Episode #140 A Wild Farming Life: Building a regenerative croft from scratch with Lynn Cassells
What happens when you follow your dreams of living on the land, in connection to the seasons, to life and death, to the more-than-human world? How does it feel to follow your heart and see what truly makes it sing – and to do it in connection to the land that called to you?
Lynn Cassells and Sandra Baer met while working as rangers for the National Trust and soon realised that they shared a dream to live closer to the land. They bought Lynbreck Croft at the edge of the Cairngorms National Park in the Highlands of Scotland in March 2016 – 150 acres of pure Scottishness – with no experience farming but a huge passion for nature and the outdoors.
Now, they raise their own animals and sell the produce, grow their own fruit and vegetables, and are as self-sufficient as they can be, alongside producing food for their local community and hosting educational tours and running courses.
Hailed as Best Crofting Newcomers in 2018, they were given the Food and Farming Award by the RSPB in Nature of Scotland Awards in 2019 and were nominated for Nature Champions of the Decade as part of teh Nature of Scotland 10th anniversary.
They have appeared in the series This Farming Life on BBC2 and have written the book, ‘Our Wild Farming Life’, linked below.
Lynn and Sandra were newcomers to farming and to regenerative concepts, but in the past 6 years, as they have faced success and (some) failures and learned from both, they have seen regenerative farming becoming a far more widely held concept.
In this heart-felt episode, we begin by exploring the writing process, and how Lynn, a new writer, came to write such a fluent book.
From there, we delve deeply into the practicalities of farming in a relatively inhospitable landscape, but also explore the spiritual nature of land-connection, the ways we can give the animals with which we share our lives the fullest capacity to be all that they can be, so that we can become all that we can be: so that we can feel safe, and held in connection to the land and the tribes of the more than human world that surround us.
Manda: My guest this week is a regenerative farmer. We’ve approached regenerative agriculture from a number of different angles in the last few months, because in the pillars of what is going to hold us as we move through towards a future that works, how we feed ourselves, how we engage with the land, how we become part of the land, seems to me one of the absolute keystones to what we do. So we’ve spoken to Caroline Grindrod, who talked to us through some of the concepts of regenerative farming, and then to Ben Ruskins, who’s an agroforestry expert, looking at how trees are an integral part of how we need to be farming in the future. Then we talked with Liberty Nimmo about how she’s converting two and a half acres of open field into a local community supported agriculture project, feeding her local community. And now we’re going to talk to Lynn Cassels, who with her partner, Sandra, bought 150 acre croft in the Cairngorms of Scotland. And for those of you who don’t know that, it’s a very mountainous, not incredibly hospitable area with quite a short growing season, very long days in the summer, very long nights in the winter.
Manda: Lynn and Sandra met while they were working as Rangers for the National Trust, as you’ll hear; discovered a shared love for each other and for the land and the freedom that owning your own land and being able to grow your own food gives us. And they bought this croft in 2016, and have gone on to become the best crofting newcomers in 2018, an award that’s given in Scotland. They were given the Food and Farming Award by the RSPB nature of Scotland’s awards and they were nominated Nature Champions of the decade as part of the RSPB’s Nature of Scotland’s Awards 10th anniversary. They featured in a television series called This Farming Life, and they’ve written a book together: Our Wild Farming Life; Adventures on a Scottish Highland Croft, which I thoroughly recommend as a beautiful, inspiring read for you or anyone you know, who really wants to get to grips with how real newcomers can get into creating a regenerative, connected relationship with the land and the food that they bring from it. So people of the podcast, please welcome Lynn Cassels from Lynbreck Croft in the Cairngorms of Scotland.
Manda: So Lynn of Lynbreck Croft, way up in the Highlands of Scotland; welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. How is it up there with you? Because we’ve had no rain for four months now. Are you in a drought also?
Lynn: We are indeed. I mean, I look outside today and it’s this glorious sunnday, you know, bright blue skies, huge mountains, you know, long kind of expanse of forest in between us and the hills. But I would say since maybe May, we’ve had very, very, very little rain. It’s an unknown fact that many people don’t know is that the east of Scotland can actually be very, very dry. We’re experiencing that this year. Definitely.
Manda: Okay. And we’ll talk maybe later about what you spoke about in the book of of what you do when you’ve got no water. Because, yeah, you’re in the shadow of the cairngorms. Does that mean the midges are less? I promised Faith that I wouldn’t talk about midges endlessly, but you know, it’s Scotland. What else do you talk about? Are the midges less than they would be otherwise?
Lynn: Sorry. Midges. What are midges? I don’t know. Yeah, no, I don’t know what those are. Sorry.
Manda: You just sealed my move north. Thank you Lynn. Right, you’re my friend forever. That’s it. Sorted. All right, so I came to hear of you because of your book, Our Wild Farming Life, which is a delight. And as a writer, I am really genuinely in awe of the fluency with which it’s written and the voice that you managed to find and the lightness of touch and the ease with which you bring in quite complex regenerative farming concepts, in an unfolding narrative of you exploring your life from being not a farmer to being a farmer. And just as a writer, I’m wondering, have you written a lot of other things before? Or was this your first writing experience? And if so, how did that come about?
Lynn: Well, first of all, thank you very much for your your kind words about the book. That really does mean a lot. And I’m really kind of grateful that you’ve shared that with me. It is indeed the first ever writing experience. So how it worked was that we wrote, we’re kind of shared authors on it. So myself and my partner Sandra, who live and work here at Lynbreck, we shared authors on it, but how we split it was that I would do the writing and then Sandra would edit it. So I would write, she would edit, I would write, she would edit. So if there was anything that she felt I hadn’t explained particularly well or elements that I’d missed out, or even down to very simple kind of grammatical errors, she would edit and then we would kind of create it from that kind of way. But you know, honestly, Manda, before that, the only experience of writing I’d ever really had, was at university writing essays. Which is a completely, as I then discovered, completely different way of doing things. So that’s kind of how it evolved to where it’s at now. So I’m delighted that you’ve enjoyed it.
Manda: Yeah, totally. And English is not Sandra’s first language, am I right?
Lynn: It sort of is and it isn’t. So Sandra’s from Switzerland. So Sandra grew up in Zurich, so German speaking part of Switzerland, but her mum is from Scotland. So when they were at home they spoke English. When outside of that, they spoke German.
Manda: For the people who listen, who are interested in non-fiction writing, because we’re running the Thrutopia masterclass, and about half of the peoplethere are non-fiction writers; I would like to delve a little bit before we head off into the farming and the experience of building a farm from scratch, basically, in not terribly hospitable land; how you came about to be writing the book. Was it that they, the publishers saw your television programme and approached you as a result of that, or did you go to them?
Lynn: So we were very lucky in that the publishers came to us. So it was about May 2020 of peak lockdown and we had an email through from from Chelsea Green, who are the publishers who we’ve ended up going with. And they were actually a publishing company that we knew because they published lots of books on things like regenerative living, regenerative farming, you know, composting, fermenting, foraging, all the kind of stuff that we love. So we kind of thought it was a bit of a joke to begin with. You know, is this a cheeky spam email that’s come in? But we followed it up and it turns out that it was legit. And I think it’s probably because of the television programme that we did ‘This Farming Life’ back in 2019 that they saw. But I think what we liked about that film, that filming, was that it did show us in a yes, we’re new, we’re young, starting up a farm, but we always tried to weave in elements of ‘but we like this idea of regenerative farming, so we’re going to try and move it down that path’. So I think maybe that’s why Chelsea Green saw it and thought these guys would kind of match with our vision and what it is that we do. So their story, I think, would appeal to a wider audience.
