I’ve been meaning to write a blog for years. I am not sure why I haven’t yet – maybe it’s because I don’t really know how to start, or maybe it’s because I don’t want to get it wrong… who knows! Perhaps it’s a blend of the two. One small silver lining of the recent appalling performance of government in protecting British Farming is its made me more determined to write about my views, opinions and interests as a first generation shepherd on Dartmoor more than ever.
Many people often say British farming is a scary industry to be in right now, we are faced with a government undermining our values and high welfare standards, paired with Brexit this is causing the largest shake up of agricultural policy and funding in decades. On top of this it seems the media can’t get enough of criticising the industry at the moment. However, through this seeming wall of obstacles I think we are entering the most exciting time our industry has ever seen – and bearing in mind us shepherds were present in the bible that’s a pretty big statement to make.
So here is me – my name is Lewis Steer, I farm one of the last commercial flocks of rare breed native Dartmoor sheep in the world alongside my partner Flora Searson and our collie Moss. We farm 100% rented pasture from 16 landlords around the parish of Chagford. Our ‘farmhouse’ is a flat in the centre of the town just a hundred yards from a shop we recently opened to sell our own sheepskin goods.
We have entered the farming industry completely from scratch through building up a flock of some of the country’s oldest rare breed sheep and farming them in a new, exciting and sustainable way. We are passionate about what we do and how we do it and we seek to bridge the gap that has sadly formed in recent decades between farmers and consumers – we add value to our hides, wool and hogget and enjoy selling direct to our customer base at every turn.
I have been on both sides of the gap. Up until ten years ago I too was one of the consumers ostracised from what I ate and wore how it was produced. Now I am at the other end, devoting every waking hour to tending my flocks and growing our farm business. Hopefully this blog, in its own small way, will help draw this gap back together. We have one planet, one climate and one life – for the benefit of all of these we must close the gulf between those producing food and fibre and their customers.
I am not a scientist, a politician or a journalist. I am a shepherd and as such this blog will be full of the thoughts that come to me whilst making hay from our traditional hay meadows in the summer sun or lambing our ewes on a bitter February morning. Ramblings that are triggered by the latest move of those in power to ‘improve’ our environment or food security. Empathy, frustration and excitement generated whilst chatting with my farming colleagues whether that’s here on Dartmoor over a pint, or on a zoom call with whatever latest government official body has asked for ‘farmers opinions’. Hopefully you will find it interesting, at times I am sure you may find it hard to read and sometimes it may ignite frustration and anger in you however above all else I hope it opens the door on the industry I love and gets you excited, optimistic and enthused about the most exciting age farming has ever seen.