It all started with a quick phone call from BBC Radio Manchester asking for his take on this year's bonkers weather. The next thing you know, my Dad's not-very dulcet tones are booming out across almost every BBC outlet there is. The August Bank Holiday was a funny old day on the farm...
This makes him the ideal person to handle the interview requests we get coming into the farm every now and then. Over the years he's spoken on most local TV and radio stations and the occasional national broadcast too.
But even for an old-hand like my Dad, the amount of air-time he got this time around was something new.
The BBC got in touch on the Sunday afternoon to explain their lead story the following day was to be about food price rises. The rises are the result of the crazy weather we've had in 2018. As a reminder: first soaking wet, the freezing cold, then boiling hot. This has played havoc with British farming and the BBC wanted to speak to representatives from the industry to get their side of the story. The fact that Farmer Tod has spoken to them before and we're only 20 minutes from their new offices in Salford probably swung their decision to get in touch.
Whatever the reasons, the BBC Breakfast film crew (including presenter Holly Hamilton) arrived at 6am on Monday morning. Stood in a muddy field of sorry looking oats, under wet and windy skies, Holly interviewed dad twice live on air - the broadcasts going out to around a million people across the country.
Having been spotted on BBC Breakfast, a number of other BBC programmes then got in touch with the same request and before the day was out he'd done separate interviews with BBC Radio 5 Live, Radio 4 (Today programme), Radio Manchester and North West tonight.
So what was he talking about? Well his best performance in my opinion came on the local evening news, so if you've got a couple of minutes then take a look...
- The weather this last 12 months has been been atrocious.
- We've suffered, along with most other British farmers. We're looking at over 50% crop failure across our fruit, potatoes and cereals. Everything we do!
- This will mean price rises for you as customers - not specifically at our farm shop, but in all shops and supermarkets around the country.
- We appreciate this isn't good news for consumers.
- We'd like you to appreciate this isn't good news for us farmers either. It's a sad state of affairs all round.
I guess most people would think it's for publicity? Well possibly. There's certainly no harm in having the farm's name popping up across people's TV screens, and we did have a few new faces come to the cafe that day having heard the interviews. But this being the BBC, it's not really appropriate to plug the business or conduct the interview in front of a banner saying "Please visit Kenyon Hall". In fact as you can see in the video, when he wore a branded fleece, the cameraman chose to film him from the neck up!
In reality, the main reason my Dad puts himself forward for these interviews is that he feels it's vitally important to speak passionately about, and raise awareness of British farming. It's wonderful when he gets opportunity to show off the good things such as the fresh local produce or people's enthusiasm for picking pumpkins. But it's equally important to him to speak on behalf of British farmers about the challenges facing the industry, such as the impact of the weather this year.
Farmers have a long history of 'ploughing on' through tough times and diversifying as needed to keep on going. We're determined to keep farming. I've given up a 15 year IT career to come back here. My Dad's determined to die with his boots on (his words!). We've got too many amazing staff to simply give up. But we also need the support of our local community.
By choosing to shop in the farm shop, pick in the fields or eat in the cafe, you're not just helping us to keep farming, but also supporting the 100+ small-scale farmers, bakers and makers who supply us with their own produce. And that's helping sustain all of their workers. All of which helps to keep farming a viable way of life here in Cheshire and Lancashire.
But we can't expect to survive on goodwill alone. For our part, we're already working on ways to make the farm more resilient to the whims of the weather. We've just kicked off a new chapter in the farm's life by looking at growing some of our fruit indoors - inside polytunnels. This would make our fruit available for more months of the year, less susceptible to too much rain or too much sun and allow us to grow an even greater variety of fruits. And what's more, by planting strawberries on table-tops, you wouldn't even need to bend down to pick them! I'll keep you posted on how this plan progresses over the next few months, and in the meantime I'm off to get an autograph from famous Farmer Tod!
James Bulmer, 8th September 2018