Steiner , the legendarily clear-thinking German chap who instituted those schools which seem to turn curricular thinking, and imposed normalcy, right on its boring head.

Plaw Hatch is funded by the local community, and has a farm-shop, which supplies local people with very good farm-grown veg, better than organic and fresher than the day itself.

Free range chickens, running about wherever they wish, milk cows with horns, pigs that eat good food and enjoy fresh air and clean pens, vegetables that are grown without petro-chemical enhancements – this is what Plaw Hatch provides. And the people that work here are aware of their role, and pursue it with integrity and solemn mirth, a giggling gravity that is astoundingly effective and beautiful in application.

A farm shouldn’t be defined nor understood as a food factory; it is rather a culmination of the intents of those who work upon it, an expression of growth, an agreement made and held, to further life on this planet, for our species and all others.

Farming today, however, is a slightly sordid affair – it is a salacious comment, an ill-wind, a blighted livlihood. Every kind of bad press has afflicted modern farming, and almost every type of ‘life-stock’ (a combination of lives and marketable products) has suffered a devestating flu or dis-ease of some sort. British agriculture seems to have been left out in the sun for a little too long, and has started to smell.

The problem, from our (limited and mayhap ignorant) point of view, has come the adoration of the God of Yields, the mantra of more, more, more production.

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Some people tell us this is due to the opening of global markets, that farmers, to pay for their new machines, mortgages and all, need to sell at the cheapest prices, or they won’t sell at all. We’ve met farmers who have small mountains of potatoes, unsellable for the fact that they will always lose money, so the tatties are simply left to rot in piles. Even giving them away would cost more time and money.

Perhaps this is for the best, we think hopefully. Perhaps this situation will lead on to a new tender revolution in farming practices; but equally likely is a new intensification of old errors, of production as the sole watchword, and a further erosion of the old agreements of care and custodianship, those original adamic responsibilities we once bore joyously.

Add to this the new worries of sci-fi fiddling, the GM ‘stepping bravely’ to sever the unbroken chains of natural production (“which MIGHT lead to a great new patentable future…”), and we have a blighted image of the modern farm. Have you seen the calves lying dead in the concrete stalls? The pens, which look like prisons, the great beasts humbled and broken into concentrated subservience, the mothers unable to walk, swollen and screaming for their children? If this were humans, we would scar ourselves, we would create a history that forbade it ever to happen again, we would teach our children. Yet, for non-human animals, we are blind to see it. It is not a good thing we do…

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Plaw Hatch farm falls into none of the traps of the modern agri-business. People do still get there by road, but this is soon to be remedied – by a donkey-delivery scheme, and a rick-shaw…

Plaw Hatch is a place of education, a living demonstration of the connection between food and its source, and a place where school-children and adults alike can learn that farming is not an act of strip-mining the resources provided by soil and beast – instead, that we need to respect the roots that sustain us, care for the land and animals, and enjoy better food, healthier living, and an eased soul, all in one easy process – buying from, and thus supporting, the right farms.

“But specialist food costs more!” we lament economically.

But the long term cost of supporting a system that will destroy our soil and mutilate the natural behaviour patterns of our animals, is surely greater.

The ASDA option might leave you with a few pitiful pennies in your backburner, but who is fooled by dirty old copper money? This is not wealth, this is not a reward. This is 30 pieces of silver, and the deed it justifies is treason.

Organic, bio-dynamic food is the food reward all humans deserve. It is not for the rich, but for the simple, wise, responsible people of this land. Everyone can and should eat REAL food, not the chemical simulacrum that is plastic-packaged and flown in from a genetic experiment a thousand miles away.

If you eat plain good food, you need less of it. A ‘real’ carrot fulfils the demands of the mouth and belly, while a watery orange lump of carrot-ishness does little or  nothing, except perhaps to provoke lament and nostalgia, a sense of ‘dark-future’.

Solid basic nutrition is NOT a only for the wealthy cadres of society. Proof of this fact is apparent in the new dreddlock classes, the semi-urban eco-rabbles who buy no new clothes, squat in old tenements, yet still refuse to eat the rubbish dressed in vittles’ clothing. Why impose self-denying class limitations on ourselves? Why semi-consciously burden our families and selves with such disadvantages? We are ALL here to be as good as we can be – and the first step must be eating well, growing well, to gain the power we need, to do what we can.

A bellyful of good food, which will maintain energy levels, concentration, growth, and life, is our birthright on this fertile and abundant land. Nature wants to feed us, and we need only clarify our desire to be well-fed, and understand more sincerely what this means.

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We often walk past/through mono-cultural fields of a single crop – oil seed rape, peas, or whatever.  People sometimes say to us: “How beautiful the yellow flowers are”, and we mutter darkly, oft unwilling to spoil their pretty dreams.

But walking alongside these yellow plains, looking closely, you see dried desertified patches, dead soil, lost land. On the field margins, you see native wildflowers, nettles and bluebells, withered and faded by the massive doses of herbicides sprayed on. The fact is, as one Wiltshire farmer told us, without the chemicals to kill the native plants, and without the chemicals to provide nutrition now missing from the soil, nothing would grow at all. Our soil is incapable of producing food. Agriculture is dead. In its place is just a well-developed life-support system, with massive doses of drugs, so something like a result is still grappled from the near-rigid topsoil.

