In our new series, I quit my job to farm, we look at people and families from across the country who decided they would leave their current lives and give it all up to farm.
What job were you doing before you entered farming?
I worked in property in London and Chelmsford from 2009-2012. I then completed an education degree and trained as a teacher from 2013-2016 in Essex.
When did you decide ‘this is it? I’m quitting?’
I had always aspired to work in London, like my parents had done, and thought as soon as I was living the city life I would have ‘made it’ and be a ‘proper grown up’. But I soon realised I was chasing someone else’s dream. I was trying to achieve what I thought other people would see as success and frankly I didn’t care what my job was because that wasn’t how I defined myself.
Although being proud of where you work is a great feeling, it does not come before being happy in life or having time for your friends and family. I was getting the 7am train to work and getting home just after 7pm and it was exhausting. I remember standing on the platform, completely exhausted, and thinking ‘why am I doing this’? I was trying to think of a reason why and I couldn’t think of a single one, as soon as I got into work I knew I had to get out of London and out of that environment.
What happened next?
I started to train as a teacher in 2013, with a degree in early years education at the University of Essex. I always had a passion for educating others and I find working with young people, although equally exhausting, incredibly inspiring and rewarding. The fact I started my own educational smallholding was not because I didn’t want to go into teaching in a conventional school, it was simply a different way to continue teaching while also combining two passions of mine, education and farming. I am still teaching, just in a way I would have been unable to do in a normal educational setting.
What farming experience did you have?
Zero. My first taste of farming was when I moved onto an arable farm in 2013 and I used to help feed two pet pigs and two pet goats when my boss was on holiday. I re-homed four ex-caged hens in summer 2015, which again was only a very small taste of real farming but it fuelled my passion to farm livestock in a much bigger way.
How did you build experience?
Although I wasn’t yet sure how to make Muddy Boots Farm happen, I just knew I would find a way, so I started reading a lot of non-fiction farming books. I remember buying every farming-related book I could find on a second-hand book website and reading them all cover to cover while on holiday to Cornwall. I was so interested in what seemed like an alien world to me that it didn’t feel a chore. I just wanted to know more as I knew in my heart that one day I would have a farm full of animals and this could only benefit me and them.
Did you attend any courses?
After my crazed reading sessions, either through concern or support, my boyfriend at the time enrolled me onto a smallholding course in Wales. I honestly think he thought I would be put off once I had experienced the weather, the mud and the hard graft in the real world of farming, but it only encouraged me to get further experience with livestock and, in particular, with sheep.
After the course, I also attended a lambing weekend in Devon and, despite being looked up and down on day one as I was a 24 year old Essex girl, with perfectly manicured nails and fancy spotless wellies, I proved I was perfectly capable and extremely keen to get hands-on with the animals. By lunchtime on the second day, I was tipping sheep and bottle feeding lambs and my wellies were most certainly a lot muddier on the trip home than when I arrived.
What was it about farming that you liked?
The first thing which attracted me to farming was the ability to work with animals. I have always been an animal lover and am a keen promoter of high animal welfare.
If you offered me a job on an arable farm I cannot say it sounds too appealing to me, but a chance to work with the different characters I come across every day puts a smile on my face and makes my job worthwhile.
Of course, with farming you cannot get attached to every animal but the fact I know every animal on my farm has a good life with me gives me great pride. Farming also means I can work outside and, even though in winter, especially this year, it means I am freezing cold and usually knee deep in mud, knowing spring is just around the corner brings me great joy.
Is the industry different to what you expected?
The farming community is the most welcoming and supportive group of people I have ever met. I was so worried about being young and inexperienced and being a first generation female farmer, I felt I would be immediately judged and not welcome. I can honestly say though, apart from a handful of people, I have been welcomed with open arms and could not have done it without the help my fellow farmers have given me.
It is not just those based near me who help me by loaning equipment or sharing feed deliveries, but also those I have never met before, who support me by answering my questions via social media. I have a lot of people in the industry to thank for helping me making it this far.
What has been your biggest obstacle?
Finding land was a huge struggle. Coming from outside the farming community and living in a rather affluent area, I had a hard time. But I found an arable farmer with a few acres to rent and I jumped on the chance. Once he saw my passion and determination to make Muddy Boots Farm work, he was happy for me to take on the land and see what I could do.
As soon as people saw me working hard on my smallholding, I had offers for other grazing land in the nearby town. It took that first farmer believing in me, then once I had shown what I could do other people were offering land to me so I could expand. I now rent from three different land owners and have enough land for my animals, with the possibility of growth later in the year.
Do you ever regret your decision?
I remember in the recent storm, when we had five foot snow drifts and I was walking back and forth to the farm five times a day to unfreeze the animals’ water, I did think to myself if I was a teacher I would have a comfy, warm classroom to teach from and I wouldn’t have even had to go into work today.
And yes, I would earn more as a teacher. I would have a pension to look forward to, sick pay and holiday pay, but is life simply about being comfortable? No. Life is about living your dream.
Once you have found something which gives you that warm feeling inside, which makes you jump out of bed to bottle feed lambs at 2am and makes you happy, you would not give it up for the world, let alone a comfy paid lunch break in the staff room, though I do miss the cake.
How do you use the farm to work with children?
The children help me with all the usual farm duties. This can include bedding down the goats, mucking out the pigs, collecting the eggs, cleaning out the chickens, grooming the goats, raking up the leaves and so on. It is very child-led and preference dependent, so the children can basically dictate what activities they participate in and for how long.
Do you work with the local community?
At the moment it is just families of local children, as I do not have the space to accommodate the average class size schools would want to bring. We have seasonal periods and are only open May-Oct. We tend to do every other Saturday for weekend clubs, every other Tuesday for after school clubs and open days one Sunday a month. We have birthday parties and school holiday clubs throughout the year too.
What would you say to other people thinking of starting a career in farming, or following in your footsteps?
If you think farming could be your dream career then go and experience life on a real, working farm. There are plenty of courses you can attend, or just speak to a local farmer and just see if you can shadow them for the day.
Working farms are very different to petting farms and being involved in farming as a business is very different to having a few pets. If you are still in love with the idea of farming after that, then all you will need is passion, determination, self-motivation and hard work to make it in the industry.
Farming is never going to be the career you choose because it is easy or to make loads of money but if, like me, it gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside then you have to pursue your dream.