Humble by Nature: review and reflections

by frankbeswick

Kate Humble's account of her venture into smallholding is well written and makes good reading.

The phrase, Humble by Nature, sounds a bit strange, but it is a partly biographical account of a broadcaster's move from an urban life in London to Monmouthshire, an area of South East Wales. The book is written clearly and provides useful information to anyone intending to move to a more rural lifestyle. In particular, the author comes across as demonstrating the personal qualities required to be a success in what is a charming, but often fraught endeavour

The author

Kate Humble is a broadcaster well-established on British television, on which she presents nature programmes, such as Lambing Live, and has travelled to various exotic destinations, such as the mountains of Afghanistan, to investigate the lives of farmers there. She and her husband decided to move from urban London to Monmouthshire, a lovely area of South Wales popular with tourists and smallholders. Monmouthshire is a county that has been in England and Wales at various times, and is currently Wales, and its landscape, which includes parts of the Severn and Wye valleys, is an example of the idyllic beauty of South West Britain, fertile valleys  overlooked by the Welsh mountains, in whose challenging terrain Humble purchased first one, then another property.

This is Kate's first book, and it is a success. The language is always controlled and there is no excessive verbosity. She sustains interest throughout the volume. Humble manages to combine a personal account of her own endeavours with informative material on farming practices. Yet she also shows much of her own personality in the book, which comes out as very sociable and balanced. While she is critical of bureacracy, she does not enter into excessive language about the clumsiness of the officials who impeded her purchase of a farm, which she turned into a training centre for rural skills, whose business name is Humble by Nature, hence the title of the book.

Originally Kate and Ludo, her husband, took up a a few acres to farm while they continued their busy careers in broadcasting. But then they fell for a small farm that was being sold by its owners, the county council, to defray the burden of government cuts. The struggle to acquire the farm and grow the business takes up much of the book, and we are taken up by her simple determination to rescue the place and prevent the tragedy of yet another farm being lost and the future of potential young farmers blighted as they are caught in a vice between government and big capital. She eventually succeeded, and we can rejoice with her.

Humble by Nature

Humble by Nature

In 2007, after twenty years of living in London, Kate Humble and her husband Ludo decided it was time to leave city life behind them. Three years later, now the owner of a Welsh...

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Reflections

Kate's experience demonstrates certain important points for anyone contemplating the good life.Firstly, she did not give up the day job, and maintained her demanding work as a television presenter, which involved being away for periods of time, but it did mean that she was not tied to any particular place to live, which meant that she could go off to dwell in Monmouthshire without jeopardizing the job; and she retained the income that the job provided. This income could fund the dream.

However, she managed to maintain the dream by having a husband who was as committed to the dream as she was.  He was capable of relocating his role in the BBC to South Wales, which was a great help. This shows that without a supportive partner/spouse the dream cannot work. The pair seem to have a good relationship, which is always a help. But secondly, they have no children. The demands of children have often quashed many a parents' personal desires. And yet the farmer's dream of passing on the land to their children cannot be Humble's.

Another key point is that the main job must pay well. While Kate is not rich from her job as a presenter, and is no millionaire, she is certainly not poor. There was money available for the project, and the couple seem to be very creditworthy. Lack of cash has sunk many an endeavour, however dearly loved, and so Kate is demonstrating the importance of  having a good job to back your plans. She also has ensured that she makes the existing job work, as she seems as committed to it as she was before her farm project began.

Furthermore, of critical importance is the fact that she seems to be very high on social skills and is genuinely popular with those around her. Thus she could make a strong network of connections with many people in her new locality and work well with them in a genuinely co-operative way. This shows that no person can do it alone like a rugged individualist, a frontiersman like Daniel Boone braving the wilderness. Social skills are necessary even for the quiet, rural and agricultural life that she has adopted. She also displays a genuine love of animals, which has meant that she can relate to them well, a quality necessary in a smallholder.

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Business lessons

Kate was alert to the important business principle of finding a niche. She did not establish a farm, but a training centre. Here people come for cookery, foraging and smallholding courses. She has rightly used her celebrity status and social intelligence to boost her business, Wouldn't we all if we had them? Her ability to network has been a major business advantage, and she has ensured that her network includes a range of people from a variety of sources, and certainly local people are strongly represented. This shows that if you want to run a working rural business, you need to apply the same business principles as you apply elsewhere.Dreams can only be realized with realism.

Furthermore, she is alert to opportunities, as any good business person must be. When speaking to a woman involved in battery hen rescue, she realized that there was no suitable facility for battery hens in her area. There is now, and she hosts many rescued chickens that are found new homes in the local area. Goats were introduced to meet the fashionable demand for goats' meat. She now has a farm that includes sheep, goats, chickens and pigs. Some of the land is let to  tenant farmer, who keeps his own stock and she lets out part of the property as a holiday cottage. She has planted a cider orchard, which not only restores the farm's traditions, but meets the growing demand for artisan cider and perry.

Yet the book gives many insights and facts useful to one interested in farming, and as one keen on self-reliance and farming I learned things that I did not already know.

This book is an account by a level headed and good natured, efficient and competent woman who knows what she wants and gets it without nastiness or unscrupulous behaviour. The book is well worth reading.

 

Updated: 03/01/2014, frankbeswick
 
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