THE need to “shout about” British food and farming was a hot topic at a recent Mole Valley Farmers’ Women in Farming event at James Kittow’s Butchers in Par, Cornwall.

The day was the latest in a number of events run by Merryn Cowls of Mole Valley Farmers, which have been specifically designed to create a support network and ideas sharing space for women in agriculture. Previous events have looked at areas such as farm insurance and Lifting Operations & Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) training.

The meeting in Par involved a lively introduction from fifth generation master butcher and grazier, James Kittow about the history of the business, followed by a tour of the butchery, a sausage making challenge and a BBQ of some of his multi-award winning sausages and burgers.

Changing shopping habits and an increasing disconnect between the consumer and their food, was hotly debated by attendees. Everyone agreed that educating school children about where their food came from was a must.

Local farmer, Louise Phillips - who runs a dairy herd with husband Peter at East Lanescot Farm

- has had first hand experience working with children at The Royal Cornwall Agricultural Association’s Farm and Country Days. She said the lack of understanding was surprising. “They asked me if the chocolate milk came from the Jersey or the Holstein,” she said.

James is a passionate ambassador for the industry and visits numerous schools in the area to talk about farming and butchery, as well as taking part in Farm and Country Days. He said the disconnect with food was something that desperately needed addressing. “It’s a major problem,” he said. “Eduction in schools is a big thing.”

James also highlighted the need for farmers to shout about what they did on farm in order to get the consumer behind them. In particular, farmers in the South West with Protected Geographical Indications (PGIs) for West Country beef and West Country lamb, had something to be proud of.

He asked: “What’s the difference between a car manufacture and a sheep farmer? We never back up the story and big ourselves up. You are the best advocates of the industry. And we’re in the best part of the world and we’ve got the best produce and we need to shout about.”

The disappearance of the local family butcher could be seen as one reason why shoppers were more removed from where their food came from. The conversation over the butcher’s counter also proved valuable in providing consumers with meat preparation and cooking advice.

Keeping butchery traditions alive is something that James feels hugely passionate about. He explained that one of the main benefits of being a small butcher was the ability to connect the consumer with their product by delivering full traceability from an individual steak, to the individual animal, and farm that that beast was reared on.

“It’s about keeping people close,” he explained. “Quality, provenance and traceability and animal welfare are what people are concerned about.”

As well as showing the ladies some of the traditional knife skills used by his team of butchers, James then demonstrated the care taken in producing some of his award winning sausages. It was then the turn of the group to try their hand at tying their own string of sausages, with everyone taking home a string of their own pen ’n’ tinny porkers.

All-in-all, the ladies in attendance agreed that the day provided a great opportunity to learn about a local business. Both Louise and beef farmer Juliet Cleave, who runs the 30 cow Kew Herd of Red Ruby Devons in Bodmin, said that the Mole Valley Women in Farming events created a rare chance to meet and connect with women in agriculture.

Juliet said there was a distinct lack of social groups available for farmers - and particularly women in farming - after leaving Young Farmers. “I’ve often talked about “old, young farmers” groups and this could be like that,” she said.

Both agreed that a support network for ladies was important for agriculture as a whole. Louise explained: “Without the wives, there is no farming. As the farmer’s wife, you can get forgotten.”

She also highlighted the role of meet-up groups in addressing loneliness. “People often don’t realise how isolated they are until they get out,” she said. “It’s nice to know other people are having the same kind of problems as you.”

Merryn was in agreement and said creating a framework for ladies to come together and share thoughts and ideas on day-to-day farming life was one of the main reasons for setting up the group.

“Some of the main benefits have been people being able to come out and share their experiences with other like-minded women in agriculture,” she said.

>> To get involved, search “Mole Valley Farmers Women in Farming” on Facebook.