It was May 1968. Students all over Europe were in revolt. My heart was with them, but my bottom was on a chair in the agricultural section of the university library, where I was revising for the end-ofyear exams. Eventually I could take no more of the life-cycle of the frit fly, that scourge of the oat crop, and got up to stroll round the shelves, vaguely scanning titles: Profitable Sheep Farming, Soil Conditions and Plant Growth, The Pig: Modern Husbandry and Marketing . . . Then my eye was drawn to a book I’d never seen before: Farmer’s Glory, by A. G. Street.
I knew about A. G. Street. He had had a regular column in the Farmers’ Weekly and frequently appeared on BBC Radio’s Any Questions? But I didn’t know that he had written a book. I took it down from the shelf, opened it at random, and was drawn into a different farming world. After a few minutes my conscience surfaced, I put the book back and returned to the exploits of the frit fly. But I had been hooked. For the remainder of the exam season, whenever my attention began to wander, I found myself drawn to another few pages of Farmer’s Glory, and before long I had finished it.
Next to it on the shelf were several other rural memoirs – Hodge and His Masters and The Gamekeeper at Home by Richard Jeffries, George Henderson’s The Farming Ladder, Ruth Janette Ruck’s Place of Stones, Thomas Firbank’s I Bought a Mountain – and I read my way through them all. The following year I specialized in the study of agricultural economics and policy, and we were told that we could never understand agricultural policy unless we had some idea of how it had developed. We were forced to read agricultural history, and the spark of Farmer’s Glory was fanned into flame. I went on to do research in the history of agriculture, and have remained an agricultur
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