Derek has farmed around 170 acres of the Estate for at least 30 years - originally mostly for livestock. I met him and his daughter, Louise on a beautiful spring morning, heading for the cattle shed where a newly born calf was having trouble learning how to suckle. We walked through their wonderfully haphazard farmyard, past some scratching chickens and ancient outbuildings to a cattle shed, strewn deep with straw and I watched as Louise distracted the cow with a bucket of food and Derek calmly and gently eased the newborn towards the teat. It was about as far from modern, efficient, steel and concrete cattle farming as I could imagine - more like like watching a nostalgic throwback to the 1930s.
But to categorise Derek as a diehard traditionalist would be a serious mistake. As we walked around his farm it became clear that I had met a creative business innovator who had found a way to survive on 170 acres, against all the odds. We looked at 3 acres that he had set aside for high-value, semi-organic market garden goods such as purple sprouting broccoli (my favourite!), cut flowers, rhubarb and new potatoes. It all looked great, but how do you sell it? The scale was just too small and 'non-synthetic' for the supermarkets to be interested. Then Derek began to explain how he had worked with his farming contacts to start up a network of local farmers' markets, selling produce direct to the public. In fact he had quite literally created his own market and now makes tens of thousands a year from his 3 acres. We also looked at his wildlife pond, which doubles as a commercial coarse fishery, talked about his holiday campsite, his guided bluebell walks, jams and preserves, his Christmas tree and Christmas wreath sales and his meat produce.
Of course the farm is full of wildlife and Derek has had time to lay his hedges in the traditional way, avoiding the use of agrochemicals most of the time. We popped back to the ancient farmhouse for a quick cuppa and while the Collies lounged in front of the Rayburn, Derek explained how age was catching up with him and how he hoped Louise and her partner would be able to take over the tenancy. The whole thing looked and seemed idyllic and I began to wonder why more farmers hadn't opted for this lifestyle, instead of being caught up in the race for increased production, mechanisation and bank debts.
I'm sure Derek's creativity and innovative attitude has helped a great deal, but there's no escaping that the unsung heroes here are the Estate. Without their hugely subsidised rents, Derek would have been out of business and the farm combined into a larger, highly mechanised unit years ago. It seems society really does have to decide whether we want cheap, plentiful food or wildlife-rich, beautiful countryside. If we want both, someone, somehow, still has to pay for it.
To find out more about Derek's farm, please see: www.daylandsfarm.co.uk