22 December 2020
Faith and farming in West Devon
In the final blog in our series about faith and farming we hear from Bridget Down who lives and farms in Devon with her family.
Squelch, Squelch, Splosh… the noise created as we take a walk out to see some of the beef stock. ‘Mummy’ Oh no Jack has lost his welly in the mud but has kept on walking! Lily now is stuck in the mud trying to pull the article out of the quagmire, as Barney squeals that he simply can't go through and Alfie, where’s Alfie? He is embracing the puddles and now has covered us all in muddy water, all as the rain continues. A bedraggled bunch of beef bullocks look on at the crazy humans and their plight.
I am firstly a Mummy to four creative children who usually embrace the outdoors with enthusiasm. I am married to a 5th generation famer, farming Smytham Farm in the War Horse Valley; in West Devon. We are a mixed farm with beef bred here on the farm, supplemented by extra calves from my Father-in-law's cousin's dairy herd…everyone is related in these parts! The cattle are nourished on food produced on the farm and then sold to the local abattoir 5 miles away. To make life a little more colourful there are the 3 pigs in the orchard, a feral goat and the odd pregnant ewe wandering through the yard too!
As a family we serve in lay ministry within the West Devon Methodist Circuit, as volunteers with youth and family work, worship leading and I am currently working to become a Local Preacher. Whilst the children are at school and my husband is out on the farm, I keep busy working for the Methodist Learning Network as a Learning Development Officer serving the South West, which I immensely enjoy; seeing lots of the stories, experiences, networks and paths that God has brought my way, come together at a crossroads.
Our home was a resting space for many others outside our family, the kettle always on, the cake tin raided, conversations amongst the cows or providing space in the woods for contemplation was the rhythm in life. Covid-19 and its ensuing restrictions have changed that. All seems quiet, our purpose, our gifting and resources not fully used, which has left us feeling frustrated. This is something I am sure will resonate with others too.
But instead of looking to the darkness as a family we try to actively choose to look for the glimpses of light, joy and learning. We have to be thankful for the space and time to reflect, and the way in which we’ve used the countryside to frame our sacred worship time each week. We’ve learnt so much about each other and about ourselves; these precious glimpses would have been so much harder to hear in the old cluttered world. So now going forward what will we choose to continue to carry and what are we being prompted to lay aside?
These same ponderings bleed into the changing landscape for rural life. We are moving as a community of farmers and rural dwellers; as trade agreements surface, new subsidy criteria and agendas are pushed, the world in which we inhabit is faced with new territory, new challenge and new priorities. As a farm we have the means to be agile and change, but those years of security and tradition may just be the anchor that makes the mountain harder to climb, or will it in fact be that heritage that gives us the confidence to walk into the stodgy, unstable, boggy ground; showing us a way through? May it be that we find joy in embracing the new, and even those muddy puddles will provide something for us to think about today?