Say hello to the first ‘Just Farmers’!

This week 12 farmers from all over England and Wales came to Bristol for the first ever Just Farmers workshop.

I have played a blinder with this group (even if I do say so myself!) We had a cracking couple of days discussing what might prevent farmers talking to the media, and what we can do about it.

If you’d like to get to know them, they each have a profile on the brand new Just Farmers website!

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Left to right: David Kemp, Kate Daniels, Charles Goadby, Stephen Thompson, Mark Bowyer, Hefin Jones, Stephen Ware, Anna Jones, Robert Thornhill, Daniel Brown, George Young, Stephen Briggs

During the workshop, I led discussions on what makes a ‘good talker’ (journo jargon for a good interviewee or contributor), the ingredients we need to make a story work and dos and don’ts for interview situations.

To help out with some practical exercises, we were joined by guest journalists Tom Warren, digital editor for BBC West Midlands, and freelance newspaper writer David Lawrence.

And I was chuffed to bits to welcome my former Countryfile colleague Tom Heap. He talked to the group about his take on the relationship between farmers and the mainstream media, explaining that journalists are often “time poor with resource restrictions and attention span restrictions”. I can definitely relate to that.

Tom was happy to answer some pretty tough questions and challenges from the farmers, which the whole group respected. It’s this kind of open and honest conversation that Just Farmers is all about. It builds bridges and, as Tom put it, “undermines the polarised tribal analysis” of farming issues. Surely any opportunity to do that is a good thing.

Possibly the highlight of the two days was our visit to Gopal’s Curry Shack – a cosy restaurant selling vegan Indian street food. For most of the farmers (some of whom eat meat seven days a week) it was their first vegan dining experience. We tucked into samosa chaat, chickpeas and dhal, washed down with a couple of beers, and chatted with owners Mel and Heather about changing consumer tastes and the rise of veganism. It was great to bring together people with different ideas about food and realise that there’s more common ground than social media would have you believe.

The farmers cleared their plates and all agreed it was delicious food. I got their feedback afterwards, as we walked to the pub, and they were pleasantly surprised by how tasty and filling a vegan meal was. Of course they still love their meat, but only four out of the 12 were tempted by the burger van on the way back to the hotel.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who made our first workshop such a success. To Anthony and Clement at Phoenix Social Enterprise for providing a fantastic venue, to Anne Guy Catering for feeding us in the day, to Heather and Mel at Gopal’s Curry Shack for a delicious evening feast and to Greg Csikos, manager of the Hampton by Hilton Hotel, for finding a way of accommodating 12 farmers in the city centre and staying within our budget.

This group will be back together in January for their second workshop and I’ll soon start recruiting the next crop of Just Farmers. I’ll be travelling further north and into Scotland this time, and hopefully recruiting a few more girls too. The next Bristol workshop will be in early March 2019.


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