IT HAD been a pretty straightforward week, the farmer reflected as he seated himself at his kitchen table with a cup of tea and talked about how the business was going.
“How many hours have you put in?” I asked. “Not bad at all,” he replied. “About 80.” That’s double the length of most working weeks, and more than enough to send any salaried worker screaming blue murder to an employment tribunal.
But in the farmer’s terms, as he gazed out of the window at the land his family have worked for generations near Ripon, it wasn’t bad, set against the many weeks when his hours climb even higher in a context of working seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.
He didn’t even mention that, it simply being a fact of life. What he did mention was how much he was looking forward to this week, not because he’ll be doing fewer hours, the work never ends, but because he’ll be in the company of the only people who really, profoundly, understand his life – fellow farmers.
His anticipation is shared by farmers from across our county and beyond, along with tens of thousands of people with no connection to farming who flock to the Great Yorkshire Show, which starts today.
For the next three days, Harrogate becomes the focus of agriculture in Britain, where problems, opportunities and trends in the sector are aired and discussed, as well as where the very best it produces is celebrated and rewarded.
And to the 135,000 visitors expected, whether from town or country, the show represents something else very important, too.
If there is a single event in the calendar that is emblematic of the heart and soul of our region, it is the Great Yorkshire Show.
None other matches it for summing up and showcasing the core values of hard work and commitment to excellence that underpin Yorkshire’s life. Nor does any other event remind us so powerfully of the countryside that characterises the county, the central role played by farmers in caring for it, and the food that they produce for us.
The show gives those in the farming community a chance to step back from the daily routine, to compare notes, talk frankly about what troubles and cheers them. Depending on where they farm, life can feel isolated and the long hours put in lonely. The opportunity to meet peers is invaluable.
For the public, it’s a chance to get up close to agriculture and develop a greater understanding of it, which is more than ever necessary to bridge what can be a troublingly wide disconnect between urban and rural, especially amongst the young.
Only last week, a grower smiled and shook his head in amused disbelief as he related to me the story of meeting a boy from an inner city who had no idea that peas come from a pod that grows on a plant. His understanding stopped at the door of his parents’ freezer.
It’s perfectly possible that child also fails to connect the meat on his plate with the cattle in the fields his family pass in the car on the way to the seaside, or the pullover he wears to school in the winter with the sheep on the hills a mile or two farther on.
He will be far from alone in his lack of understanding, fostered by pre-packaging and a one-stop supermarket shopping culture that has tended to obscure the journey food makes from field to table.
Leaving aside the question of why the boy’s parents have failed to teach him even rudimentary basics about where food comes from – assuming they know themselves – the Great Yorkshire would be a useful eye-opener for him.
For the rest of us, it’s a reminder of why we should celebrate Yorkshire’s farmers, and the debt of gratitude we owe them for producing honest, traceable food to the highest standards of welfare, year in, year out, in all weathers and regardless of punishing working hours.
The show is also about trust in what we eat. It is only last year that the public was horrified by the “Horsegate” scandal, in which ready meals were found to have been tainted by horsemeat. The disturbing questions it raised over how much we actually know about our food continue to resonate.
But those questions simply do not arise when it comes to the farmers out in force at the Great Yorkshire Show. Trust in them and what they produce is a given, because honesty is their calling card, and that deserves both our admiration and support.
The growth in the public’s appetite for locally-produced food is testament to how valuable that bond of trust is, both commercially to those whose living depends on it, and also to us as a county, for which it is a hallmark of integrity.
We want honest food we can trust. That’s what Yorkshire farmers produce. They are the very spirit of the county, and the Great Yorkshire Show is the finest salute to them that there can be.