Photo: my farm
Being a farmer sounds romantic and clean and pure...but if you don't have time and can't give up the day job, here's a way to still get a taste of it.
The National Trust, the UK's largest farmland owner and a charity, has just introduced My Farm: it's a large working farm that will be taken over by web users who will be able to vote on all the farm decisions.
Inspired by Facebook's Farmville, this one will have 10,000 members, not 47 million. If you are over 13 and willing to pay £30 ( $49) a year, then you can vote on all the big decisions at Wimpole Home Farm, a 1,200 acre farm in the English countryside.
They will start with the simple ones; whether to plant wheat, oats or barley, but slowly move on to bigger dilemmas. However the farm manager retains the right to veto decisions that will damage profitability or threaten its organic status.
The first big one is which crops to grow on one of the key fields of the farm. But members don't just jump in un-informed. Instead, they spend a couple of weeks in discussions exploring the question. Information to help people decide will be provided through blogs and videos. The farmer will state his recommendations and then there is a vote. Other decisions will include which crops to plant, which bulls to buy and whether to spend money on measures to encourage wildlife, such as new hedgerows.
It could be tricky and there is a risk of factions developing such as animal rights groups, or members wanting to grow dope instead of oats, but a web moderator will be used to try and encourage informed decisions. As the farm manager says, "farming is always a compromise. If I choose one thing, my neighbour will be leaning over the fence shaking his head."
There is a blog that keeps readers up to date on the farm's day to day life. It is quite enticing; for example there was an abandoned calf and they had to analyse why it had been abandoned and eventually they realized that "there was no way this cow was going to care for the calf so we have brought it back to the farm."
Small farming is in crisis as mega agriculture companies take over, so this really isn't a game. As one farmer noted "Unless British farms can operate at a profit, then 'farming' will simply be exported to countries with much lower animal welfare standards than ours, and certainly no money spent on keeping the birds, wild flowers, etc happy."
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