Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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23 Feb 2009

“A Farm for the Future”… essential viewing

I know from email and comments I have had that many of you watched and loved Rebecca Hosking’s programme that was shown on BBC2 on Friday called ‘A Farm for the Future’.  The programme looked at Rebecca’s father’s farm in Devon, and at her wanting to rethink the farm in the light of peak oil.  The programme introduced the nation to such permaculture luminaries as Martin Crawford, Patrick Whitefield and the wonderful Chris Dixon, as well as to the work of the late Arthur Hollins (who I was fortunate enough to meet in the mid 90s).  You can watch the programme for the next 24 days here

It featured a crash course in peak oil from Colin Campbell and Richard Heinberg, a trip to the Soil Association conference, a trip round Martin Crawford’s forest garden and much more besides.  There was some great archive film of horses and hayricks, and perhaps the bit that struck me most, some film from the early 80s of her dad ploughing their fields, followed by a riot of birds, all wanting to get at the soil creatures being exposed by the ploughing, which she contrasts with now, the tractor ploughing the same field, but with not a bird in sight, so impoverished has the soil life become.

It offered a powerful combination of looking back and looking forward, underpinned all the time by her clear deep affection she has for the farm itself. and the deep respect she has for both her father and his work.  It was surprisingly personal and moving.  For me, the proof of this programme was a visit yesterday from my father in law, not usually one to be interested in such things, who had seen the programme, loved it, and told me excitedly that he now knew that hedgerows could be productive, and that fossil fuels are running out.  He was very impressed with the agroforestry side of things, and I suspect that many people also watched it and found themselves similarly having Eureka moments as regards some of the insights about soil, ecosystems and the idea that food production need not necessarily involve huge tractors and lashings of diesel. It was also very powerful for people to start to realise that food production and biodiversity are not necessarily, as is often believed, mutually exclusive.

The only things I thought might have been done differently were firstly that it might have been good to also interview someone who disagreed with the ideas put forward in the programme as regards farming, i.e. some Monsanto bod who argues that we have no need for soil anyway, as agriscience can adapt and create new systems (I have actually heard a talk by someone arguing this).  This would have helped see these debates in the wider context.  Also, I felt that at the end, it would have been great to see her doing something that symbolised her making a start in turning her family’s farm around, based on all that she had learnt.  Even just to have seen her plant a walnut tree on the farm would have moved the story from ideas and aspiration to firm steps.

Anyway, that said, ‘A Farm for the Future’ is quite brilliant.  As Tim Lang says in the programme, in his typical forthright fashion, “these are the new fundamentals on which the food system is going to have to be based or else we are buggered”.  Indeed.  We are all in Rebecca’s debt for so passionately and coherently showing the nation both that food and farming is in desperate need of a Plan B, and that that Plan B could actually be more biodiverse, more resilient, more beautiful and nourishing, than what we have come to view as ‘normal’.

If you liked this programme, do write to the BBC’s Points of View programme and let them know.  We need a lot more programmes that address this subject, and apparently Points of View is one of the BBC’s key ways of telling what people enjoyed and would like to see more of… “Dear BBC.  Why, oh why, oh why…..” is generally the accepted way of starting a letter to them….

