The Heathfield Agricultural Show, building bridges between town and country
Complete Land Management have been exhibiting at The Heathfield Show for over ten years, we asked Mandy Ashdown, of the Sussex-based company, to give us some insight into why they keep coming back for more.
Farming is changing more quickly than it ever has, so a lot of people in towns and cities have no idea what happens in the countryside.
This is understandable. Far fewer people have a direct connection to agriculture than a couple of generations ago and many children don’t get an opportunity to learn about it at school.
Whether it’s how crops are grown, how animals are reared or simply why it’s important to keep dogs on leads near livestock, Heathfield Show gives urban dwellers and farmers a chance to come together, ask each other questions and find out about each other’s way of life.
At a time when the relationship between rural and urban can be fractious, the role of the show fostering links between these two communities is more important than ever. It offers the urban public an enjoyable glimpse of country life and gives farmers a first-hand insight in to what makes their customers tick.
I’ve seen it from both sides. My father was a fireman and my mum worked in a bank so I don’t come from a farming family, but many years ago I found myself working at a dairy farm in Saltdean which had a number of milkrounds. I was employed to do the data entry, but soon realised I loved helping on the farm. I later joined CLM, a business and property management consultancy specialising in farms and rural estates based at Hartfield.
Nowadays, consumers are quite rightly interested in traceability. They’re fascinated by where their food comes from and want reassurance it’s been produced safely and to high welfare standards. At the same time, farmers are changing their businesses in a raft of ways – adopting cutting-edge technology to ensure British agriculture remains a world leader, with many diversifying by running other businesses alongside their agricultural enterprises. There are now, for example, great opportunities for growing grapes for wine making in the South East, for example.
For us exhibitors, meanwhile, the Show is a great opportunity to see clients. In this digital era, ever-more work is done remotely via email and, while this brings many advantages, there’s no substitute for seeing someone face-to-face.
It’s a lovely opportunity to spend some time with clients, often meeting their families in the process. Some of our clients have been with us since CLM was founded 15 years ago so we’ve seen their kids grow up and even grandchildren come along.
Though many of the farmers and landowners we’ll see at Heathfield will feel uncertain over the future, whenever I talk to them I’m always struck by what an incredibly entrepreneurial group they are. Many currently feel agriculture is at a crosswords – they know the existing subsidy system is going to be phased out, but they haven’t been told what the support system that will replace this will look like (other than that it will reward those who provide ’public goods’ such as clean water, public access or healthier soils).
I wouldn’t be surprised if 50 or more of our clients call on the stand during the day. It’s a chance for us to say a big thank you to them for putting their trust in us over a cup of tea (or something stronger), a slice of cake and a burger. Horam-based Steve Smither is doing our barbecue – he’s been a butcher for over 30 years, so what Steve doesn’t know about meat isn’t worth knowing!
It’s set to be an enjoyable day, but it’ll also be a busy one. I’ve only missed one Heathfield Show since I joined CLM in 2008 and this year there’ll be 10 of us from the firm attending. We’re also sponsoring one of the cattle classes, the ‘Open Beef Heifer sired by a Continental’. I like to arrive by 7.30am so we have plenty of time to put up the stand. It’s a logistical challenge, but we’ve got quite slick at setting it up these days.
I really enjoy being on the stand, but if I get time I always have a look at the equine area. I see that a ‘Shetland Pony Grand National’ is going to be introduced for young riders this year, so that sounds like a lot of fun.
It’s this unique mix of entertainment, education and business that ensures the show, now in its 72nd year, stays so popular at a time when some country shows are struggling.
Whether it’s food, crafts, vintage tractors or poultry, there really is something for everyone and it’s not surprising it attracted 18,000 people last year.
The organisers, exhibitors and visitors all come together for a friendly, family day out – and when the gates close the town and the country will undoubtedly understand each other a little better which is great news for everyone.
Thank you to Mandy Ashworth for this article. CLM will be exhibiting at The Heathfield Show on Saturday 25 May 2019. See them there!