I started my Suffolk project on instagram almost a year ago. For my first few posts on this website journal I thought I'd share some of the highlights from this year of getting to know my new home, and my attempts to learn a little about farming in particular. It's also a cunning way to make sure there's some content on here for my first visitors.
I arrived in Suffolk knowing little about the county other than it's fame for a breed of heavy horse with a strange name. Fortunately, there's a wealth of literary gems available on Abebooks, some of which I had already read from the likes of George Ewart Evans and Roger Deakin. It turns out that Suffolk could almost be said to have its own genre of nature, folklorist, ruralist and agricultural writers, from Adrian Bell and Hugh Barrett to Ronald Blythe and Allan Jobson, and I'm sure there will be more to discover. With this wealth of historic reading matter it's easy to adopt a perspective of Suffolk as a rural museum and to seek out remnants of the old ways; but that would be to ignore the modern reality of industrialised farming which dominates the landscape. Or does it? Certainly there are areas of the country with far greater crop monotony.
I was advised by an agronomist to read Primrose Mcdonnell's Agricultural Notebooks, a standard academic text since Victorian times (now on it's 20th edition) if I wanted to learn a little about modern farming. I'm still struggling through it and it's mainly serving to reinforce how complex the subject is, and how profound my ignorance. One farmer recently responded to my question about moisture levels at harvest with 'You would need to be born that way' [to understand]. But I will struggle on because I'm intrigued by the, admittedly unwieldy, question "how can we produce food sustainably, in sufficient volume and of sufficient quality, without destroying our precious natural environment?" When considered on a global scale, this is arguably one of the most pressing questions of our time, and it's unlikely that any more than just a little bit of the answer can be found in the landscape of an affluent English county.