Manda: Yes. Yes. And clearly that’s how I found you was in the Chelsea Green catalogue. And apart from the fact they’ve got a glorious picture of you and Sandra on the front with a really magical looking Highland cow that I guess is Ronnie. Is that Ronnie on the front? Because Ronnie’s a girl. And Ronnnie’s very, very, very, very dark brown with a beautiful kind of highlights on her fringe. She’s just gorgeous. So it’s a really beautiful picture. And it’s Scotland and it’s crofting and it’s regenerative and it fits everything. You’re writing, Sandra’s editing. How long did the writing process take? Because genuinely, I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t mean it. It’s a very fluent book and it it has a very light touch and feels very human and very honest.
Lynn: Well, again, yeah, it’s really kind of you to say that. And I think that’s exactly what we wanted in the end to produce. You know, the first contact, as I said, was made about May 20. I think we got the contract sort of signed, sealed and delivered by about October 2020. Then the first kind of, I guess, deadline that we were aiming for was the end of March. So really we had six months. In between that six months we had two highland cows that had just gone to the abattoir. So with all the beef to process and sell. Every month we were getting out meat clubs, we were in the butchery processing that. Every week we were sorting and delivering eggs and then we had all the farm chores. So we had such a tight window. I now look at it and I just think I can’t believe this.
Manda: And this is a 200 page book, 212 pages. So each of its forward at worst per page. I’ll do that’s about 80,000 words. That’s that’s a big word count in six months you haven’t written before.
Lynn: Well, this is it. Isn’t naivete a wonderful thing!
Manda: Yeah, absolutely. Nobody tells you you can’t do this, so you just get on and do it. Wow.
Lynn: But, you know, I think I kind of love that. You know, I love that we just went for it. And so basically what I used to do was I’d get up I’d get up at 5:00every morning. So I am a morning person. So I would get up at five and then I would maybe be writing till about nine. And then the following evening Sandra would edit and so on and so forth, until we submitted the first draft, which was the first official draft. I think for us it was about draft 12 or 13.
Manda: Of course, yes, drafting is a thing that you do. Yes. But you count drafts as when you hand in. Otherwise you go crazy.
Lynn: Okay. So official draft number one. And you know, a few weeks later we had a Zoom chat with the editor and and it was a pretty kind of, she was incredible. So the editor of Chelsea Green, who was absolutely wonderful, but it was quite toe curling for us because in effect, the first draft was rejected. And being without any experience in writing and not really knowing any authors, that was such a big shock for us. Because we didn’t realise that that’s par for the course, that’s just what happens. So we were then kind of said, well look, here’s some guidance. This is the areas that I think you should improve on. She then also went off and marked up a few chapters and said, You know, this is what I like, this is what I don’t like. I want more of this.
Manda: Real line editing of the chapters.
Lynn: Real line editing, which was just exceptional. So I then went and spat my dummy out for about a month, but maybe shed the odd tear as well. And then there was one day in May actually of last year, so in May of 2021, and it was a nice day. And I went and sat in our polytunnel with my laptop and I thought, I’m going to give this a go. And actually Manda it was incredible. Because the main advice by the editor was, be more honest, you know, have fun with the book, which I didn’t really know exactly how to do that at that point. And I also took to heart another piece of advice that a friend had given me, which was basically, he basically said, write how you speak. And so I took all those three elements together. I went into the polytunnel. It was so cosy and warm, it was really bright and I just went for it. And so basically from the first week in May to the middle of July, I rewrote about 80% of the book. But it was from the heart, it was from the mouth and the heart and less, so much, of the head. And I think that’s maybe why you get more of the fluency and more of the honesty in it.
Manda: Right. And such good advice.
Lynn: Very good advice.
Manda: When I was a very baby writer, I went on one of these go away and write for a week with a famous person. And it was Fay Weldon. And she said, Find your voice. And that’s you know, that is write as you speak. In effect, don’t try and write how you think sentences should be constructed, write in the way that the voice is going in your head. And that that really does come across.
Lynn: Yeah, thank you
Manda: And yes, I think you’re right. The naivety. If anybody said it’s perfectly normal for your first draft to be completely monstered and destroyed. If it makes you feel any better, I once put an entire manuscript on the fire I was so angry with my editor. But Faith is programmed to say Selina is always right. She’s not my editor anymore, much to my regret. And I used to go down and go aagh! And you don’t know whether to scream or cry or beat your head off the wall or no! It can’t be. Because everyone hands in their first draft thinking this is it. But actually my friends whose editors go, Yep, okay, and just pass it straight to the copy editor are the ones who are in tears. Because their writing never improves and their books are not…nobody’s first draft is perfect. Unless you’re Lee Child. You know, he writes his draft in six weeks. Hands it in and that’s it. But first of all, he’s you know, this is novel number 80 something. And he spent the whole of the year thinking about it and doing all the editing in his head. And then he just has to sit down and write it. And that’s fine because you had that much experience. But for the normal mortals, it’s just not like that. So. So thank you. It’s really, really honest. Are you planning another book? Just having had the experience of one, is there another one sneaking out?
Lynn: That’s a very juicy question. So we’ve had early conversations with the editor and Chelsea Green, who would be keen for us to do a second book. At the minute I don’t know what that would look like. I don’t know what it would be. You know, the first book in some ways, dare I use the word easy, in that it’s an obvious easy choice to write a book about our story. I know the story. You know, nobody knows it better than me because I’m like: so I just write it. Whereas the second book, where would that take us? What would it look like? Yeah. So I don’t know. So it’s and I think as well, you know, we’re still in recovery mode from having written the first one. It was a big undertaking on both sides; on the kind of the pre writing and then the post writing, you know, there’s a lot that kind of goes on in that. So I’d say we’re at probably in a quite a sort of a solid phase of digesting, ruminating.
Manda: Yeah. Because it’s like the first album, isn’t it. Everybody says, you know, you get your first album, you get on Top of the pops. I don’t even know that still exists. But when I was a youth it did. And then everyone goes, Okay, where’s the second album? And you think, Well, I threw everything into this. I don’t have, you know, the tracks in my bottom drawer to bring out. And exactly as you say, I’m guessing you thrown out this. It is very honest. It’s quite raw in places. There’s a vulnerability to writing, that everybody suddenly feels they know you and therefore they own a bit of you, which can be, you know, holding the boundary of that can be quite shocking if no one’s prepared you for it and nobody ever does. Because how do you? And then yeah. What, what is next? And perhaps you need to just do a bit of living before there’s something else to write about, or you take a different tack. So I have lots of ideas. We’ll talk about that off air at some point. So let’s have a look about what the book actually talks about and about your life, because it is… How did Lynn and Sandra come to be farming 150 acres of Cairngorm countryside that sounds to me as if it hadn’t had a lot of input, and the input that it had was not explicitly regenerative. So give us the very edited highlight, first of all, of how you and Sandra met and then what the drive was to go away from what sounded like quite stable, quite fun, not office jobs to get some land and become stewards of the land.
