Adam Henson: Farmer in her 80s is truly inspirational

Adam Henson meets Joan Bomford / Photo: Countryfile (BBC)

Adam Henson meets Joan Bomford / Photo: Countryfile (BBC) - Credit: Archant

Adam Henson meets 83-year-old Joan Bomford, a worthy winner of the Farming Hero award

Farmer Joan Bomford with Adam Henson

Farmer Joan Bomford with Adam Henson - Credit: Archant

“Get up early and keep going”

With those six, simple words a remarkable lady called Joan Bomford won the hearts of Britain’s top foodies, farmers and celebrity chefs. Joan is an 83-year-old beef farmer from Worcestershire and she shared her words of wisdom as she accepted the Countryfile Farming Hero Award 2015. I was standing next to her on the stage at the BBC Food and Farming Awards in Bristol as the applause rang out for a truly inspirational woman. In the audience were some of the country’s best-known TV cooks including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Tom Kerridge and Angela Hartnett. But Joan was the undoubted star of the show.

Earlier this year we began the search for a brand new award to recognise an individual farmer, or a farming family, who impresses and inspires others. We were overwhelmed with the response from viewers and we received more than 800 nominations. My fellow judges were Charlotte Smith from Countryfile and Radio 4’s Farming Today programme and the farmer and agricultural consultant Mike Gooding. Between us we had the almost impossible task of drawing up a shortlist of just three finalists. After a lot of soul searching we decided on Joan along two other incredible farmers. One was Robert Bertram from Northumberland who saved the life of his neighbour, Mark, when his Quad Bike overturned on a snow-covered mountainside, miles from home. The other was 17-year-old Cameron Hendry from Perthshire who took over the running of the family farm to support his mum and younger brother after his father died suddenly on Christmas Day. They are both exceptional, selfless individuals and would have been very worthy winners.

Joan began farming in Inkberrow back in the 1930s when, as a little girl, she was allowed to milk her first cow. Then she did all the jobs you would expect any farm worker to do including driving tractors, ploughing fields and working a threshing drum. She’s seen farming go from the age of the horse and the steam engine right through to the modern, hi-tech, highly-specialised industry we see today.

When I visited her on her 500-acre farm at South Littleton near Evesham she’d been harrowing the fields, had been up early muck-spreading and was talking about driving a lorry load of cattle to market. She took particular delight in showing off her herd of cross bred Herefords. She likes them because of their quiet, gentle temperament which I suppose you can appreciate when the farmer and breeder is in her 80s! On our tour around Joan’s corner of the Evesham Vale, I was really impressed with how immaculately she kept the farmyard. It’s obvious that she has a real sense of pride about the place.

She set up a riding school as an early example of farm diversification in the 1950s. She started by giving free rides on her beloved ponies and eventually became involved in running Pony Club Games, point to point meetings and gymkhanas. Over the years she’s taught more than 2,000 people to ride including many disabled people and often free of charge. She was also a regular at the Evesham Show and when it was under threat of closure, she even hosted the event on her land. The last year or so has been particularly hard for Joan after losing her brother in a tragic accident followed by the death of her husband, Tony.

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But Joan is as tough as old boots with a heart like a lion. She puts her energy and zest for life down to old fashioned food, plenty of sleep and enjoying her work. I think the award citation said it all: ‘Joan went above and beyond both as a farmer and as a stalwart of her local community’.