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Tagged the Marmite Man, Jeremy Clarkson is well-known for dividing public opinion. But the larger than life character infamously axed from Top Gear is something of a hero to British farmers, thanks to his Amazon Prime reality TV series Clarkson’s Farm.
Crowned Farming Champion of the Year 2021 by the National Farmers’ Union, the petrol head turned man-of-the-land has won over the farming community and shone a light on a side of the country that has been largely hidden from view.
Filmed over the course of a year the series documented the struggles of managing the land with Clarkson’s unique blend of humour and crisis.
NFU President Minette Batters, speaking of the accolade, said: “It’s been such a challenging time for British farming over the past 12 months; as key workers our farmers have kept shelves stocked with British food and dealt with extreme weather events.
“Now, they are battling labour shortages, supply chain disruption and rising costs, which are causing severe problems for essential food producing businesses.
“Through all of this, Jeremy Clarkson has been a vocal champion for the British farming industry.”
Renown farmer and prize-winning author James Rebanks, speaking at this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival echoes this sentiment, saying that the show ‘makes working-class rural men the heroes’.
He didn’t hold back on his views: “Frankly they [farmers] have been pi**ed off with Countryfile for 30 years, because the whole logic of Countryfile is that they can’t make a mainstream programme about farming because farming is for a niche group of idiots.
“And what Clarkson has come along and done is say, ‘Actually no, everybody will watch a programme about farming, it just needs to be done in a certain way.’ And what they really liked is that he got people to spend 15 minutes… thinking about how tough farming is.”
Clarkson’s Farm, featuring the 1,000-acre Diddly Squat estate in the Cotswolds – named due to the lack of income it supposedly generates – has highlighted the harsh realities of farming life and has helped garner a new found appreciation for British farmers.
One member of the Parsley Box team in particular didn’t need reminding of this: Cassandra Suddes, Head of Product at Parsley Box, is the daughter of a farmer and has grown up with a deep respect for food provenance and what’s involved in food production.
“At Parsley Box, we’re always looking to buy British and support local farmers. We want to highlight our food provenance so we can increase customer interest in our meals and our company through storytelling.
“We want to showcase beautiful British produce and put money back into the pockets of British farmers.”
Our customers want to know where their food is from and how it’s made, so being transparent demonstrates we’re a responsible brand that cares about the same issues that matter to them.Cassandra Suddes, Parsley Box Head of Product
As part of that desire to tell the individual stories of the people supplying the ingredients used in its recipes the company launched Parsley Box Origins, a campaign to raise awareness of its food credentials.
In the first of a planned series of videos, the team visited its potato supplier in Malton, the food capital of Yorkshire, to learn first-hand about the fine quality of local produce and how it makes its way into its ready meals.
Steve Bannister, dad, grandad, great grandad and life long potato farmer, took time out of his busy day to show us around the farm. A remarkably fit and very young looking 70 year old he explained that the secret to remaining sharp is to ‘work hard and do what you love’.
Besides running the farm with his sons and grandson, he’s a local celebrity rally driver, nick-named the Malton Missile. The most successful driver in the Trackrod Rally Yorkshire’s history, Steve prides himself on staying fit and mentally alert.
His day starts at 5 am and is ruled by the weather.
He explains: “They call potatoes the gamblers’ crop, because you never know what you’re going to find. When I dig that first fork into the ground in the morning it gives me a buzz every time with nervous anticipation of what I’ll find.”
Steve first planted potatoes on the Yorkshire Wolds chalk hills and valleys when he was just 17, starting off with 4 acres before building up to the 2,000 acres he farms today.
New machinery meant he was able to de-stone the chalk fields to plant on virgin land to ‘produce better quality potatoes of a better size and with better yields.’
His passion for farming is clear and it’s a passion that he shares with his family:
“Farming is all that I’ve ever known and all that I’ve ever wanted to do. Ours is a family business and the pride in what we do bonds us together.”
His son John features in the video, as Steve says he’s camera shy, but still he did agree to a cameo appearance with his wife at the end enjoying a Parsley Box cottage pie topped with delicious mash made from his potatoes.
Steve’s potatoes travel just 15 miles from his farm to the factory to be added to Parsley Box dishes. Reducing food miles, is a key objective for Cassandra as she develops the range of meals.
“We want to cut back on the distance our ingredients travel as much as we can and we can do this by buying locally, as we do with our potatoes. By striving to use the most sustainable ingredients we’re supporting British farmers and creating demand for higher-quality foods with a smaller carbon footprint.
“For the same sustainability reasons people are avoiding certain ingredients now too. Take palm oil for example, it continues to be a major driver of deforestation of some of the world’s most biodiverse forests throwing out millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.
“We’ve recently replaced all the palm oil in our crumbles with butter – using butter this way is just how you’d make a crumble at home. Similarly, we’ve switched all the palm oil in our dumplings with beef suet, just like you’d add in home cooking.”
We’re not on our own in wanting to source sustainable ingredients and support the UK farming community. A recent Trust in Food Index, conducted online by YouGov with more than 3,500 adults across the UK looked at levels of trust in domestic and imported food. It found that 84% of UK consumers trust food from Britain, with that trust increasing the closer to home the product was grown or produced.
Outspoken on several farming related issues, Clarkson has backed the NFU’s call for UK food self-sufficiency to not slip below 60% and is pushing for 80%.
Thankfully, with a greater awareness of the challenges facing farmers comes a greater appreciation of home grown produce and a greater demand for it. Take Clarkson’s Farm as proof – it hasn’t just been a hit for Amazon, it’s a hit for consumers too as the traffic jams and enormous crowds that gather outside the Diddly Squat Farm shop speaks volumes.