A Richard and Judy pick for 2006, this superb little book tells the story of what has happened to British farming in the period when we've all had our heads in the supermarket sand. In two words - big business.
Remember those weirdly shaped vegetables we used to see on Esther Rantzen's That's Life? You won't see them any more because they were naturally grown. Nowadays everything is uniform in the hands of large-scale farmers and the small farms that used to produce vegetable anomalies are dying out at a rapid rate. Richard Benson's book tells the story of farming from the 1960s to the modern day through the medium of one small family farm in the Yorkshire Wolds. Small farms prospered in the 1970s, but with the advent of Margaret Thatcher's government locally grown produce was gradually replaced with large business conglomerates that saw the madness of profit accelerate out of control. It is surely crazy that we buy potatoes from Poland while an English farmer's own crops are ploughed back into the land because they don't have the right shape?
This is not just the story of the failure of the small British farm, however, it is the story of the Benson family and the characters are real people. Guy, who stayed on the farm, Richard who left it for university and a job in publishing, Helen who dreamed of opening a donkey sanctuary, and their parents, for whom life on the land is changed gradually, but inevitably as they have to, finally, sell up. The story is full of wry humour as well as a terrible sadness - suicides succumbing to the aching loneliness of failure, the struggle to keep going against the odds, the terror when foot and mouth threatens their borders. It is a genuinely heart-breaking read, but is touched by the love of country life of many of these people, who know the land they live in has its own hard-wrought consolation.