19. All Creatures Great and Small – 15 August 2012

So finally I’ve had a week off work.  Rather than spending half my holiday in airport queues, I’ve decided to stay put and enjoy wandering around in the sun with my pigs.  Going out in the middle of the day with Snout and Crackling we meet all sorts of new people and pets.

Yesterday I had a chance encounter with Robert in Wendell Park.  Robert is the owner of Bruce, a seven-month old scorpion who, perhaps slightly alarmingly, is set to grow to 19 inches once he reaches maturity.  I wasn’t sure if Robert had chosen his pet’s name as a comical conjoint to his or not.  However I was interested that while Robert is happy for his scorpion to lark about on his hand, he is terrified of the smallest of spiders.  This particular breed of scorpion is not poisonous, Robert assured me, unless you suffer from anaphylactic shock when stung by a bee.  If you do, then Bruce the Scorpion will finish you off as well.  If you don’t then should Bruce prang you with his pincers you will feel dizzy for about five minutes and then recover.

I then met a delightful journalist called Kate Morris, who was out walking with her two children.  Kate writes for The Times and is also a published author but better still is the name of her blog: “Writing and Moaning”.  What a great name for a blog!   We fell to chatting about animals and I outlined my hopes for setting up and running a working farm in West London.

Call it a mid-life crisis, but I’ve been thinking very seriously about a change of job.  I have run my business as a designer and maker of haute couture womenswear for the best part of two decades and whilst I’m not about to give it up completely, I do hanker for something a bit different.  I had my “Eureka” moment in early June.  I enjoy running a business and I feel very peaceful and fulfilled when I’m around animals, of practically any description.  This knowledge coupled with an interest in animal welfare and food made me suddenly think of opening and running an urban farm in West London.

There are about fifteen urban farms in the capital but most of them are situated to the East.  Apart from Battersea Park Zoo, which is a zoo, not a farm and is also unique because it is privately owned and managed, there is a farm in Merton, one in Feltham and a farm for the disabled near Heathrow.  So for all those inhabitants of the areas between Feltham to the West, Merton to the South, Kentish Town to the North and Vauxhall to the East (that would be approximately 170,000 in Hammersmith and Fulham and 317,000 in Ealing before we look at the 170,00 in Kensington and Chelsea or the 287,000 in Wandsworth) there is no immediate access to a farm.

The reactions to my idea to set up and run a West London Farm have been mixed, a bit like the reactions to my pigs.  Some are hugely positive; others a bit confused.  And then there are those who just ask “why?”  Well, the answer is this:

Animals are a great source of comfort to man.  Not only do they provide us with food but they also offer companionship and support.  Studies conducted by the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens have shown what a positive effect working on a farm can have for children and adults from all backgrounds, particularly those who find it hard to become assimilated into mainstream society.   In terms of the comfort animals can offer, you only need to look at Japanese companies bringing dogs into offices to calm the frayed nerves of their employees to see how beneficial the presence of an animal is to human beings.

I also think that if we are going to eat animals, then it is important to recognise where our food comes from.  I was struck by a conversation that I had with an eight-year old boy in Wendell Park who assured me with some asperity that “pigs lay eggs”.  Try as I might, I could not convince him otherwise.  And he is not alone.  The number of children that I have spoken to who don’t realise where their food comes from or who have never thought about it at all, is extraordinary.  This has made me a bit unhinged and I now make my two-year old recite, “pigs make ham, chickens lay eggs, cows give milk” as a slightly demented mantra whenever we’re preparing meals together.

The aim of the farm is to make it as interactive as possible so that children and adults can touch and feed animals as well as spend time quietly observing them.  I rather hope that I shall be able to organize for children to learn how to remove an egg from under a hen and take their prize to the kitchen, watch it being cooked and eat it then and there.  I have been looking at Dexter cattle, which are a small breed of cow and studying different types of sheep and goats.  Of course there will be pigs and the hope will be to breed them and send some for slaughter so that we can sell our own meat.  My business plan is underway and emails fly backwards and forwards between me and the Hammersmith and Fulham Councillors responsible for community projects.

But in the meantime, I am preparing myself to combine my two loves, designing and animals, by answering a plea from Horseworld in Bristol.  Yesterday morning, whilst listening to the news, I heard that Gracie May, a seven-foot horse who weighs in at just over one ton is in need of a pair of bespoke pyjamas.  Gracie May suffers from an acute skin condition and is unable to wear a normal horse blanket and the manager of the yard at Horseworld is desperately in need of some help to alleviate this horse’s discomfort.  I last made a pair of pyjamas for a lady in Chelsea.  She seemed quite pleased and said they had improved her sleeping hours no end.  I can’t see why I can’t apply all the rules I have for making flat patterns for female humans to a female horse?  True, there are more legs than I am used to, but I’m sure I’ll manage.  Having arranged a visit to Gracie May, I rang my Head of Production at work and told her to schedule this project into the following weekly timetable.  My announcement was greeted with commendable sang-froid by my team and next week, Gracie May’s measurements will be listed alongside all the rest of our Current Clients.


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