Lynn: Well, you know, whenever I’m asked that question, I still can’t help myself but laugh out loud a little bit that this all happened. You know, again, I hark back to the word of the use of the word naivety. But, you know, in a sort of a summary; so Sandra and I met whilst working for the National Trust. I was actually Sandra’s boss. She got the job completely out of her own merit. But, you know, within a few weeks of meeting and we talk about this in the book, within a few weeks of meeting, we basically discovered that we had this kind of shared passion, obviously, for nature because we were working outdoors as rangers for the National Trust. But we also had this kind of real sort of strong desire to live much closer to the land, you know, connected with it in a way which is much more kind of physical, emotional, spiritual, all of the above. And the way that we envisioned us doing that back on that kind of dark September evening was to basically buy a bit of land and to grow our own food and to just really make enough money that would cover the bills. That was always the focus. So after meeting and then working in the south, we were down in the south east of England, so we were just outside Maidenhead. I always say it’s that kind of beautiful triangle of Maidenhead, Windsor and Slough, and we were kind of right in the middle of it and you know, we loved what we did, but it wasn’t for us long term. But we did have good jobs with a good employer, with good prospects. But our desire was so strong that we thought, you know what, you get one shot at life, let’s move north, let’s go to Scotland. And the reason for moving to Scotland was that Sandra’s half Scottish. So she felt like that was kind of her home. And also, you know, quite honestly, land is just more affordable in Scotland and we didn’t have a lot of money.
Manda: Yeah, it’s that of West Wales basically.
Lynn: Exactly. You know, we didn’t have really an option. So we moved to Scotland, spent two years working as tree planters in the Scottish borders, you know, so we were planting trees right up to high elevations of about 750 metres. Big rewilding native tree planting, absolutely loved it. I’ve never been so fit and skinny and muscly in my entire life I could literally eat anything all the time. And I was like Cindy Crawford. It was incredible. But, you know, the whole point of being in the borders was that we would then have a place to then look at other places at the weekend. So we started looking on the open market and we started looking on the 1st of January 2015, looking for about five acres, as I’ve described, you know, grow food, a few chickens.
Manda: Just enough to live off.
Lynn: Yep, just enough, Manda. Just enough. Long story short, Sandra develops this affair while I’m looking for places, with this place called Lynbreck. She’s looking at it, dreaming about it, yearning for it. It’s way over our budget, and it’s 150 acres, so it’s 30 times the size of what we’re looking for. We’ve been looking for a while, didn’t find anything, happened to be one day driving past Lynbreck, arranged a viewing; the end of the story. And so what we document a lot in the book from that point, is how we then kind of moved heaven and earth to buy it, you know, taking on a loan. Any single pot of money that we had. So really, you know, doing what I describe as everything that your parents tell you not to do.
Manda: Yeah, yeah. Get into debt, take on too much, all of those things.
Lynn: Exactly. But I just can’t really explain it any other way than just the desire was so strong. And I think the other thing Manda was that we just simplynever believed that it wouldn’t happen and we never believed that it wouldn’t work. We didn’t have a plan B because we didn’t believe that Plan A was going to fail. So we were so focussed in our view. And then we arrive at Lynbreck 18th March 2016. Everything’s brown. Everything is brown, the landscape is brown. Just just brown everywhere.
Manda: Bracken brown or mud brown or both? Or grey?
Lynn: Grass brown, bracken brown, you know, house brown, doors brown, everything’s brown. And just really one of those kind of oppressive days when he clouds, you know, sits just over the hilltops. And obviously Lynbreck at that point was what I describe as basically being semi derelict. There was no agricultural infrastructure, you know, apart from a kind of a 20 year old fence that went around the the edge of the croft. The croft hadn’t been worked agriculturally for about 30 years. There was two old stone buildings, both of which were derelict. And then there was one wooden cabin, which is where we live today, which had been built about sort of the end of the the kind of 1990s, and that was it. So we found ourselves in a place, no infrastructure, no background in farming and no money. And the whole journey evolved from there, into building up a business, basically, that stayed true to what it was that we always wanted to do, which was grow our own food and, you know, really quality of life focus and really kind of spiritual connection focus. But do it in a way where we were always enhancing the land that we became stewards of. So developing a farm business whereby the animals would be part of a team. And in addition to providing meat, which obviously some of them do, their goal is their wool is so much bigger than that. It’s about, you know, the animal manure enriching the soil. It’s about the kind of really enhancing the symbiotic relationships that these, their kind of wild forbearers would have had. And really then building up lynbreck from that point.
Manda: Beautiful so much in that I’ve written down for words in capitals on my part. The first one is freedom, then rewilding, then intent, and then spirit. So I want to unpick a little bit of those and then I really want to look at the actual nuts and bolts of what you’ve done. But it seems to me what you were seeking to begin with, was freedom. And whenever we look forward, whenever we do the spiritual work of how does humanity look if we get it right? Everyone, almost without exception; so let’s say 99%, come to a sense of personal freedom and safety, and that freedom and safety coexist. If you’re safe, you’re free. If you’re free, you’re safe. They’re almost synonymous. And that you are endeavouring to structure that within the boundary of a predatory capitalist system that still exists and that to do that you needed shelter, land, water and power. Those are the real four pillars of the freedom that we can get here. And that what got you there was a really clear intent. And we’re building intense structures and other things in our group of… how does an intent feel? What it felt to you was there was no plan B. Once you had got there, you knew this was the place. And then that takes us to the spirit. And I’d really like to drill a little bit down into the…you’ve mentioned a spiritual connection to the land a couple of times. Can you just say a little bit more about that? Because this is a spiritual podcast as much as anything else. So how you Lynn, experience connection to the spirit of Lynbreck.
Lynn: Yeah, I think it’s a really good question, Manda. And I think it’s probably a question that I can’t completely answer. I can just share the journey to this point.
Manda: Thank you.
Lynn: I think one of the things that we struggled with when we were in our old lives, you know, even when we were working for the National Trust and we were living in a, you know, a lovely place, but it was very, very busy. We just felt that we both struggled…with with a lot of things. We could never really find our place. We just didn’t feel like we were of this world and that we weren’t of a world that was sort of very busy, very mechanised, and kind of artificially mechanised. That we weren’t really connecting with the food that we ate. We started to question, you know, where our food came from, what impact that was having on our physical and mental health. All these sort of things were really kind of what drove us to this point. And I think since we’ve moved to Lynbreck, it’s all about really kind of developing a two step into a full dance routine. You know, we’ve been really getting to know the land. We’ve been really starting to, you know, what I talk about consuming the land. And I mean, you know, the word consumption can be a really kind of horrible, aggressive word.
Lynn: But I mean it in the most loving and softest and gentlest sense in that the land that we consume, literally feeds us physically, mentally, spiritually. And it is an absolute privilege to eat, you know, the meat that we produce, to eat the food that we produce. I can’t think of a way to more tangibly connect more strongly with the land than to literally eat it and drink it. And then in addition to that, I would add, breathe it, smell it, touch it. So probably a lot of really tangible elements there to the spiritual side. But I would then start to kind of say that that journey has then, in transition, grown alongside how I would say Lynbreck is shaping our lives in a different way. In that we’re starting to naturally live more seasonally. So our summer days are long. We’re outside, with with no midges, you know, we’re just getting on with the work. We’re enjoying the days and Manda it is full on. You know, by the end of the summer we are shattered. But what it means is that we’ve had that really beautiful experience of being outside in the sun, filling ourselves up with vitamin D, you know, filling our lungs full of this clean highland air. And we’re just staying physically active.