It is as though we have even forgotten that the earth itself is the provider, and we treat the soil as only a convenient medium in which the plants can sit, not expected to provide any nutritional input at all. When did this fallacy gain currency? Why is it so strong in our modern systems?
We remember working on a hop farm in Kent one year, and the police turned up to tell the farmer that he was making a mess on the local lanes, with all the mud. The farmer nearly exploded…”It’s a f*****g farm” he screamed, and the coppers were paralyzed for a minute, unsure what to do, till they realized that of course, he was right, farms and mud go together like rama lama lama. Chastized, the police sped away, down the muddy lane, back into town

Plaw Hatch farm is a community event, and has witnessed all the small and great crimes against life that farms are capable of accidently causing. Plaw Hatch knows well enough to act against these poverties of heart and deed. It realizes that the future of farming is in the ancient technology of care, in the ritual of custodianship that is central to humanity’s role on this planet.

WWoofing is an option here, and those who partake in this job/holiday/study, tell us that the mindset of the teacher/farmers here are uniquely educational, that this is not somewhere you are told to dig a ditch, and left to get on with it, without any idea of the reason for your work. Efforts are made to make everyone realize their part within the whole, so work is not blindly done, but is conscious, and aware.

Plaw Hatch also produces some of the finest un-pateurized and un-homogenized milk , cheese and yoghurt we have ever had the pleasure to eat and drink. We always suspected that milk was somehow a richer substance in days gone by. Well, at Plaw Hatch, it is still so…it is white gold, a foodstuff that is gained from a deal made with the cows, from an agreement neither forgotten nor reneged. We are not cows’ masters, but their protectors and carers. That is how we won the reward of good milk, not by a dark dream of dominion and imposition.

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We like Plaw Hatch farm. If you want to eat well, and are anywhere near Forest Row, we suggest you go there. So much more there is to say, that we cannot. Please, just go there, with a fresh willingness to re-learn what food and farming are all about. Treat it as a pilgrimage, and while you’re there, muck in, help out. Be a part of the good work, of the happy process that is happening here, and is possible everywhere.

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Chilling Cheese

5 Responses to “Plaw Hatch and the Modern Farm”

  1. Judith da Silva Povoas says:

    I agree with everything you said and can feel your passion.

    I am a woman in her sixties who wooffed in Canada five years ago and who has been growing bio-dynamically in her own ‘yard’ in B.C. Canada for the past year, with total commitment!! I must say it is not an easy thing for one person to do, especially with all that stirring! But such unseen rewards, such as a feeling that my trees and ground are breathing the same air as I am and are so ready to work with me and I with them, liking what the preparations are facilitating.

    Now I find I’m going to have to return to Britain to live (as a retired Waldorf teacher, I don’t have the required points to be a permanent resident). I have a cottage here with a small orchard and some land which I will have to rent out while looking for where I shall be living (renting) in Britain.

    Would Plaw Hatch Farm be able to fit in a resident co-worker? You all look very young and fit!! I am young at heart and quite physically fit (swam for B.C. senior games this year and had two firsts and a second place).

    Please tell me what you feel and otherwise, have you any ideas for community living to offer me please?

    Thanks and all good wishes for guaranteed good health and strength of all humans and non-humans at Plaw Hatch.

    Jude da Silva

  2. Simon says:

    Hi,
    All very interesting…. you don’t mention when calves are removed form their mothers on Plaw Hatch….also, in the other article we used to burn the horns off the cows on the dairy farm I grew up on, wasn’t quite a red hot poker that was used and whilst it was done without anethsetic, the calves didn’t seem to mind too much. All done in a few seconds but then there was the business of putting the tag in the ear, also without pain relief and this did bother them!
    Sadly, it is not physically possible to produce the food this country needs in the manner you wish. Organic is fine in theory but but doesn’t give the yields required.
    Like the idea of your walking and singing but not the rants about subjects you don’t give a balanced view on. Stick to the sing please.

    • Branching Arts says:

      Hello Simon,

      Yup, we do like to vent ire. Too much balanced reportage gets bland, and provokes no passion. By throwing out what we feel to know, we find responses, such as yours, from which spring new opportunities to learn.

      And of course, the kind of knowledge we encounter each day is naturally replete with inaccuracies and opinionated inobjective commentary. This is the everyday currency people deal in – a creative folk political science. So we say what we see, and what we’re told. We aren’t white-coated laboratory men – the precise and fine balances of things is not our ambition. We like to write as we feel. And we feel that much of modern agriculture is difficult for us. We know what contented animals look like, and they’re a rare enough sight in the fields…

      As for “Not physically possible to grow the required food…” – well, we’ll say that it has not been tried, with unblocked committment, and with the new technologies available. And with our current certainty that agri-business models are the only viable option, it’s a choice of doom or nothing. It will certainly not be possible to gorw enough food with our current food wastage trends, nor with our committment to over-eating.

      But we’re hoping a change is possible, and perhaps by silly unofficial rants, every once in a while, we might help people look for themselves at the value of the dairy products that are consumed so voraciously. And maybe there can be more local, plain good food, grown well, in new and surprisingly effective kinder ways.

      But, we’re not experts. Our opinions are formed by our experiences, which are different to yours, and so it goes.

      We appreciate your comment. We’l get back to singing now.

      the best to you Simon.

  3. Bindi D says:

    I love this post and it makes me want to wwoof here with all due haste. The cheeky Grease reference made me giggle.

  4. reinestevens says:

    Well said. Best article so far. I like “the sense of dark future” for the lump of carrotishness

    Hope you are well.
    Lots of love,

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