Categories: Food, Peak Oil, Permaculture

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


25 Mar 5:42pm

Stonehead: I think I can understand why you say what you say. That’s fine by me, I’ve no need to argue with you. I work on the land. Usually on these forums I’m actually trying to persuade people that things will be much, much harder than they think. I can only talk about my immediate neighbourhood in North Devon and the land that I see out the window while I’m typing – now. We have the isolated 60+ aged sheep farmer – much more land than can cope with, unused fields, unused cottages even, no family. On the other hand we have the ‘business’ family – own night clubs, sell antiques, run point-to-point and shoots, lease out their land for grazing. Then we have the ‘hobby’ farms – for the last 20 years farms have been consolidated and the unwanted farmhouses (plus about 20 acres – enough not to see your neighbours) is sold to someone from the city. That 20 acres is usually leased out for grazing – something has to keep the grass down. But the MAJORITY of people in the parish are like me and live in old estate workers’ cottages with one-third or half an acre of veggies plus chickens, pigs and horses etc in various paddocks plus some woodland. We ARE the people. We just don’t have enough land (and we have a lot to learn). I’d love to show you what I mean but you are a long way away! And I quite agree that there would be a big chance of folk from the city trying to take everything – as they say in Transition Training (I think) ‘we are 3 days (or 9 meals) from anarchy’ if the food supplies fail.

Robin P Clarke
25 Mar 9:04pm

Thanks Stonehead for a most informative post. I am guessing the contrast with Dave’s indicates that it is not just soil quality that is subject to great variability between locations, but also the social etc makeup.
I grew up next to a farm till age 23 and have grown quite a few vegs here and there, and yet I still don’t know much of what you describe. I think the lack of skills and knowledge is one of the things the Transition Towners grossly underestimate. And of course the local factors knowledge which is so difficult to reconstruct.
If you could put your precious knowledge into videos and or training manuals (or live courses), I am sure your efforts would be in great demand and much appreciated.
Meanwhile your notion of gun-toting paranoiacs is not so much apt in respect of TTers as of some isolationist survivalists who are definitely not part of the TT movement. And I would say that it’s another of the major faults of TTers that they err far to much to the opposite error, dis-paranoid fantasy that when a food crisis hits, everyone will pull together in a solidarity of community co-operation. “Get a grip” indeed!

26 Mar 12:42am

Hello Stonehead and Robin: I think possibly if we got together over a pint or two we would agree on most things. However I think that my little parish is possibly even more of a real community than the famed Totnes, but we will see and it’s not worth arguing about, because actions count and not words. I looked up the word ‘doomer’ on wiki last night and would definitely say that I am a ‘doomer’ – I just don’t think that the human race collectively will pull together the collective spirit to sort things out. Therefore I focus my efforts on my local community, right here and right now, and above everything else. It’s a (very) modest effort but you can come and see if you like! I’ve absolutely nothing to be ashamed of – if you you have any half-decent ideas I’ll rip them off mercilessly.

9 Apr 5:23pm

I am an island dweller, a vegetarian, and have a
stocked vegetable garden. I live on the edge of one of the main towns, on a very busy main road and yet I am looking forward to the onset of a less oil-dependant community. Other islands worldwide are becoming or have become oil-free already either by choice or design – Cuba being the most significant – so why not others. (film showing how Cuba did this “The Power of Community”,) The sooner the change is set in motion the less impact the downturn in oil supplies will have. The time for action is now – too many years have been wasted surmising as to the outcome should oil run out – in only as many years counted on one hand this will start to become a significant problem that even the most blinkered individual will have to take notice of. I have to admit that although there have been some good comments related to the showing of “Farm for the Future” so far the overall impression has been one of disbelief in the lack of urgency displayed. Changing our overall lifestyles wherever we live and the resurrection of the old-fashioned community will enable everyone to pool their knowledge and skills, not just in the way we produce our food but in all aspects of daily life. As individuals we will struggle – as groups we can all help each other – hence Transition. I am no eco-warrior. Just a realist.

11 Apr 6:38pm

I’m not sure how long they will keep this up on “viddler” but make the most while it’s live. Enjoy.

12 May 7:43pm

Sorry but i watched this and found it to be mostly a pile of crap.(I downloaded it illegaly via a torrent site and i dont care).

First of it’s presented by some anoying female who as it turns out is the usual London career type who then decides to head out to country (i know she was from there anyway but she still acts like all the others).

She then starts bleating on about oil and how it effects farmers and all the doom and gloom that comes with it, fair enough but i got the impression she was telling herself that more than telling us as if she was just learning this herself and what little knowledge she does tell is hardly unkown anyway (unless you lived in the London bubble for years).