Lynn: And that in itself is meaning that we’re exposed to this beautiful landscape. We’re engaging with the animals and insects that we share. So we’re building that connection. So again, it’s really building quite a tangible connection with Mother Nature, with Gaia. And then, you know, you’re sort of, you know, in addition to that, you’re really, I guess, really embracing every season so much more. So I love winter. I absolutely love winter. And I find it so, you know, I find it so sad that we’ve now, in a society, so many people struggle with winter. You know, they struggle with seasonal affective disorder. They struggle with the lack of light, the lack of vitamin D, and that darkness, which is a real association of loneliness and long stretches of not being able to do anything. Whereas I think here in our transition to the life at Lynbreck is, you know, I can quite happily sleep for 12 hours in the wintertime. You know, I’m quite happy to go to bed at 8:00 and get up at 8:00 the next morning and my body needs it. So I feel like much more in sync with everything else that’s going on in the world, everything else that’s hibernating and lying low. We’re doing the same and then come to the summer. So I think there’s a number of different ways.
Lynn: And then I think finally, you know, we’ve kind of, you know, I’m talking about physically eating, physically consuming and then physically experiencing. And I think then as we’ve experienced all of that, what we’re starting to experience in our head is kind of the next stage. So just really getting more confidence in, you know, what it is that we believe in spiritually, what really enriches us individually. And probably, you know, if you speak to Sandra and I probably both would be quite different. But I feel like that has been a beautiful experience because it’s really helped us to get more and more, not just feel more and more connected with the place, but just happier, you know, for want of a word that’s maybe overused, I don’t know that it is, but some people might say it is. But just a life whereby you feel like every day you’re just getting a little bit closer to to that real feeling of joy, you know, to that real feeling of happiness and to just feeling more resilient to be able to cope with and buffer all the other stuff. Not disconnect, but just kind of mute or turn the sound down a little bit and yet still live the way that we’re living now in a way that I would say is still of relevance to somebody in the centre of London.
Manda: Yes, yes. Unpick that last bit a bit more. How is the way that you’re living now of relevance to somebody in the centre of any big city Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, New York? How would you help someone who is locked in a bustle of electric lights and concrete and tarmac and sound? How would you help them to connect with what you’ve found? The freedom and the spiritual connection that you’ve found at Lynbreck?
Lynn: I think the only way that I can really sort of summarise it, is really understanding honestly, being true to ourselves. Being true to myself. You know, really asking those kind of existential questions of who am I? Not in a kind of a big, airy fairy I have no idea who I am, but more in just a, you know, what do I believe in, what do I enjoy? What really what do I get joy out of? What are all of those elements? And then to kind of pick through them in a way where you have to be brutally honest and you have to say, I like that idea, but you know what? That’s just not me. And then to start to make incremental changes in your life, to try and get to what is you. So I think that applies to all of us no matter where we are. And it’s not to say that I think that our way is the right way for everybody. I don’t believe that everybody is yearning for this way of life. But what I do believe is that what we’ve done and what we’ve tried to do and what we’re still trying to do so much, is to just really stay true and constantly connect back in and not be afraid to do that. And that’s the hardest bit. You know, we live in a world where fear is everywhere. It’s so all encompassing and it’s just about trying to unpick that fear. And and, you know, I love how you broke it down, Manda. About the securities of hey, you know what? I’ve got a roof over my head. Wow. I am so lucky. Hey, I’ve got water coming out of the tap: Oh, my goodness, I’m so lucky. I have food in my fridge and these ‘little’ and they’re described as little things. Manda, if we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t be alive. There’s a lot of other things that we can live without. We can’t live without these things. So. Wow, how lucky are we?
Manda: Yes. And there have been times from the sound of things when those edges were much less secure. When we do live still in a different economic system and you do have insurance to pay and and debts to pay off, and you still have to somehow generate capital and money. And where that sense of security and joy sounded a lot more fragile. Talk us a little bit through the the beginning part. So you arrived at a brown brown land, brown house, into a cabin. You are off grid for water but on grid for power, I think. And then you realise quite soon, you’re still both working other jobs outside, because you have to bring money in. That transition to being self sufficient financially as well as self sufficient in your own primary needs, sounded quite rocky at times. Talk us through the early stages of how you began to make money that was by selling stuff from the farm outside.
Lynn: Yeah, I’m really glad that you’ve touched on this topic because I think it’s kind of really quite a pertinent one. Because it was quite a fundamental shift that we had to make, in terms of not just practically our income, but in terms of a shift in what is secure in life and what does that look like. And so for the first four years, we both worked off farm. So I worked four days a week and then down to two days a week. And then Sandra was self-employed. So we launched ourselves kind of full time here on the 1st of January 2020. Ironically, the year the pandemic breaks out, that was really quite unfortunate. You know, we had this secure income and then, oh, what happened there? But anyway.
Manda: Yeah, and not even any furlough anymore because you weren’t employed.
Lynn: No furlough. Nothing. Can I have my job back? No. So we decided to make that leap because we’d started off selling eggs and then it was eggs and pork, and then it was eggs, pork and beef. And then we installed a small micro butchery on the croft, which meant that we could go into added value range. Because one of the things that, you know, here, we don’t have tons of animals here. We only carry the amount of animals that we believe have a regenerative impact on the land and us. So therefore the number that we carry isn’t huge. So our challenge is to add values, to maximise value, to use every element of the animal and to just really just make it exceptional produce. So by installing a micro butchery, it meant that we could then, you know, diversify into an artisan range of particularly meats. So put the micro butchery in, then obviously go full time from the from the 1st of January 2020. It was a really big leap because obviously, yes, the pandemic that meant a lot of what we’d planned to do now couldn’t happen. But what we always tried to do was, first of all, with the income that we were going to plan to get in would be diversified.
Lynn: So a lot of farms nowadays they’ll be a beef farm or a sheep farm or a a cereal grower. We always love the idea that nature is obviously diverse. There’s so much you know, nature is not a three legged stool. She’s a million legged stool. She’s got so much happening so that if one of those legs or two of those legs come out, she’s okay. So we wanted to design a business that was similar. So we wanted to do eggs, pork, beef, you know, artisan. We’d do tours, we’d do courses. We’d have a rental. We would have this really diversified income stream and they would all be, you know, in terms of financial value, they would all be of different, say, profit margins, but they would all be inherently connected. So they all kind of rely on each other and they’re all around this core element of food production in a way which is really in harmony with the environment. In a business model that is really in harmony with farming with nature, because it’s, you know, that’s the kind of way of doing it. So that’s how we tried to build it up. And that’s the kind of model that we follow today. That is the model that we follow today.
Lynn: What was difficult was, one, managing the workload element. Because you haven’t just got chickens, you’ve got chickens, you’ve got pigs, you’ve got cows, you’ve got bees, you’ve got courses, you’ve got tours. You’re running around all over the croft because, you know, our animals are never static. The hens are always on the move, the cows are always on the move, you know. So that’s the first element that’s hard to manage was, our own kind of expectations on our own workload. And then the second element was, and probably for me, less so Sandra, for me still is that transition out of the, you know, the kind of the security of the monthly salary, the full time job. You know, the having lump sum here, so that that’s my security. So that’s been a real mindset shift to kind of seeing it as part of our security; so the financial element is part of our security, but you know, let’s say, for example, at this time of the year, you know, our kitchen garden is just producing like crazy. You know, it’s like Niagara Falls for produce out there. And if we don’t get under there and catch some of that water with our bucket, then we’re not going to eat very well in the winter.
