Claire Wright, CLA Regional Surveyor on the benefits of travelling and exploring different types of farming.
Recently I have been away from the office on a trip to Sicily; whilst it was a great chance to relax it was also a fantastic opportunity to see completely different farming systems and how they have diversified their businesses.
In the Mediterranean climate, this largely rural island is largely dedicated to agricultural production. As we travelled around we saw olive groves, almond trees, and vineyards as well as citrus fruit. The agriculture is very low input so you see all sorts of wildflowers growing in the meadows and verges. There are still herds of sheep and cattle but in smaller numbers than you would see in the UK and they graze high pastures often wearing traditional bells and guarded by dogs to protect them from foxes and other predators. The forage harvest was just beginning with the first hay being baled and the alfalfa coming into beautiful purple flowers.
It was heartening to see how important quality, local food was to families. Meat is still routinely purchased from the local butcher who will show you the cut to ensure you are satisfied before being prepared to your specification; family meals are still cooked from scratch using fresh ingredients to create the delicious pasta sauces and eating establishments pride themselves on the quality of their menus. Even city dwellers value the importance of their food supplies.
In Italy & Sicily, they have what they call Agriturismos which essentially are farms that are also designed to receive guests whether that is for sit down meals in a restaurant, for holiday accommodation or a combination of both. The word agriturismo is a portmanteau of agricoltura (agriculture) and turismo (tourism) which I think is a lovely way of translating farm diversification. Whilst tourism in the remote rural areas is still somewhat lacking there are some farms which have chosen to embark on projects including horse riding holidays, yoga retreats and glamping enterprises. The planning system, however, seems to be something of a contradiction in terms with the rules changing on a whim meaning expensive permits must be re-applied for. Renewable energy is a big growth area although the number of wind turbines erected with little public consultation seems to have caused some degree of anger.
I would urge anyone who has the chance to travel away from the UK to seize it with both hands whether that is a short holiday with the family, a conference overseas or really taking the plunge and considering applying for a Nuffield scholarship. There is a big wide world waiting to be explored and no matter where you choose to go agricultural production is at the heart of it.