Christmas is over and a New Year begins, A New Year full of opportunity and expectation which has been rather blunted by various bodies warning of an impending credit squeeze and a fall in the economy. All of us face rising energy charges, from fuel for our cars to the electricity that powers our homes. In addition, there are the hidden charges that will be added to the price of goods in our shops and will eventually find their way into our wallets and purses. I suspect that for the foreseeable future, all of us are going to have to manage our household budgets a little more carefully. And because we have to do that, one group of people are likely to suffer more than most - our farmers. Last year was not a good year for farming, with foot and mouth restrictions reducing the price of some animals to below the cost of producing them and the heavy rain
of the summer destroying many crops and drastically reducing the harvest. Add to that the threat of Blue Tongue and Bird Flu and we can see that farmers are really struggling, even without the threat of recession.
But I think that most farmers will tell you that last years problems were a 'blip', something that crops up from time to time and must be taken as part and parcel of farming life. Their real problems lie in the fact that over the past few years they have been badly treated by the supermarkets and have been poorly supported by government agencies. Of every £1 you spend on food today, only 7.5p goes to the farmer. This compares with ten shillings (50p) fifty years ago. Dairy farmers are going out of business, or ceasing milking, faster than ever before because the price paid to them is below the cost of production - yet the supermarkets are charging us more! There are now twenty five percent less farm workers that there were ten years ago, because farmers can't afford to employ them. As a result, farmers are over worked, over stressed and are amongst the most at risk for suicide.
What can we, as church and community, do about this? St. Mary's in Hemyock and St. Andrew's in Clayhidon both sent generous donations from their Harvest services and suppers to The Farm Crisis Network. This is an organisation dedicated to helping farming people through difficult times. Those donations will add to the valuable work done by this support agency but they are a drop in the
ocean when compared with the needs many farmers.
When Jesus was asked which of the commandments were most important, he said "Love God with all your being and love your neighbour as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-40) Isn't it amazing how the answer to all the world's ills would seem to be summed up in that one statement? If we truly love others as we love ourselves, we do our utmost to see that they are treated as we want to be.
If we truly love God, then we will love those that he loves, which is the whole of creation.
So how do we translate that commandment into helping our farmers? Well, we can make further individual donations to The Farm Crisis Network (01788 510866 - www.farmcrisisnetwork.org.uk) but that would only provide short term relief. If we really want to support our farmers, there has to be a radical change in the way we buy our food. It is only through customers voting with their feet that the dominant supermarkets will sit up and take notice. There are currently only three supermarkets dedicated to fair trade for all farmers and two of them happen to be the smallest. If we, the people of the Blackdowns, simply switched our shopping to them, we would remove a sizable chunk of income from the two biggest supermarkets and give them pause for thought. We could also support our Farmers Markets, and even commit ourselves to say making 'one shop in four' exclusive to local suppliers.
Loving our neighbours as ourselves involves sacrifice. Not loving them is asking them to make sacrifices on our behalf. I hope that as we start considering how to stretch our own budgets, we might try to make it easier for our farmers to do the same.
With all good wishes,