Lynn: So that’s actually security, to harvest that. You know, at the minute we’re talking about the well. You know, we have a well, we have a private well here and we’re in the middle of a drought. If we don’t reduce our water, if we don’t have like a shower less a week, or if we don’t really start to be careful about our water usage, we have no water. That’s not very secure. So we need to make sure that we’re spending time making sure all the water butts are working, you know, making sure all those sorts of things. Harvesting our firewood. We’re totally reliant on firewood for our heating, so we don’t use electric or gas or oil for any of that. So we have to put in a few hours in the summer, a good few hours in the summer, to process all of that. That means that for the winter we’re warm and cosy. That’s security. You know, it’s all these different elements. Whereas if I just focussed on the money element, I could maybe buy the firewood, I could buy the food, I could buy the water. But actually, if I can do all of those things myself, then I don’t have the financial pressure and the financial security is somewhat lessened. It’s still factors, but it’s not everything.
Manda: Yes, beautiful. Because you can have a shower less a week, but your animals still need to drink and the hotter it is, the more they need to drink. So there’s a limit to how much you can reduce your water use. Have you expanded water collection? Because it seems to me as we move towards climate breakdown, the capacity to save water when it falls is becoming increasingly important. Are you heading for that?
Lynn: Yeah, definitely. It’s a bit of a kind of an obsession. So over the last few years, we’re now harvesting just off the top of my head, we’re harvesting off roofs, capacity for about 8000 litres of water that we can harvest. So we’ve got one big water butt of about five and a half thousand litres, and then we have another two kind of thousand litre containers and then some smaller ones. So a big focus on that is for the kitchen garden. Because you know, we produce 95% of our vegetables from the kitchen garden, year round. So we need to keep that watered. We then have, we’ve got two wells on site, one which is for us, and then we installed a second one over a spring. We got a dowser in, so we installed a second one over a spring for the cattle, you know, for the animals. So again, we’re not just everybody’s drawing on one, we’re dissipating the use. And then a longer term plan from that which we’ve started to do is install ponds around Lynbreck. So we installed a couple of ponds just a couple of years ago. Going forward, you know, I want to do that more. You know, we have one lower field which is very wet. If we could get a digger in, start excavating ponds, you know, the whole idea is that when it does rain, we have to keep as much of that on the croft. Now part of that can be aboveground storage, it can be water bottles, it can be ponds. But actually a big, big, big factor is underground storage in the soil. So that’s when the whole element of healthy soils with deep rooted plants, with tall grasses and trees that will intercept and slow the flow of the water down, to then drip into the soil and then the soil holds that. That’s the biggest bank of water that we really have to invest in.
Manda: Yes, because I’m imagining and I may be wrong that you’re on quite steep slopes. You’re on the side of the cairngorms, so it’s not flat land. So as the water comes down, talk us a little bit through that. Because you talk in the book about sequestering carbon, about having sequestered 12 times more carbon than you give off. And that you said you don’t want to have more animals on the land than can help it regenerate. How are you designing and assessing that and what changes are you making as you get data back in?
Lynn: So if I’m honest with you, I would say a lot of it is just visual. The only real scientific survey that we had done here was right at the start, and we got a botanist in to do an ecological survey of all the plants that we have here. So she did plants and lichens. So the plant is, is maybe in another few years time is to have that survey redone and then we’ll see. You know, we know that there’s more different plants. But, you know, she can sort of confirm that with the sort of scientific eye. From that point on, it is quite simply observational. So we can see, you know, we can see visually areas where the cattle have made an impact. You start to get to know when they’ve maybe grazed an area a little bit too hard or they’ve maybe been in there a little bit too long, than when they’ve not.
Manda: What do you see? What do you assess?
Lynn: Well, I guess you assess things like the impact on the ground, the height of the grasses, the amount of dung. It’s just really kind of getting an understanding of the impact that they’ve had and then using our experience as to how long that ground or those plants will recover, within a certain amount of time within the conditions we’re currently experiencing. So many variables to this, and this is when I really think that, you know, modern day farmers, you know, get a lot of negative press. You know, in the kind of the situation that we’re in today. And there’s all sorts of reasons, you know, why farming is the way it is today. But farmers do carry so much experience and knowledge, of things that we just take for granted. So there’s a lot of that kind of observational element. And then it’s things like digging a pit in the field and counting the number of worms. You know, I always think that’s one of the most powerful ways to assess whether or not the change that you’re looking to have, if it is in a regenerative capacity to build soil, to build organic matter, to not compact your soil, is really the best way. Because worms will tell you everything. And if you’ve got a soil plumb full of worms and we’re starting to see areas where, you know, year on year we’re thinking, oh, there’s more worms. And then year on year we’re seeing, Oh, there’s more beetles and then, oh, there’s more birds. And all of a sudden that kind of trophic level just starts to go and it changes every year.
Manda: Brilliant. And I’m guessing also different species. You talk a little bit in the book about pigs going through and then thistles coming in because they’re there to put their big deep top roots down through soil that’s been compacted. And once they’ve done that, I guess, I hope, I’m asking this specifically because we have a field that is currently a kind of thistle meadow. If we let it regenerate, other species will begin to outcompete because they’re the kind of pioneer species in a successional event. Did you find that with with your thistles? That as you as you carried on just grazing things over them, that other plant species came through?
Lynn: Yeah. I mean, what we started to notice was that you do get this kind of period of succession. So in some of the areas where we ran some of the pigs in which were in quite small paddocks, we had thistle jungles. You know they were literally, it was like there’s just thistles here. So one of the…
Manda: And pigs don’t really like thistles
Lynn: Well, do you know, pigs will eat thistles? This was a post pig thing. Yeah, no, pigs actually really enjoy eating thistles.
Manda: Oh OK!
Lynn: So this was a post pig thing. So one of the things for the first couple of years, we did actually do some direct intervention whereby we kind of, what you would do in a forest, we thinned out the thistles. So we would go through with what I call a thistle spud or some people would call it a… I think there’s other names for it, but it’s just basically a kind of a metal stick with a prong in the bottom and you just lever the thistles out. So we started to thin out some of the thistles just to to allow some of the other…
Manda: By hand?
Lynn: Yeah, just by hand. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So if you’ve got a big area, I’m not sure that would be entirely doable. Yeah. But then do you know what? A lot of this comes down to what it is that your expectations are and how much time you’re willing to give it, because eventually nature will do it for you. Absolutely. Whereas this was an area where we were wanting more diversity for the cattle to graze. So it was about finding that balance. So and you know, funny, depending on the thistle, the cattle will sometimes eat thistle. You know we’ll watch our cattle eating marsh thistle. They’ll go around and eat the tops of them. You know, as I say, pigs will eat thistles if you put them through areas. So it’s all about, this is when I always say it’s not about us managing the land. I really do not like the the terminology of land management. I don’t believe we manage the land. I think it’s in some ways, dare I say it, it’s a little bit of kind of human arrogance to think that we can.
Manda: Of course it is. Yes.
Lynn: But I think what we do need to do is manage ourselves and it’s about managing our expectations. So what do we want to achieve? What’s the land doing? And then how can we manage our team of animals accordingly and our actions to achieve the outcome that is going to deliver collective good.
Manda: Brilliant. So two questions arising from that. The first one is what happened when you selectively took out some of the thistles, what else came in their place? Did it work?
