Growing up on a farm
PUBLISHED: 16:46 07 June 2018
Hundred River Farm
With Open Farm Sunday this weekend, a farmer’s daughter and granddaughter talks about the joys of a farm childhood.
“We would take our tents and camp down on the marshes,” said Chloe Donovan. “In some holidays we were there for weeks at a time. We loved it, but I think we took it for granted, the space, the peace, the wildlife, the freedom, the chance to make things like bows and arrows for archery.”
Chloe, now 23, remembers turning her family’s farm in the Waveney valley, into a magical makeshift camp site every summer, with siblings, cousins and friends going as free range as the animals.
And then there were the field cars. “We always had old cars we could drive around the fields,” said Chloe.
The family farm is Hundred River Farm, on the Sotterley estate near Beccles. (It hasn’t got 100 rivers; the name of the tributary of the Waveney flowing through it is Hundred River. “A big percentage of the farm is under water every year,” said Chloe.
Her grandparents, uncle, aunt and cousins live here. Chloe grew up in nearby Ship Meadow, but was always a part of day-to-day farm life.
Growing up with the annual cycles of ploughing and sowing and harvest meant an intimate understanding of the natural world. “You have a respect for the natural cycle of the seasons, and for the countryside, knowing that you are at the mercy of the elements. You are hoping it rains when it needs to and is dry when it needs to be and you can get in all the harvest,” said Chloe.
Her grandparents, Tony and Margaret Hall, live in the farmhouse and when they retired from the day-to-day running of the farm, handed it on to the next generation. Chloe’s uncle Leonard is farm manager and her mum, Jacqueline, who originally trained as a teacher, helps run the farm. Known as Farmer Jackie, she leads groups introducing people to the farm animals and native wildlife with tours and workshops as well as parent and toddler groups which meet on the farm to enjoy the fresh air and wide open spaces as well as developing new skills and an understanding of the farming and the countryside.
Chloe is one of five children. Her older sister has just qualified as a vet and a brother works in outdoor education, while the two youngest are still at school. But all of them have grown up helping on the farm and today Chloe works for the family business part-time, running its website and social media, and is an administrator for a group of creative businesses in London for the rest of the week – using the admin skills learned on the farm. Her grandparents launched the Farmers’ Market at Ellough, near Beccles, which still runs fortnightly, with Chloe involved in running that too.
“Farming is a lot about community and family,” said Chloe. “Mum’s cousins are farmers not too far away so it’s a case of borrowing a tractor or helping out.”
It sounds like that famous everyday story of country folk, The Archers. “All of us children had to be quiet when the Archers came on the radio at my grandparents’ house!” said Chloe. “I wouldn’t say our lives are quite as dramatic but there are similarities – and I know they do Open Farm Sunday, just like we do.
As a child she was insulated from many of the worries of farming. The farm used to have a dairy herd but when that became unprofitable it refocused on all-year outdoor beef cattle, plus potatoes, silage, and the pigs, goats and chickens kept as part of its educational outreach – and a very popular summer maize maze.
Wildlife is encouraged too. “There are a lot of owls on the farm because of our wide wild field margins and there are linnets, otters, water voles and hares,” said Chloe. Even the microbes found on farms are now known to be good for children’s immune systems.
And if she has her own children she hopes to bring them up as farm children. “I really don’t think you can get the same richness of experience anywhere else. There’s the peace and tranquillity, but there’s also learning how to handle tools as you build animal pens, or mend something. Even the mud and microbes are now said to be good for you,” she said.
Hundred River Farm will be open for Open Farm Sunday this weekend.
The small family farm has big ambitions to help reconnect children with the natural world and food production.
Its Open Farm Sunday activities will begin with animal feeding at 11am and includes a farm walk at 1pm and bug hunting and den building from 2-4pm. Entry fee £3.50, places should be booked at hundredriverfarm.co.uk
Hundred River Farm, Valley Farm, Sotterley, near Beccles, NR34 7UH.
For full details of all the farms open in Norfolk and Suffolk for Open Farm Sunday on June 10 visit farmsunday.org