Cotswold farmers triumph at the BBC Food and Farming Awards

Joan Bomford

Joan Bomford - Credit: Archant

The region is successful once again at the BBC Food and Farming Awards Ceremony 2016

I don’t know what it is about the farms of the Three Counties but the region seems to be home to a breed of inspirational and formidable women. This year’s BBC Food and Farming Awards ceremony was another boost for Britain’s unsung food and drinks producers and farmers. Meanwhile, for the second year running, Countryfile’s own award went to someone from Cotswold Life’s corner of the country.

Twelve months ago, the Farming Hero award went to 83 year-old Joan Bomford from Worcestershire. Joan started farming in the 1930s and even today she still does all the hard graft on her beef farm in the Vale of Evesham. She keeps horses, teaches people to ride, helps local charities and years ago she even saved the Evesham Agricultural Show when it looked doomed. When I asked her if she fancied just putting her slippers on and having a rest, she replied in a flash; “that would drive me scatty.”

After winning the award in 2015, Joan found herself in the media spotlight with radio and TV interviews by the dozen and articles about her in most of the national newspapers. She even secured a book deal and recently published her autobiography ‘Up with the Lark’. It’s a wonderful read and I wouldn’t be surprised if Joan’s book was made in to a film. I’ve got my money on Dame Judi Dench in the lead role!

So this year’s award winner had a lot to live up to. Once again viewers sent their nominations to us in their hundreds and we were told about some truly amazing people. My fellow judge was a familiar face on Countryfile and a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme, Charlotte Smith. Together we sifted through all the submissions and after an awful lot of indecision and deliberation, we finally chose our three finalists. The first contender wasn’t an individual but a group of 1,600 people; the Cumbria Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs. They were nominated for helping with the relief effort after the devastating floods in the North West last December. Our next finalist was the sort of person who leaves you exhausted just from reading their CV! Sheep farmer John Armour from Campbeltown in South West Scotland is a real champion for his community; he set up the local radio station, is a driving force behind the Kintyre Agricultural show, gives support to everything from the Sea Scouts to the local amateur dramatics group and even campaigned for a ferry link to the mainland.

However, our winner for 2016 was another spirited Three Counties farmer with a remarkable story to tell. For years Julia Evans ran a beef herd in Herefordshire and fought her way through the dark days of BSE and the 2001 outbreak of Foot & Mouth Disease. But nine years ago she was told by her doctor that she had an aggressive form of breast cancer and she had only a 50% chance of living more than five years. It was a diagnosis that turned her life around and made her think very hard about what she wanted to achieve. In her own words, it was time to “give something back”. So she set up the Longlands Care Farm, giving practical work experience and hope to young people who struggle at school; some have behavioural problems and many are on the brink of being excluded. Now, nine years on from her diagnosis, Julia welcomes up to 40 youngsters every week to her farm near Whitbourne where they roll their sleeves up and do everything from working a chain-saw to feeding the livestock. The young people obviously gain from it but it brings benefits for Julia too; “it’s incredibly rewarding. I’m very proud of our youngsters.” I’m already looking forward to who we’ll discover next year!

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