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Down to Earth: A Farming Revival

Sarah Langford, author of Rooted: How Regenerative Farming Can Change the World, joins the Slightly Foxed Editors and presenter Rosie Goldsmith round the kitchen table to tell us how and why she gave up her career as a criminal barrister to become a farmer, and about the woman who was her inspiration: Eve Balfour, the extraordinary aristocrat, founder of the Soil Association and author of The Living Soil.

Farming was in Sarah’s family. So when her own family’s circumstances changed and her husband was looking for a new direction, they said goodbye to the city and moved with their two young children to Suffolk, where they found themselves taking on the running of her father-in-law’s small arable farm. It was a steep learning curve and Sarah soon realized that the farming landscape had changed dramatically from the one she remembered: ‘My grandfather Peter was a hero who fed a starving nation. Now his son Charlie, my uncle, is considered a villain, blamed for ecological catastrophe and with a legacy no one wants.’

Needing to learn more, she describes how she travelled the country, hearing moving and inspiring human stories from small farmers who are farming in a new – but completely traditional – way, working to put more into the land than they are taking out of it, relying on natural processes like crop rotation and grazing animals rather than using chemicals to give life to the soil. This is regenerative farming – a hard row to hoe but with huge potential benefits for the planet as well as for us and other species. Sarah and her husband are now practising it on their own farm.

It’s a huge and fascinating topic, and other farming books and writers are touched on – A. G. Street’s Farmer’s Glory, Adrian Bell’s Corduroy trilogy and Apple Acre, today’s James Rebanks’s English Pastoral. Other related recommendations are From Mouths of Men by the rural historian George Ewart Evans, and the delightful Rivets, Trivets and Galvanized Buckets, the story of a village hardware shop by Tom Fort.

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Show Notes

Books Mentioned

Please find links to books, articles, and further reading listed below. We may be able to get hold of second-hand copies of the out-of-print titles mentioned on the podcast and listed below. Please get in touch with the Slightly Foxed office for more information. The digits in brackets following each listing refer to the minute and second they are mentioned. (Episode duration:  minutes;  seconds)

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Sarah Langford, Rooted (0:39)

Adrian Bell, A Countryman’s Summer Notebook (3:42)

Slightly Foxed, Issue 82 (3:56)

A. G. Street, Farmers Glory (4:25)

Sarah Langford, In Your Defence: Stories of Life and Law (7:35)

Helen Rebanks, The Farmer’s Wife (17:22)

Adrian Bell, Corduroy, (19:00)

Adrian Bell, Silver Ley is out of print (19:44)

Adrian Bell, The Cherry Tree is out of print (19:45)

Adrian Bell, Apple Acre is out of print (20:08)

Isabella Tree, Wilding (21:45)

James Rebanks, English Pastoral (22:59)

Eve Balfour, The Living Soil (23:52)

Albert Howard, An Agricultural Testament is out of print (24:14)

Eve Balfour, The Paper Chase is out of print (25:07)

George Ewart Evans, The Pattern Under the Plough (38:29)

George Ewart Evans, The Days That We Have Seen is out of print (38:31)

George Ewart Evans, Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay (38:33)

George Ewart Evans, From Mouths of Men is out of print (38:40)

Claire Leighton, Claire Leighton’s Rural Life (18:34)

Tom Fort, Rivets, Trivets & Galvanised Buckets (41:26)


Related Slightly Foxed Articles

Bain’t Feasible, Paul Brassley on A. G. Street, Farmer’s Glory, Issue 39

– Earth Works, Sarah Langford on Eve Balfour, The Living Soil, Issue 82

Another Country, Christian Tyler on Adrian Bell, Corduroy, Issue 22

  • Bain’t Feasible
    1 September 2013

    Bain’t Feasible

    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.
  • Another Country
    6 June 2009

    Another Country

    Bell’s first book has the virtues which allow it to transcend its times: acute observation, sincerity and that simplicity of style which does not date. Published in 1930, it portrays a way of life which had been overturned by the First World War and was to go on changing rapidly through the century. It is more than a nostalgic lament for a vanishing world, however: it describes a way of living that is very much alive.

Other Links

The Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize Winner

Now We are 20 Bookshop Display Competition

Sarah Langford

The Soil Association

Opening music: Preludio from Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major by Bach

Hosted by Rosie Goldsmith
Produced by Philippa Goodrich


Episode 49: Down to Earth: A Farming Revival

Comments & Reviews

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  1. Anne Franklin says:

    After listening to the latest podcast (for which thank you) I wanted to bring Vita Sackville-West’s pastoral book/poem ‘The Land’ to your attention. Whilst not a first rate poet she nevertheless creates an evocative picture of a year on the land in the Kent countryside in the 1920’s. With woodcuts by Gerald Plank.

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