Lynn: Yeah. So after we’d moved the pigs out of an area, because the area was all kind of churned up, so it was all kind of quite, you know, kind of exposed earth. Which nature hates. It’s kind of like us getting a graze and then a scab forming. You know, part of the scab was lots of thistles. But when the kind of area was cleared, we scattered down wildflower seed. So what we were wanting to do was two things, really. One, allow any dormant seeds in the seed bank to have an opportunity: this is your chance to grow. And then, two, add some diversity when the ground has kind of been perfectly prepared for it. So in areas where, say, we would have had one or two dominant grasses in addition to the thistles coming in and then kind of moving on, we’re now having things like different grasses, we’re getting wildflowers, things like red clovers, white clovers, plantain, you know, just so much more diversity in there. So you’re now walking through it. And not only is it more diverse, but it’s much more dense. So a lot of our fields, you know, we’re on very acidic soil, so mosses grow here very well. But another reason why we had so much moss in the fields was really a lack of grazing. You know, it had kind of been grazed and then it was a lack of grazing. So in addition to all the other intervention that we’ve taken, this then disturbed the moss so that it meant that, you know, we didn’t just have an area where you’d maybe have five blades of grass, you maybe had 20 blades. But it wasn’t just one grass, it was grasses and wildflowers. So it’s really kind of transitioning it that kind of way.
Manda: Brilliant. And I remember a friend going on a farm tour. This is in England, in Gloucestershire, but they had moved to a pasture fed model and the guy was six foot tall and he said, you know, the grasses get up to my head height. But as well as going up, they were creating sideways mats. Really thick mats. So the cattle then didn’t poach the land because they never got through, even when it was raining. And my friend went in January I think, and it was like minus ten or something. It was definite minus numbers. And they measured the temperature at the surface of the grass and then they put the thermometer down under this thick mat and it was plus three. It just never froze. So then you can have your water, if you need to have water pipes and things, that are not freezing. It’s a completely different way of approaching. And I’m interested, you talk about your animal team and about us stewarding land rather than managing it. And I wonder to what extent there’s a conversation going on between you and the animals, about when they need to be moved and what they need from you as well as what you need from them.
Lynn: Yeah, I think that’s a really good question, sort of Manda to look at. And I think that one of the models that we talk about here is, is working with the animal ness of the animal. It’s a phrase that we’ve pinched from a regenerative farmer called Joel Salatin in America, who’s been a real, you know, he’s a real kind of powerhouse. And we really like and we’ve taken a lot from his teachings. And I think working with the animal ness of the animal, you know, in essence is working with everything that it needs and requires. And that is not just, you know, physical. It’s not just food, it’s not just shade, it’s not just shelter. It’s also all the kind of the mental health elements to, you know, so are they entertained? Are they busy? Are they stimulated? You know, are they content in their head? So I think it’s, for us, it’s been a journey about learning what all of that looks like. And that’s an area that really Sandra has excelled. There’s a there’s an animal behaviourist in America called Temple Grandin, very, very famous. She had a film made about her with Claire Danes, incredible film. And she has autism. And she’s really kind of used her autism to tap into basically being able to read and understand, kind of communicate to to some extent, I guess, with animals. Sandra has a bit of that natural skill. She can very much read them, understand them and work with them, in addition to then getting to understand their impact on the land. And I think one of the key things, the key elements to all of this is time.
Lynn: It’s actually just taking the time and relearning how to learn with our eyes and our ears, rather than rushing and just reading. And I think that’s a big thing that we’ve really transitioned into doing so that, you know, like everybody, we can we can fall victim to I’m too busy, I’ve got to run here and then I’ve got to feed these pigs and then I’ve got to move these cows and then I’ve got to sort these chickens. Actually, what you really need to do, I would say to be really successful at this, you know, you’ve got to do an element of that, it’s life at the end of the day. But actually, it’s to really slow down and to really engage and understand your animals. You know, one of the examples that I always give is that a lot of people will say pigs are a nightmare to keep. Pigs are a nightmare to keep because they’re always escaping, blah, blah, blah. Lovely, you know, like dogs, but nightmare always escaping. And I always touchwood when I say this, but we’ve never had pigs escape. As in they’ve never tried to ram the fence. And I always believe that it’s because they’ve no need to, because they’re just so busy, they’re so entertained. They’ve got food that they forage, they’ve got food that we feed them, they’ve got shelter, they’ve got wallows. They’re very content if they have everything that they need. If they have their animal, they have everything that they need. So it’s really starting to understand all of that and then working all of that into your system.
Manda: Yes, because when everyone says pigs break out, they’re super intelligent. You know, they they can figure out a way to get out. It’s because they’re bored.
Lynn: I think so.
Manda: It’s because they haven’t got what they need in their surroundings. So they’re going to go off and try find it. I think, you know, in my days as aveterinary behaviourist, people had often the most trouble with border collies because they were bored out of their skulls. You’ve got this breed that’s designed to spend its day doing quite complex dog things, and then you leave it in a flat for 8 hours a day and don’t really want to engage with it in the evening because you want to watch television and you wonder why it’s stripping the wallpaper because it’s got nothing else to do. And pigs are easily as intelligent. Years ago, when I was a baby vet, I saved a pig called Rasher because he had erysipelas and I recognised it and gave him penicillin actually. And this pig had been trained to be a sheep pig, long before Babe and all the films. Someone had bet them a crate of scotch that they couldn’t train their pig to herd sheep.
Manda: And they went okay. And the only problem was that the sheep would look at it, going, that definitely isn’t a dog and not moving. And the pig would be going, No, no, you need to move. You need to move and the sheep would be going, Oh, okay. Eventually they would move off. But you know, with that slightly puzzled look of this isn’t right, it shouldn’t be happening. But Rasher was easily as bright as a border collie. Then we, you know, keep them in small squares. It’s horrendous. I’m really, really impressed that you’re able to to look at the animal ness of the animal, because then you can look at the people ness of the people and the land ness of the land. And everything begins to work as you say, as a family, as a team, as everything moving together. And so with all of that, again in the book and I’m really interested to bring this out, is you eat some of your family effectively. It feels this is …there’s a really interesting book called The Politics of Protein. I’m going to talk to the author of that in a few months time. And I would like to explore the extent to which for you, eating plants and animals is eating part of the family both ways, and that we eat to live. And how you have found the spiritual embracing of that.
Lynn: Yeah, great topic to bring up Manda. And I think it’s a huge one and I think whenever you are sort of talking through it there, I think one of the things that we’re not so good about talking about or accepting or being okay with is death, in the world that we live in. And seeing death as a bad thing rather than as a cyclical thing. And I’m not saying that death is good, I’m just saying it’s a cyclical thing. And I think that, you know, we are born of the earth and we will return to the Earth. Those are the two certainties in life that all of us face. So there’s that element. So there’s an element of what does death mean? Whenever it comes to our animals; so we raise rare breed pigs, we raise highland beef. So we’re, you know, we can kill anything between 8 to 10, 8 to 12 pigs in a year and usually kind of two highland cattle, roughly, and then…
Manda: And some chickens?
Lynn: Chickens just for ourselves. Yeah. So we dispatch actually chickens ourselves here on the croft. The pork, the pigs and the beef, the cattle have to go to a registered abattoir if it’s going legally. Yeah. So we work with an abattoir about an hour away from here. So we load the animals ourselves, we bring them ourselves, we walk them in. And then we know from that point it’s going to be over pretty quickly. With the pork in particular, what then happens is, because we have the micro butchery, then the animals come back to us. We then process them and then we then deliver them to our customers. So it’s really all about kind of closing that loop as best that we can and really celebrating the produce. So by us doing it ourselves, we know that we can make sure it goes out in as pristine kind of condition as we can, out of respect to the animal that has provided it for us.
