My father bought this farm
at West Haddon, Northamptonshire, when he came out of the army in 1945.
My mother was horrified.
We have 170
acres, and another 60 acres three miles away. Half is
permanent pasture, where we keep a small beef herd and a small
sheep herd. We sell small packets of meat locally. The other half
produces wheat and oilseed rape. There are also a few smaller
Victorian buildings we let out, and the Farming Community Network
office is in what used to be the granary.
Christian Fellowship is a farming organisation. We bring
people together for mutual refreshment and, more than that, to
bring Christian insights to bear on farming life and issues. It's
open to anybody with a Christian interest in farming. We instigated
the formation of the Farm Crisis Network, which is now the Farming
Community Network, in partnership with the Arthur Rank Centre,
helped by a Christian farmers' association from Württemberg.
I was the
national co-ordinator of Farm Crisis Network for its first 12
years, and I'm heavily involved with the Agriculture
Theology Project. This is a partnership with the Church Mission
Society and the John Ray Initiative, seeking to develop biblically
based insights into such matters as the relations between farming
and climate, or corporate power in agriculture. Among other things,
we have been working on a book, probably to be called Milk and
Honey, Thorns and Thistles, holding up biblical narrative and
teaching as a mirror to farming. We're aiming to publish it early
involved in farming since returning from rural development
work in Nigeria with CMS in the mid-'70s. Looking back, the
strongest influences on my life have tended to be from groups of
Christians like the CMS people that we worked with in Nigeria.
There was a kind of godly good sense in those people, and no
hang-ups, religious or otherwise. Plenty of humour. One said to me
once: "Nigeria is a wonderful country where, every day, something
happens that has never ever happened before."
Nigeria's a place
that makes a strong impression, in good ways and bad. The
climate in southern Nigeria isn't wonderfully healthy, because it's
the home of malaria and other fevers, and it nearly did for me at
one point. It is, after all, known as "the white man's grave".
Unfortunately, the civil war happened while we were there, and we
were in the part that tried to make off as Biafra. In circumstances
like that, you become powerless and completely dependent on people
around you. You get to know some people very well.
Nigeria is also
the place where I first got suspicious of the syllogism: "Spiritual
is good and material is bad." There are bad spiritual
forces. You realise that "good" is simply God's will, and what is
bad is the opposite. That insight has resurfaced in trying to
counter certain Christian resistance from taking the natural world
seriously on the grounds that it's a distraction from spiritual
The crops and
farming there are as different as they could be: yams,
rice, cassava, and so on - very different from barley - and the
scale is different. But there are underlying principles which hold
good: understanding soil, climate, social environment, the
long-term nature of decision-making, and so on. If I decide to
plant an oil palm, for instance, I won't get anything for seven
Britain has been pushed to the very edge of the consciousness of
politicians, and much of the public, because it is "only
0.7 per cent of GDP". This was because their guiding lights have
become competition in all things: trade, the global free market,
and corporate power. These are presented as the ultimate realities
to which farmers must adapt. Of course, they are no such thing; the
ultimate realities farming must adapt to are land and soil, climate
and weather, animals and plants, health and disease, and relations
with both people and the natural world.
In some ways,
farming is now emerging from the shadows, but there is a
struggle for its integrity. What is it for? What gods will it
serve? Will it stay connected with real realities and once more
assert the values that go with them? Or will it absorb the false
values which, in the long run, can destroy it? In all this there is
a huge challenge to Christians in farming and supportive of it.
important that there is a diversity of all sorts of farms,
to ensure adaptation to change, opportunity to new entrants, and
different ideas and approaches. For instance, it is easier for
farms with smaller amounts of many products to relate to things
like farmers' markets than it is for units producing hundreds of
tonnes of one or two things. But within the framework that we have
been discussing, smaller units with little power are bound to
struggle. In this connection we need to be careful of words like
"productive" and "efficient", unrelated to any serious thought
about what the overall purpose of farming is.
people can buy ethically produced food. Sometimes it is
clearly defined, as in Fairtrade products, which are widely
available. Some retailers have a broader understanding, and attach
more importance to this. Going to farmers' markets, or making
direct contact with the producer, provides people with an
opportunity to make a direct judgement.
Farming makes for
a different way of life, with home, work, and identity all
in one place - in which respect, it is a little bit like being a
parish priest. And our understanding does affect the way we live
and eat. There are two supermarkets that we would not go into. Good
supermarkets have policies of keeping good, stable relationships
with suppliers, which is how things should be done; but others pick
them up and drop them on a whim, and drop prices below the cost of
There is no
reason why food has to be produced and sold on jumbo
scales. The system was built up by strong-arming suppliers
and paying them after the sale of their goods, and it has affected
the way farming is done. Farming needs to be done according to the
climate and conditions, not policies in the City or America.
Bible was written by diverse people at different times,
there's a remarkable overall coherence which, to me, is testament
to the truth it contains. I suppose the first few verses of John's
Gospel express this. Revelation is difficult, and has so far
largely escaped my understanding, but I cannot therefore say that I
I last got angry
about the unlawful killing of a young man in the back of a British
Airways plane at Heathrow by agents of G4S. There is much
to be angry about when governments are too cosy with large
companies, or manage relationships with them incompetently; but for
people commissioned by the government to kill someone like this is
the last straw.
I'm happiest when
I'm outside with my grandchildren. I love watching
place to live? I would do very well with our present
For me, the most
reassuring sound is my wife's chuckle. She was a nurse,
but now helps with the farm, and has a lot to do with the selling
of the meat.
I'd like to be
remembered for working for justice within the farming
world, not just for its own sake, but because it's God's
I pray for my
family, the work I am involved with, people I know, and
situations in the world. But it's not just about one's own ideas:
it's also about trying to align yourself with God's ideas.
I'd choose to be
locked in a church with somebody from whom I could derive much
wisdom, in which case William Temple would do well; or it
would be somebody with whom I shared major experiences that need
mulling over, laughing about, and building on . . . in which case,
a colleague from Nigeria, Christian Iwuagwu. Will the heating be
Christopher Jones was
talking to Terence Handley Macmath.