Bradley Nook Farm
Jay Wilde’s family bought the farm in 1956 and Jay helped his father run it as an organic farm until his father’s death in 2011. As a long term vegetarian, Jay found taking the cows to be slaughtered to be very unsettling and was always on the lookout for alternatives. In the summer of 2017, after speaking to The Vegan Society, the 59 year old farmer decide to give up 59 of his cattle to a UK sanctuary to be cared for. He felt so guilty sending the cows to be slaughtered that he could no longer operate the farm the same way he had in the past and believed he could create an alternative business model that did not rely on animals as commodities. They have kept a handful of cows on the property as they truly care for the animals and enjoy their presence.
Jay Wilde’s family bought the farm in 1956 and Jay helped his father run it as an organic farm until his Jay and Katja are planning to build a permaculture farm and vegan cooking school on the farm property now. They hope to add a restaurant as well to the operations. Jay and Katja believe they have a unique opportunity in their community to show the true “farm to table” lifestyle, teaching visitors how to grow the food and also how to prepare plant-based dishes. They are in the middle of transforming and have had their challenges with figuring out what was best for their life, their remaining animals and the future of their land.
I was born into a farming family in the late 1950s. My father milked around 60 cows on Bradley Nook Farm at the time.
It was understood as a matter of course that I would work on the farm after leaving school and that I would eventually inherit. Our cows were housed in Victorian cow sheds which meant that all cleaning out and foddering was manual labour as machinery access was impossible.
While we had the milk cows, we would fill the milk jug as soon as it was empty and eating meat was considered essential for a hard-working farmer. Not having meat available at all times was unthinkable in my family.
Like all farmer’s children, we were roped into the business as soon as was possible and in summer it was our job to douse the animals in insecticide each afternoon after driving them in from the pasture – a procedure that has left thousands of farmers with a legacy of poor health as Health and Safety barely featured in those days.
A much nicer job for us children was feeding the calves with calf milk and barley gruel.
Still, my family took the time to engage with the wildlife on the land and we learned a lot from our dad. He never engaged with business-like intensive farming and thus our land was spared most of the artificial fertilizers and herbicides then regarded as essential for efficient and productive farming which allowed a host of species to carry on growing on the farm.
In my late 20s I joined a transcendental meditation group for a while to alleviate the stress of 15-hour days. In that group, I met for the first time people who chose to be vegetarians for ethical reasons.
This very much chimed with my own feelings for the animals I cared for and I chose to go vegetarian myself.
Carrying on with the farm work was more difficult after acknowledging and acting upon my feelings, but circumstances and farming traditions prevented me from finding a way out.
Life became a bit less strenuous after changing to organic beef production in 1997 as the milking routine fell away and the animals were finally housed in a new, modern cattle shed. Nevertheless, the objective of the business was still to have the animals killed eventually and that became more obvious with the need of monitoring weight and condition for the sale. Loading them up for transport became ever more difficult to endure.
Also, the road was open to get into a stewardship scheme. Some of our fields are protected as organic hay meadows and other fields are protected to maintain the historic plough lines, called ‘ridge and furrow’, that show as undulations in the ground.
As my father grew older, I had the occasional chance to make minor changes, but he firmly held grip of the reins right until his death. This has been quite common in British farming families.
I have always had an interest in all things technical and ecological and I have been aware of pollution, climate change and their impact on the environment for a very long time. It pained me to be stuck in a situation where I was forced to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. After my father’s death I therefore invested all my savings into a largish solar PV array feeding electricity into the national grid to make up at least in part for the pollution we caused with keeping livestock.
For decades now, I have avoided driving whenever possible, I never fly and use my (now) electric bicycle to travel locally.
My wife Katja came to the farm in 2008 to help me with an idea I had to stop farming and selling renewable energy technology instead, but my dad would not even tolerate mentioning the idea.
We were asked to host a camp of an environmental activists’ group around then – to which my dad did not object – and they returned two or three times after that. Veggies Catering Service from Nottingham provided their meals and during one camp they made me aware of The Vegan Society’s Grow Green campaign.
Their aim is to support farmers in transitioning from livestock farming to growing vegetables certified by the Vegan Organic Network. That means: no manure, no slurry, no blood, fish and bones, no pesticides, no artificial fertilizer, but instead plant compost and fitting soil-improving ‘green manures’ into a strategic crop rotation as well as the invitation of invertebrates through wildflowers and beetle banks.
It took me a year or so to give The Vegan Society a call but things happened very quickly after that. Within 3 months the majority of our herd had been accepted by Hillside Animal Sanctuary and within another three months, they had moved to their new home in Norfolk. We have kept 17 animals who continue to graze some of our fields, supporting the important fauna and flora dependent on their organic manure.
The speediness of the initial change was a drawback for the planning of the growing business, but after three years of hiccups, we are nearing the point where things can actually happen.
We were invited to join Refarm’d on the back of the publicity this transition received and we were impressed with the concept as it doesn’t condemn farmers but allows them to make a living while being able to gradually change their daily routine, the management of their land and their attitude towards animals, farming and themselves.
Becoming involved in the Refarm’d project compliments what we are planning to do on the rest of the farm: producing food that has not caused harm to anybody and making more room for nature.