Lynn: The first time we brought our pigs to the abattoir… I’ve never, you know, as a person, I’ve never really you know, I’ve never really believed that, you know, eating meat is right or wrong. It’s always just something that I’ve done. It’s always something that I felt I’ve wanted to do and I felt I’ve needed. When we were working in, certainly in the borders of Scotland, we really started to question where we were getting our meat from. So we started to basically only eat meat that was wild venison, shot on the hill. When we transitioned into farming, we made the decision that if we were going to eat meat, either we were going to kill it ourselves or we were going to follow a process whereby we could be as engaged or as involved with it as we could.
Lynn: Now, as I’ve explained to you in the abattoir process, we can’t get around that. But on my phone here I have the number of the head slaughter man. You know, I can contact him directly. We’ve really made an effort to build a connection with the abattoir. And if I’m honest with you, I would say he is somebody that I trust, so I feel I can trust him. So that’s helped kind of the sting of what it is that we then have to put our animals through. I’ve also trained as a deer stalker, so I have a rifle. I can go out and shoot venison. I don’t enjoy it. I don’t do it for sport. I get no fun out of it. But I understand the context of why I’m doing it. It’s to allow regeneration of trees and it’s a quick shot done. We then butcher, eat the meat or sell the meat. Okay?
Lynn: Through that whole process of either bringing an animal to its death or literally taking death, you know, taking life from an animal, has been a journey that, again, I think with a lot of things, we’re still on. Whenever the animals are here, we take so much enjoyment from them. You know, I think some people come here and, you know, you get you know, you’re out on a tour and you’re in with the pigs and you’re scratching their noses and they are loving it. I am loving it. And the people are loving it. Why not? You know, okay, we all know what’s going to happen, but why not enjoy them when we’re here? So we really do. You know, Sandra in particular, you know, she’s down with the pigs. They’re having a great time. We do what’s called pig tipping, which is when you scratch their belly and then they go onto their side and then they just lie there all day. You know, we engage with the cows as well. We love having them here. And then, you know, they’re on that journey with us. Then their element of the journey comes to an end. We make it as efficient, as respectful and as quickly as we can. You know, we’re in many ways the way that our animals are killed are much kinder than how they would be killed in nature, you know, which could be quite a long, drawn out process. It’s not justifying any of this. It’s just comparing it. And then when the meat comes back, as I kind of explained before, about the butchery element, it’s really about turning our produce into the absolute best it can be. Either through added value, incredible seasonings or herbs.
Lynn: Or it can even be charging the amount that is really reflective to the value of what it is that you’re buying. You know, you look at our cows, they’re eating I don’t know how many types of grasses, wildflowers, flowers. They’re eating, lichens, they’re eating tree leaves. They’re eating this incredible buffet of kind of natural vegetation. That’s what makes the meat. That meat is then consumed into our body. I am so privileged to be able to eat that myself. And I want to make sure that our customers equally feel privileged, so that when they pick up a Lynbreck burger or a lynbreck steak or a Lynbreck sausage, they’re not just going that’s just a burger, that’s just a sausage. They’re excited! You know, it’s like, go to the ivy, forget the ivy, you know, have a Lynbreck sausage because wow, that’s incredible. So it’s really about building all of those connections through. And what I really love about all of that, is that whenever I, you know, whenever somebody buys a pack of meat and then I bring it to their door, you know, I can say to them, what do you want to know about this animal? I can tell you everything. They get a sheet with all the information anyway of the animal. But it’s lovely to build that connection between the producer, the animal, the land, and then the person who’s ultimately going to eat it and I believe, get health from that.
Manda: Yes. Yes. Because we still need to do a lot of the science on this, but it seems that milk or meat from pasture fed, exactly as you said in a biodiverse area, is different. It’s qualitatively different than industrially processed stuff that is just horrendous at every level. And I am thinking that on a spiritual level, because we’re not as intensely farming as you are, but we’re making similar choices. I get to know the animals, we can have the conversation that says death is coming, but we will do the very best we can. Like you our local abattoir is eight miles down the road. We are all in terror of when the 80 year old guy who runs it decides he’s going to stop. And then we will have to crowdfund and find people who want to keep it going, because it only makes sense if you can do that short journey, keep it clean. They’re not in lay overnight. When I was a vet student, you had to do two weeks in an abattoir. And I very nearly failed at that point. It was the most horrific experience. And for the people there, just being surrounded by that much raw, existential terror all day, every day is an utterly dehumanising process, and I want no part of it.
Manda: And I walked in there being a meat eater and I walked out vegetarian for the next 15 years because I am not having any part of that. But this is different, and I think one of the things that you approach in your book is that plants are living, too. We project stuff onto animals with eyelashes and we empathise with them and that’s fine. We need to give them the best possible life they can have. But not eating meat, we’re still consuming things. And if we’re consuming things for which large areas of rainforest have been cut down and it’s all imported, my feeling is that it’s doing as much damage. It’s just that we don’t conceive of the damage as much as if we were eating industrial pork or beef, which which we shouldn’t be doing, I think it’s quite clear. How do you connect with the plants that you eat? Is there any kind of a spirit to separate the plant ness of the plants that you’re growing?
Lynn: Yeah. I mean, I think the crux of what you’re saying and that, you know, there is no life without death, so that there is no food without death. And I think, you know, we can’t simplify it into meat or no meat. It’s so much bigger than that. So the plants I like to think that we kind of water them with love every day. You know, in terms of the plants that we eat, let’s say. So we have a really productive kitchen garden, productive by tapping into nature. So we have an area outside where we have five raised beds, where we grow a whole range of vegetables from kale – we grow kale really well up here in Scotland, year round vegetable – to, you know, onions, garlic, leeks, brussels sprouts, cabbages, beetroots. You know, it’s just an absolute abundance out there. And it’s all done in a way where it’s really kind of tapping into, I guess, what people would define as the principles of permaculture. But it’s not turning over the soil, it’s not applying any kind of artificial fertilisers, and it’s really wanting just a really kind of rich, crumbly, worm packed soil. That’s what we’re going for, which is what nature provides naturally. So we try and kind of work with natural processes to produce our food that way.
Manda: How long did it take you to go from pretty much unfarmed land to your rich, crumbly, worm packed soil that you’re able to to grow it?
Lynn: Well, in terms of the kitchen garden, you know, we were really it took probably about 4 to 5 years to really ramp up production to the point where I can now say to you that between the kitchen garden and our polytunnel, you know, we’re growing about 95% of our year round veg. We can grow melons in our polytunnel. It’s incredible. We’ve grown some melons this year. Yeah, we grew some last year. Lovely sort of cantaloupe melons, a bit smaller than the ones that you would get in the shop, but absolutely delicious. So that’s taken about 4 to 5 years. I would say in terms of the field, it’s still really in a period of transition, you know. But we’re starting to see areas where there was no grass growth and just moss, to areas where the grass is, you know, at least half the height of your shin and growing, you know, every year it’s getting a little bit more. And that’s directly, we can see that, we can pinpoint that directly down to the impact of particularly our chickens who work through the fields and our cattle. The way that we graze our cattle and the way that we feed them in the wintertime using different, using kind of wildflower rich hay as well.
Manda: Right? So you have 100% pasture fed cattle, but your pigs, is it possible to do hundred percent pasture fed pigs or do they have to have some kind of cereal input?
