The Future

Intensive farming yields an abundance of cheap food, but there are environmental consequences. Among the charges commonly levelled is the way ancient woodlands have been cleared, grasslands ploughed up and marshes drained in an attempt to create more farmland which ironically has now, in some cases, been 'set aside'. There is criticism too of the way that natural patterns are subverted by a monoculture (or one-crop) system. Pesticides have had a disastrous effect on wildlife species, while waterways are polluted by fertilisers leaching off the land. It has been claimed that such farming actually consumes about ten calories of energy for every one calorie contained in the food. Even organic farming methods, often championed as producing more 'natural' food, only reduce the energy ratio to about six to one. And yet, however dismal the peasant farmer's life, the feudal system of agriculture was actually sustainable in ecological terms - the energy used came from natural sources, especially animal and human muscles. An alternative now being tried is permaculture -permanent agriculture. This is a harmonious integration of landscape and people, providing food, energy, shelter and other needs in a sustainable way. The philosophy is one of working with, rather than against, nature. Plants grow together in natural ecosystems, as in unspoiled forest or meadowland, but in a planned and productive way. Though present experiments are mostly confined to small-scale market gardening, the general adoption of such methods, it is suggested, could have significant benefits in terms of productivity, labour and energy input, the elimination of pollutants and the ability not only to conserve but also to create soil. Will we then witness the re-emergence of the small farm, its energy needs drawn from solar panels and wind turbines, its buildings exploiting local materials and craft skills, its fields supporting a careful and infinitely varied mix of crops and animals?

Further Reading

Roy Brigden, Victorian Farms (Crowood Press, 1986)
R W Brunskill, Traditional Farm Buildings of Britain (Gollancz, 1987)
John Burnett, Plenty and Want: A Social History of Diet (Pelican, 1968)
Tim Buxbaum, Scottish Doocots (Shire Publications, 1987)
G Darley, The National Trust Book of the Farm (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981)
David J Everleigh, The Victorian Farmer (Shire Publications, 1991)
A Fenton and B Walker, The Rural Architecture of Scotland (John Donald, 1981)
Peter and Jane Hansell, Dovecotes (Shire Publications, 1988)
Nigel Harvey, A History of Farm Buildings in England and Wales (David and Charles, 1984)
Nigel Harvey, Old Farm Buildings (Shire Publications, 1987)
Jeremy Lake, Historic Farm Buildings ( Blandford, 1989)
J Kenneth Major, Animal-powered Machines (Shire Publications, 1985)
G E Mingay, Rural Life in Victorian England (Heinemann, 1977)
G E Mingay, The Victorian Countryside (Routledge, 1981)
R S Morton, Traditional Farm Architecture in Scotland (Ramsey Head Press, 1976)
J E C Peters, Discovering Traditional Farm Buildings (Shire Publications, 1991)
Christopher Powell, Stables and Stable Blocks (Shire Publications, 1991)
Anthony Quiney, House and Home (BBC Books, 1986)
Anthony Quiney, The Traditional Buildings of England (Thames and Hudson, 1990)
J M Robinson, Georgian Model Farms (Oxford University Press, 1983)
E William, Historic Farm Buildings of Wales (John Donald, 1986)
J Woodforde, Farm Buildings (Routledge, 1983)

1990 - The Modern Farm

British Land Broadsheets