Now to the worst part of all. She sets up a so called live internet conversation with a bloke in the USA (remarkable image clarity and streaming they get down in Devon) which saves us TV licence payers the cost of her flying out there BUT after moaning about the fuel crisis she then jumps into her Land rover (not the most fuel effecient motor) then drives from Devon to SW Wales then onto a ferry (she doesnt say but i’m certain they dont use sails or any eco friendly fuel) then drives to some point in Ireland to chat to some bloke for 2 minutes. Then on the ferry on the way back she’s moaning about the resources that went into the sandwich she just bought, it was at this point that i was going to switch off she is a complete idiot and treating us the same.

But i held out as I have a strong passionate interest in forest gardening and permaculture. It’s only after she returns from Ireland that it finaly gets interesting, it wasnt very indepth but it was good to see her taking it seriously (in her own wishy washy way) but more importantly it was good to see more exposure for this subject.
It did make me wonder if she was going to do something similar herself on her dad’s farm which i hope she does, maybe a follow up episode but without all the nonsense.

Thanks for posting this as i wouldnt have seen it and my post is just my opinion of it not a hate everthing you like post.

[…] read Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permacultureafter watching A Farm for the Future because I was fascinated by the idea of forest gardens they talked about in this […]

[…] A Farm for the Future – Rebecca Hosking […]

24 Jun 10:15pm

I came across this programme by accident while looking at UK gardening on the net.I am in Australia and had no trouble viewing it. I was transfixed. Even knowing the topic, the scene with the birds fighting and squabbling over the pickings in the upturned soil in the early film, contrasted to the modern no bird in sight was a very powerful that brought the whole topic into focus like nothing else. Thanks for bringing this up.

Hugh Osborn
19 Jul 2:59pm

Hi Rebecca (hope you see this),

Many congratulations. You hit the right spots on climate change and peak oil issues.

I have been trying to get a legitimate DVD copy of your ” A Farm for the Future” for use by Sustainable Blewbury.

Eventually BBC Active has offered a one off copy for educational purposes only at £195 + delivery + VAT. This is too much for small voluntary groups. Do you have another less expensive source?

I had suggested to the BBC that your film ought to be available to all schools and public libraries in the UK. This would justify production for general release in DVD format. Have you discussed this with the BBC and relevant Government departments?

Best wishes,

Robin P Clarke
19 Jul 9:22pm

I read that the bbc was actually quite hostile to this film, there being some struggle to get it aired. Last Dec they put Jeremy Clarkson (no less) on a system whereby he has to get everything pre-approved; this was just a few days after he started talking about peak oil / collapse of the growth system….join the dots folks!
In this context, the meaning of the word “legitimate” may depend on which legitimators you find worthy of respect.

[…] Rob Hopkins skriver om A Farm for the Future på Transition Culture. […]

22 Jul 4:55pm

Hi Hugh,

I was the co-producer on ‘ A farm for the future”.
To quickly answer your question -you can buy a legitimate copy (or as legitimate as it gets because we supplied them) for £5.00- ish from the permaculture magazine,
If you email them, they will be able to help you.

As for public showings you are clear to show it at public events as long as you don’t charge for entrance to the screening.
And if your local council requires official clearance for prove of screening you can write to the Natural world office in Bristol for permission.
I hope you understand that I’m weary of leaving folks addresses on public sites without their prior knowledge and agreement.
But if you look at this page – at the bottom the BBC has already done so.


24 Jul 4:07pm

Hi Tim,

Many thanks. Rebecca has probably told you she contacted me and gave me the information about Permaculture magazine. Meanwhile I had downloaded a copy as recommended by Sam (above). I told Rebecca I would give a copy to Mark Lynas, who expressed interest when I told him about your film. I expect to see him with Ed Miliband (DECC) on Monday evening in Oxford.