The author has written, at times from the heart, about the joys, responsibilities and pain of becoming a smallholder. She has covered each of the major aspects of smallholding in ten chapters, followed by a very helpful glossary and further information.
NAME: Smallholding Manual, The Complete Step By Step Guide
CLASSIFICATION: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Liz Shankland
BINDING: Hard back
PRICE: GB £21.99
GENRE: Non fiction
SUBJECT: Smallholding, rural living, self sufficiency, livestock, land management, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens, geese, ducks, crops, red tape, lifestyle
DESCRIPTION: The publisher has built a reputation on accurate, well-researched, practical manuals. A common feature is that the authors of the manuals are people who have done, and usually are still doing, what they write about, and the manuals are lavishly illustrated and very easy to understand. Basically, just what a practical manual should be. This manual is no exception. The author has written, at times from the heart, about the joys, responsibilities and pain of becoming a smallholder. She has covered each of the major aspects of smallholding in ten chapters, followed by a very helpful glossary and further information. This is more than an overview of the subject, but it does provide an excellent overview, to which the committed smallholder will add a library of material including pamphlets from regulating authorities. Smallholding has become very popular with a section of urban dwellers who would like to live in a quieter location and feel that they are saving the planet. That may be a current popularity but smallholdings have always attracted those looking to change their way of life. For several generations of Royal Navy officer, the smallholding has been the preferred retirement environment. When two warships collided close to their homeport, the junior captain signalled the other captain “What should we do now?” to which the responding signal was “Suggest we look for smallholdings”. This was not confined to the seaman branch and when FONA (Flag Officer Naval Aviation) was located at Yeovilton, the car park in winter was often filled with tractors that senior officers on their final postings rode to work from the smallholdings they had just purchased for their retirement. Many other groups have also looked on smallholding as a natural retirement occupation and they have in common a desire for a quieter pace of living, clean air, and physical activity to keep the body functioning. Today, many embarking on the new career of smallholding are much younger and are considering space for a growing family, food they can trust and conservation. The result is that those retiring to smallholdings are more likely to look for a comfortable house with enough land to potter about on with a few chickens and perhaps some goats, horses for grandchildren, and comfortable rural lifestyle. Younger enthusiasts are more likely to look for an old farm in need of serious renovation with enough land to support some serious farming on a smaller scale. There will be those who will combine the starting up of a smallholding with other work that pays the bills while the smallholding takes shape. This manual serves all the different forms of smallholding and even helps those who have grown up into a small farm owned for generations by their families. The author has started very logically by asking the question “Why Take on a Smallholding?” Most will start here but a surprising number will not listen carefully to the answer because smallholding is often a romantic lifestyle choice being made without thinking everything through. The simple fact is that any form of farming can be very hard because it is a factory that is open to the elements. It requires potentially dangerous equipment and chemicals that need to be respected, and the fact that the temperature is way below freezing, its blowing a gale and snowing hard is no excuse for not going outside and making sure that the livestock is fed and watered and in good health. The same applies when its hot, there is a drought, or it’s a cold wet summer. Then there are all the mountains of forms as red tape expands at an alarming rate. The result is that an aspirant smallholder has to think carefully before making a commitment that will require money and the determination to take the good with the bad. It is also a lifestyle that is very different from an urban life in its demands over years. Once someone acquires a smallholding and weathers the harder aspects, it becomes a way of life that is very hard to abandon. Some animals may have a relatively short life because they are raised for food, but most smallholders will have other animals that may be pets or working animals with which they will bond. The result is that there will come a point where the life is physically difficult but retirement is not the same easy matter it is in urban living. For the smallholder there are responsibilities beyond self and life away from the smallholding can be very difficult. As smallholdings are usually some way from towns and hospitals, aging can be a problem. Equally, smallholders usually enjoy much better health and a robust old age, so there are many advantages to set against some of the less encouraging aspects of rural living. In Britain, the majority of farms forty years ago were less than 60 acres in size and of these most were smallholdings of less than 10 acres. Today, that has changed dramatically with the average farm size now approaching 3,000 acres and most traditional smallholders driven out of business. The last 15 years has seen the renewed popularity of smallholding but with a different kind of owner. Today many smallholders are middle class professionals seeking a different life and able to work from home in the existing job. The one thing that the author has not covered well is the broadband communication challenge that will be very important to some new smallholders. Rural areas, and some small country towns in Britain and many other countries are being very badly served by communications companies. One bright light in Northern England is seeing a not for profit company being established in a rural area specifically to provide affordable high speed broadband that the major broadband suppliers are not interested in providing and where governments have failed to see the need to improve rural communications infrastructure. Given good high speed communications, a smallholder can handle the inevitable bureaucracy, search for the best available materials and equipment, and market produce. That applies to all going into smallholding and small farming, but to the professional seeking to mix smallholding with a well paid and creative additional career, the best communications facilities are critical to a successful change of life. That criticism aside, the author has done a first class job, providing an engaging overview of smallholding, including some sage advice from experience, and setting out the advantages and disadvantages of a life that has so much increasing interest amongst people who are wondering not so much “why take on a smallholding?”, as “why live in a town and commute to work each day?”. As this manual may sell in many countries, there will be a variety of different local conditions. Most notably, a smallholder in Britain, even in some of the more remote areas, will have access to mains water, electricity and telephone, and be within mobile phone coverage. In other countries, the smallholder may need to drill or dig for water and then filter and purify the water for humans and other animals on the smallholding. Heating may be provided by wood burning fires and require the smallholder to cut, stack and dry wood for the year ahead. Wind and solar generators, with a diesel generator for those occasions, when wind and solar generators cannot be relied on, may be the only electrical power source. Communications may depend on satellite phones and satellite broadband, which can be costly. However, there are still places where land for a smallholding is cheap and the new owner can cut wood to build a house, barns and stock buildings and end up with a self sustaining lifestyle where most assets are the product of the smallholder’s energy and sweat.