By A Field Of Wheat
A Field of Wheat is the outcome of two years of research based on the arable fields of Lincolnshire. Our research focused in Lincolnshire because we wanted to go to the heart of UK ‘prairie country’ the breadbasket of the UK.
Lincolnshire is significant because of its longstanding identity as an agricultural county, food and farming is estimated to contribute £2.5 billion to the economy of the county and the region has ¼ of the country’s most productive Grade 1 arable land. (quoted from Agricultural & Horticultural Forum).
We had a shared curiosity about what it would feel like to be in and move around these extensive flatlands, to think about the connections between these fields and the food that is on our tables, to explore the place of these vast fields in a resource depleted, low carbon world. These vast ‘invisible’ landscapes are often devoid of human presence – we wanted to bring people to these spaces and make them visible. Our research built on our existing knowledge and deepened our understanding of the cultural history, stories and customs that surround wheat farming, in Lincolnshire and beyond. For this we spent time in various archives in Lincoln, The Museum of English Rural Life, The Collection Museum & Art Gallery and with personal contacts and researchers.
Over the past eighteen months we have spent time with three farmers in different parts of the county visiting their farms at different times of the growing cycle. All have different approaches to working and managing the land, and all grow wheat. Andrew Ward farms 1650 acres in South Lincolnshire growing wheat, spring malting barley, oilseed rape and sugar beet. Andrew hosts farm visits with famers, consultants and agronomists from around the world. He was recently awarded an MBE for his services to farming resilience after he set up the Forage Aid scheme to help farmers hit by floods and snowstorms in 2013. Jonathan Clubb is organic farm manager for A E Lenton who have a land holding of 2000 acres and farm 800 acres organically in a combination of roots, brassicas, potatoes and cereals. Peter Lundgren, who will farm our Field of Wheat, has 100 acres of combinable crops barley, oil seed rape and wheat. Their stories, generosity and openness has been vital in providing us with first-hand information about all aspects of farming.
During our time researching we’ve also spoken to academics, quakers, ramblers, farmer’s wives and historians. We have found out about market systems, futures trading and psychological behaviour in business relationships and food supply chains. We’ve looked at paintings in The Collection, ledgers in the Archives and held historical farm tools in the Museum of Lincolnshire Life. We’ve foraged jams from field margins, walked miles in mud caked boots, driven tractors, climbed straw bales and sat in silence in a Quaker meeting house.
Throughout, our attention has constantly drawn to both the local and the global.
The local everyday life of the farmers, the weather, diseases, long hours and the choices, complexities and risks they have to take. And the global narrative of the commodities markets, supply and demand, speculation, politics, climate and constant flows of data.
Focusing our collective gaze on A Field of Wheat as it germinates, flowers and ripens gives us space and time to reflect on some of these stories of our times and consider the central role of food and agriculture in our cultural, spiritual, social, ecological and economical lives.