Lynn: I think some people are close to doing less interventionist feeding. Ours get an organic feed, they get organic pellets. So that would be grains that we buy in. And then in addition to that, they’ll get what they forage. So they’ll be foraging everything from the different types of grasses to things like bog myrtle, rushes,heather. They also get at different times of the year, they’ll get kale plants, they’ll get turnips, anything that we’ve rejected from the kitchen garden. Then they’ll get things like apples. So we’ll get people donate us apples in the autumn. And then we also get maybe about once or twice a month they’ll get beer draught. So we have a brewery down in Granton.
Lynn: Just a small microbrewery. And every now and again, he’ll come up with five or six bags of draught. And that will maybe do them, you know, a week to ten days of feed. So it’s a real again, like them, it’s a real diverse mix. You know, it’s funny, out of all the animals that probably get the biggest, the biggest criticism would be the cows. You know, methane, carbon, these sort of sort of snapshots as to why they’re bad. Actually, I would say the ones that maybe kind of cause the most, that need the most intervention in terms of buying in feed is the chickens and the pigs. Now, they both deliver incredible impacts for the land. But it will be interesting to see how as things change in farming, how that is going to change as well. And there’s certainly more and more studies being done in the UK as a whole, on alternative feeds for more kind of legumes or peas that could be used to feed chickens and to feed cattle, also to feed pigs as well.
Manda: So we’re not importing soya.
Lynn: Exactly, exactly. Yes. Yeah.
Manda: So we’re technically way over time, but this is so exciting and so interesting. I just want.. So just in the last few closing minutes, where do you see yourselves going? And then as a slightly bigger picture, regenerative farming within Scotland because we haven’t really localised this in Scotland, but I would like to just as a closing thing. Where are you heading do you think? What’s different or what’s evolving? And then do you have a snapshot of a bigger picture?
Lynn: So I would say in terms of if I tackle the regenerative farming one first, I think in terms of regenerative farming in Scotland, from what I can see is, is a kind of a jog is now turning into a sprint. There are more and more people talking about it. There are more and more people interested in it. And I think there are more and more people awakening to it. And awakening to it, not just from a kind of a productivity element. You know, organic farming, all these kinds of ways of farming are not less productive. They can be equally and if not more productive. And I think people are awakening to that. And I think another reason why people are awakening to it is because cost wise, it makes sense. You don’t have to buy a lot of stuff. You just work with what you’ve got and you work with the animals. So there’s lots of different elements. I’d say also, you know, one of the biggest things about regenerative farming is it’s not just about regenerating the land, it’s about regenerating our minds. And if you can start to now, you know, look at all of that in a way whereby you’re buying in less artificial stuff, you’re working more with what you’ve got, you’re reconnecting better with what you have. And that is good for, for mind and body. So I think really, when we started back in 2016, nobody was talking about regenerative agriculture. You know, we kind of, you know, we’d read about other people around the world doing it.
Lynn: Nobody was talking about it. You fast forward six years, you know, we’re way behind the leading crew now. You know, we’re still doing what we were doing before, you know, but some people are doing incredibly exciting things. So I think the future is really positive in that sense in terms of what we’re doing at Lynbreck. So looking back at the last six years has been crazy busy. Really, really busy, a bit of a blind leading the blind, but a lot of a kind of a heart leading the heart and a gut leading the gut. In the future? So I know what we’re doing until about the end of October this year. From that point on, we have no plans, Manda. This is the first year we’ve ever decided to not have a plan.
Lynn: I really want to explain why that is. One, it feels like we’re at that place. It feels like I don’t want to have a plan. I actually don’t want to know what’s happening next. Now, that can sometimes be scary, because, you know, let’s say the financial element, I don’t know exactly where all of our income is going to come from next year. But I think what we feel in our guts is that this is a time of just rest and relaxation. That we need to recover. But also that we want to use as an opportunity to open new doors. You know, it’s kind of like we’re opening our kind of our souls to the universe and saying, what next? You know, we’re kind of opening our eyes and saying, where are you going to take us to next? And that might be, you know, another year of doing the same. Two more years of doing the same.
Lynn: We feel very drawn, you know, we’re very passionate about growing our own food. We’re very passionate about producing what we can for people locally. And I think what we’re really also finding is that we really just so enjoy having Lynbreck as a place for people to reconnect with the land. And we do that through our tours and courses or whatever. We feel like that delivers such massive benefits. So I think going forward, it could be all of the above. We don’t know what capacity that it could be. Another book? I don’t know. Sandra’s not within earshot, so I can say that, but I just don’t know. But I just, you know, whenever I think about it, I just keep thinking, you know what? We have the space and education and knowledge to grow our own food. We have water still in the well. We have about three years worth of firewood in the shed. We have a really cosy house to shelter in. It’s going to be okay and we’ll get the bills paid, you know, and that’s really, I think, where we’re sort of opening ourselves up to. So it’s over to you, universe. What’s next?
Manda: Yeah, that sounds so extraordinary. I am so in awe of that. I Yeah, definitely. That’s a wonderful place to close. Just as a final thing, if people do want to get in touch with you and do want to find you, how do they do that?
Lynn: So the website is lynbreckcroft.co.uk and we are on sort of Facebook and Instagram as well at Lynbreck Croft. But head to the website and if anybody wants to get in touch, there’s a little contact form and people can message us directly.
Manda: Excellent. And I will put those links in the show notes for people. So that’s definitely us. Lynn and Sandra in Absentia, thank you so much for taking your morning to come and talk to us. That was fantastic.
Lynn: Well, thank you very much for your time. I’m really grateful that you wanted to have a chat with us today. Thank you, Manda.
Manda: And that’s it for another week. Enormous thanks to Lynn and to Sandra and to Lynbreck Croft, for the inspiration of this week’s episode. It feels so good to be able to talk to someone who gets it on every level. The spiritual connection with the land, the interconnection with the land. That sense of tribe and family that goes beyond the human world, to the more than human world and the inevitable interconnectedness of us and it. We can’t all go and live on a croft in the Highlands, but we can all really begin to give thought to how we connect from the land. How we come from it and return to it. Our relationship with life and death in all its forms. And Lynn and Sandra have done that so beautifully in the book, and I feel very fluently in this podcast. So I hope it provides another layer of inspiration for all of us to think about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how we’re doing it, and begin to evolve our lives into something that is as deeply connected as we can make it to what makes our own hearts sing and to what gives us the life that we have. And given that life and death are always interconnected and that our lives are always predicated on the death of something else, what it brings to me is a sense that I then have an absolute responsibility to do with this life the best that I can in every moment. Which brings us to the spiritual aspect of being fully mindful, being able to connect with the web of life and ask it, What do you want of me? And being able to find the joy in every moment, because it is the moment that I have consciously chosen.
Manda: It is the moment that I am living. It’s the moment that I am processing in the best way that I can, the gifts of this life and sending the me-ness of me out into the world. And it increasingly seems to me, I’ve said this on the most recent podcasts, that this beingness; what it is to be me, what it is to bring everything that I can bring to the world. Finding that and being able to live with it is what conscious evolution is about, at least as I understand it at the moment. And it is what we need, all of us, to bring to the world. So with that in mind, please find what is the you-ness of you and bring it to the world in the best ways that you can in the coming weeks. And that’s it for now. We will be back next week with another very different conversation.
Manda: In the meantime, thanks to Caro C for the music at the head and foot and for the sound production. To Faith, for the website and the tech, and for considering the potential of a move to Scotland. To Anne Thomas and Gill Coombs for the transcripts. And as ever to you, for listening. If you know of anybody else who wants to be part of this dance between us and the land, between life and death, between where we are now and what we could become, then, please do share this link. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.
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