This Farming Life, which we began watching while we were looking for a light-hearted program to end our evening and calm down after streaming a mystery or a thriller, has turned into a go-to program filled with compelling characters, beautiful Scottish scenery, while singing a love song to rural living in a farm setting. Produced by the BBC Documentary Unit, which creates around 2000 hours of video material a year for national and international consumption, by thoughtfully assembling what emerges, in effect, as a lush visual love song to farming, family, and rural living.
In Season 1 of This Farming Life, five families living in five quite contrasting regions of northern Scotland face the vicissitudes and victories, challenges and successes of life largely governed by the animals they love, the countryside they treasure, and the extremes of weather and climate they endure.
Sandy Granville and his wife Ali are retired London lawyers who moved to The Isle of Lewis, an island several hours ferry ride removed from the mainland, where Sandy became a crofter, a herder of a flock living year-round outdoors in extremely rough country. The herd of sheep is annually put on boats to bring to his farmstead, where they shear sheep, thin the herd, and care for it.
Martin Irvine and his, now, wife Mel farm Limousin beef cattle on a farm near Drummuir on a rented estate where they also care for 600 ewes for the Lord of the manor. Their relationship develops through the year, culminating in a rousing wedding in the eleventh episode. Their campaign to sell cattle at local and regional fairs culminates in Scotland’s largest agricultural fair near the end of the first series.
Martin & Mel Irvine
Bobby and Anne Lennox’s Shantron Farm lies near Luss on Loch Lomond north of Glasgow. They are well known for their work with regional youth groups, especially young farmers. Also important in their enterprise is a bed and breakfast business associated with the farm. They and their ancestors have been farming the same land since the 1750’s.
Anne & Bobby Lennox
John and Fiona Scott’s family have farmed Fearn Farm for four generations on over 1100 acres they own plus over 650 additional acres they lease. On it, they raise sheep and cattle. John was named “Sheep Farmer of the Year” for 2015 in Scotland.
During the first season, the ten episodes follow the families through the seasons, beginning with bringing their herds back to the barns for the winter and then following the seasons of the year along with the seasons of life, relationships, and the work itself. The series never condescends to the characters while accurately portraying the difficulty, danger, and rewards of the work. While their backgrounds are quite different, these are people committed to their work, their animals, and their relationships.
This Farming Life never shies away from aspects of farm life which could provide difficulties for some viewers. The cattle and sheep on these farms are useful for, basically, two things - meat and breeding. Sex and death are constant companions of daily life. This reality is never ignored or disguised, providing language and material which might never be heard or seen on American television screens.