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An honest day's wage

I was lucky enough to have spent a good deal of my younger years living in the countryside. My earliest memories are almost all with a background of fields, trees and animals. My first 'work' was picking potatoes. An annual right of passage that took place through the October school holidays, when school children would help out with the, then, intensely labour intensive harvesting.

In my mid and late teens I spend many summers working on a local farm. I have very vivid and very fond memories of that time. I learnt lessons that I will always cherish.

But, I would stress one extremely vital point about this romanticized period of my personal history. In the main this was far, far from a rural idyl. It was really hard work. A hay bale is not a small item. Chucking them onto a trailer is a process that requires a fair amount of strength and a bit of a knack. Doing it for hours on end soon lets you know how beneficial a good set of callouses can be.

I listen to individuals in positions of some responsibility bemoaning their long hours and the stress that they endure. But, they have 25 days holiday a year, sick days when required and renumeration package that does compensate. Farming is not like that.

Try the hours of a farmer. Try the stress of running a business that is almost guaranteed never to make money. Try the responsibility of caring for livestock, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365.2522 days a year. And do it all under the vagaries of the weather. It is really, really hard.

There is a parallel to be drawn between farming and the royal family. You're born into it, you don't really have any choice of what your future will be. My sympathy is with the farmer.

There is a conception in this country that farmers are all very comfortably off in this country. Land owners, supported by generous subsidy. Let me correct that. Let me clarify for you. Farm workers are paid a pittance and it is a disgrace. There is no such thing as an hourly wage on a farm, it does not work like that. Of course there will be exceptions, but in the main... they are taken for granted.

I seethe when I see the profits made by supermarkets. I recoil at the waste involved in the way that we eat. I'm horrified at how unbelievably cheap food is. You buy oranges or pineapples or coffee.... and you think what it takes to harvest, process, package, ship, distribute; and then you add on the supermarket's shareholders' margin.. take all that away from what you're asked to spend? It doesn't leave very much for the poor bastard making a living from producing it.

And that last paragraph is part of the problem. We are, to a certain extent, willing to make a small effort to support the overseas farmer. But unfortunately having comforted our irritated conscience by spending 20p more on a PC suitable bar of chocolate we can happily avoid the issue that we have in this country. And the issue is exactly the same in this country, exactly.

We should be ashamed.

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