Farming designer aims to change the debate over meat
PUBLISHED: 08:15 11 January 2020 | UPDATED: 08:15 11 January 2020
Copyright: Archant 2020
Cattle farmers should build better relationships with their customers in order to stave off a barrage of negativity in the media - according to a Norfolk beef producer with a parallel career as a textile designer and countryside blogger.
Her farming roots have always been a major influence on Izzi Rainey's design career.
But as the 27-year-old sought to expand her hands-on role running her beef herd at Foulsham, near Fakenham, some friends and family questioned the timing of her decision.
After establishing her textiles and homewares brand five years ago she has also been gradually building up the numbers of Highland and Lincoln Red cattle, and launched a beef box scheme in October.
It coincided with a difficult time for farming's public image. First, the BBC documentary Meat: A Threat To Our Planet angered farmers with its portrayal of the environmental impact of livestock, and this week a Channel 4 documentary called Apocalypse Cow - fronted by vegan activist George Monbiot and aired during the annual anti-meat campaign of Veganuary - also claimed meat was "killing the planet".
But Miss Rainey says she has been able to use the marketing expertise from her parallel design career to tell a positive story of pasture-fed, slow-grown animals which has resonated with the people who buy her products.
Now she has urged other cattle farmers to break free from their insular boundaries and build better relationships with their customers in order to stave off the storm of negativity in the media.
"People asked why I was doing it, they said it was a really bad time," she said. "When you sell to butchers or meat co-operatives you get no feedback, but going to farmers' markets and selling meat boxes you get direct feedback from customers and it made me feel a lot better.
"The connection with the customer - that is the thing. When that BBC programme went out and everyone was up in arms the only people that were backing us up were the National Farmers' Union or Farmers Weekly.
"That is all very well, but they only reach farmers so you are only telling people who already know. Farming never reaches out beyond that.
"At the end of the day we are not selling our meat to farmers. We are selling to consumers. That is why I do Instagram and write blogs. My whole thinking, all the time, is: I am not trying to talk to other farmers, I am trying to make it accessible and show people who are going to buy my product what is going on. I will say the cows might be muddy and its not pretty, but they are outside and they are happy."
Miss Rainey, said she had been "really upset" by recent TV portrayals of farming.
"Life here is so much different to what they are portraying," she said. "There is so much wildlife thriving here. I spend so much time outdoors and I love the countryside so why would I want to destroy it?"
She counters this with positive imagery from her "Over the Farm Gate" blog and her @heytherefarmgirl Instagram account, which has almost 7,000 followers.
"Most people have never stepped foot on a farm, so it is just about sharing a bit of that," she said.
"I just want people to connect with it a bit more. There's no point being negative. If you shout horrible things at people they will just come back at you. I just want to say to people to share their images and don't try to tell people it is always idyllic, because that isn't the case. We just need to be more accessible to our customer."
Miss Rainey launched her design company with school friend Lara Mullis in 2014 after graduating from the Glasgow School of Art, and the pair's designs are inspired by the rural farming lifestyle and landscape around them, including the Highland cattle which Miss Rainey tends in-between planning trade fairs, taking orders or creating new designs.
If she is away from the farm, she said her father Graham, who turns 80 this year, or her sister Olivia, who is a specialist nurse at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, will step in to help.