It started about two months ago….
A random email dropped into the GDO inbox asking whether some Chinese delegates from Jiyang County in Shandong could visit to discuss modern agriculture. Amongst the delegates were the Vice County Chief of Jiyang County Government, and their Director of the Agricultural Bureau plus three other important dignitaries from their province. The polite email from the County Government Office asked whether they might be able to meet with the following aims:
“To learn agriculture information, especially the Farm Diversification and Tourism
To introduce good policy in the environment and modern agriculture industry
To explore the cooperation in the field of modern agriculture
Above all, we wonder whether we can have a communication visit to your Good Day Out in UK.”
Naturally we said yes!!
Then followed a few exchanges until late last week when visas had been sorted, flights booked and they were suddenly coming, but most alarmingly they were coming to the UK just to visit Good Day Out after a short stay in Israel! No pressure or what!!!!?
Long story short, we have just had an interesting and entertaining two half days with the charming delegates and their guide/interpreter, visiting a variety of farmers where many questions were asked and answered, and hopefully a dialogue has opened towards giving them ideas how to add value to their small farms, boosting farmers’ incomes, and to help their fledgling tourism industry. It feels like a privilege to be asked to help inspire developing policy that could not only enhance earnings for some of the poorer subsistence farmers in the world, but also having the opportunity to communicate the value of high quality produce and clean green energy and animal welfare to a country that has sometimes been slow to value these things in its haste to industrialise.
Our first port of call was naturally the very excellent Aberhyddnant Farm in our local Brecon Beacons area of the Upper Usk Valley. Good Day Out has worked with the Matthews family for over four years, creating and developing the fun and curiously mindful Sheep Trekking, and marketing farm experience days on the 200 acre organic farm including Lambing and Shearing. The family have embraced the Good Day Out experience days which started as a vehicle to both giving daughter Nicola income to get through teacher training, but also to encourage more people to stay in their comfy family-friendly holiday cottages that are converted barns on the informal and friendly farm.
Our Chinese delegation were on a tight time frame but managed a brief tour of the lower farm buildings including meeting the Jacobs, and they also visited the barns where Nicola’s sister Bethan keeps horses on livery which is another welcome income to the farm. We also invited Nerys Hammond from Farming Connect who helped with planning the visit and was able to add some useful comments about farming subsidies and government help for smaller producers.
Over tea & cakes, farmer Paul Matthews talked with the delegates about the farm and its environmental credentials including their hydro powered electrics and organic status, as well as the other different elements of their farm production. Far too brief a visit but onwards to our next destination…..
Keri Davies of neighbouring Glwydcaenewydd Farm was the second visit of the Chinese
delegation’s trip where he showed the group some of their beautiful holiday accommodation which is also in the rural village of Crai. Keri jumped at the chance to meet the visitors, seeing this as a great opportunity to open an exchange of information between the two areas. He said:
“I think it is really great that this Chinese province took the initiative to come for a fact-finding mission to see for themselves how other countries help their farming communities and encourage diversification for additional income. That they found Good Day Out on the internet and chose to base their UK trip on this area, which is a reflection on the great innovative tourism ideas that this area has.”
Keri took the opportunity to talk about his current project, where a small group of like-minded farmers have formed an Agriscope group facilitated by Catherine Nakielny at Farming Connect to to pilot different land use to maintain and enhance clean drinking water for the Brecon beacons mega catchments project supplying 90% of wales population.
After the discussions at the first two farms, it became apparent that the delegates were keen to look at specifically produced based agricultural diversification ideas, so we popped over to visit another local farmer, Andy Matthews at Aberbran Fawr near Brecon.
Although now out of season for their core businesses of both camping / caravans, and their pick-your-own produce, we had a very interesting and productive hour walking around the site, also seeing the produce areas including hydroponic systems and soil-less growth mediums on raised beds to help where soil nutrients have been depleted over time and the land can rest. The delegates enjoyed seeing the quality of produce and were very interested in the tourism possibilities, even going away with some lovely jam!
Unfortunately running late so we were unable to pop by the excellent Beacons Farm Shop which would have been a good way to convey the quality and wide range of local producers, but a lucky phone call the day before had enabled the group to visit Welsh Farmhouse Apple Juice who were fortuitously just pressing their last apples of the season.
At their beautiful farmhouse with one of the best views in the area at Llangenny above Crickhowell, Margaret Morris was kind enough to talk the delegates through the process of juice extraction and pasteurisation to create their high quality distinctive drinks. Sold locally through farm shops, restaurants and hotels, the juices are particularly special as they bottle specific varieties rather than pooling pressings, so each variety has its own taste. All appreciated a tasting – with all loving the Bramley! As Margaret pointed out, this would be a very easy type of small scale production to implement in China, particularly in their temperate region with an abundance of fruit growers.
So the whistle-stop tour was over and our new friends headed off to Heathrow, but hopefully we have started a dialogue and given them some ideas for small scale change. Looking forward to keeping in touch, and so pleased they chose the beautiful Brecon Beacons for their first visit!