Growing crops and rearing animals are the oldest industries in Britain. The products of this open-air factory floor make a huge contribution both to our economy and to our way of life. Through a study of the distinctive types of building associated with agriculture, this broadsheet from The British Land Company PLC studies some of the key ways in which farming and FOOD production have evolved over the centuries. It is worth reflecting, though, that despite the high-tech input of recent years - the chemicals and breeding programmes, the veterinary care and near-total mechanisation of many processes - farmers are still doing the same basic job as their ancestors: harnessing the sun's energy and combining it with gases in the air, moisture in the atmosphere and minerals in the soil to produce food for us all.
Farm buildings - especially the more traditional designs - are among the most attractive and evocative features of the landscape. Despite the upheaval of at least three major Agricultural Revolutions, a surprising number of elderly structures have managed to survive, either in their original form or modified and adapted to new uses. Such buildings can tell us much about life and work on the farms of the past. Embodied in their very fabric is a wealth of information about farming methods and changing patterns of diet among the population, as well as a whole host of subtle clues about developments in fields as diverse as soil chemistry, mechanisation, breeding (of both plants and animals) and veterinary care - even labour relations and building technology.
Though this broadsheet focuses primarily on buildings, we can hardly escape noticing how farming has had a powerful effect on the appearance of the countryside itself. This can be a significant reflection of changes in the demand for food. As we switch from butter to low-cholesterol products, for instance, so we see more and more bright yellow fields of oilseed rape, the crop which yields the vegetable oils used in making margarine and cooking oils. The economics of agriculture have profoundly influenced the form of the British landscape, and altered the characteristics which past centuries of husbandry have given it. This broadsheet is intended to be the springboard to a deeper understanding of that process.
Some places to visit:
Note Many historic farm buildings, especially barns and dovecotes, are in the care of the National Trust and English Heritage - details from their handbooks. Working farms, especially in holiday areas, are often open to the public - details from Tourist Information Centres.
The British Land Company PLC, (Educational Publications), 10 Cornwall Terrace, Regent's Park, London NW1 4QP The text and illustrations are copyright but may be photocopied and circulated for classroom use.
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