Food, farming, frugal living: my focus for 2024. Here’s a flavour

Food, farming, frugal living. They say that things happen in threes… Those three are my emerging focus for work and beyond in the year ahead, not least as I try to figure out how to start a smallholding (big project: slowly slowly).

Perhaps I could wait until a fully drawn strategy is in place around these three Fs, and share that in a blog… Fair point, well made. I’m still figuring it all out, so to help things along, this blog is an exploration. Thanks for joining me. As ever, please add a comment at the end.

Food: a gift that keeps on giving

It’s only food, said hardly anyone, ever. Cooking from scratch, when we have the time and motivation, can be such a satisfying feeling. Professor of the Bleedin’ Obvious? Yes, OK. Resolutions for the year ahead, probably not. Goals and habits, yes please.

Among them, for me: cook at least something every day.

  • that pear crumble from Great British Chefs? I can’t wait. (Some of the recipes on that website are intimidating, that one: not at all);
  • more progress with pizza making: an experiment recently with beetroot, not tomato, as the sauce, worked pretty well. Making a pizza with dough from Asda was a step in the right direction;
  • the chicken, kale and pesto soup I cooked over Christmas (recipe from Delicious magazine) was more stew than soup… delicious stew; next time bulgur wheat will get fewer minutes in the pan

I share recipes, and my (don’t have that in the house, try that replacement) variations, on my Facebook page and profile. Recipe = sage on the stage, to be followed to the letter? Guide on the side, I prefer, using the instructions as a framework to make hearty, mood-enhancing food…

Photo of a pear orchard in a blog by Brian McGee about food,  farming and frugal living

The crumble mix includes ground ginger, cinnamon, ground cloves & juniper berries

Recipe curation: blogs ahead

Of course we can set ourselves a challenge anytime… but sure, why not now in the new year. #BMweeklyblogchallenge will do what is says on the tin, perhaps with the occasional lapse a week when a blog doesn’t get published by me. That’s OK, we’re allowed to be human and the world will keep turning…

Among the blogs: a curation of recipes around a theme, seasonal produce high up the list. There’s nothing new under the sun, and all that, but writing about cookery and food will, I hope, build many new bridges (work, life): food, after all, can be a great way to connect with people.

(Dogs too, but I digress: Be more Scout: five suggestions about work (& life) from doggo of my heart)

Food: grow, chop, cook, eat (wash up)

Courgettes, potatoes, shallots, tomatoes: that was about as far as I got last year with growing some of my own food. Fennel, rhubarb (a slow burner), beetroot were much less successful. But setbacks are progress too, right?

The number of courgettes, and their size, from the four or five plants I grew from seed, amazed me…

I tried out planting nasturtiums as “sacrificial plants” nearby. Hard to say how successful that was, without a control experiment.

This year? Different varieties, including yellow courgettes maybe. And vertical growing too, perhaps, using reclaimed materials if possible.

(I also converted my garden shed into a greenhouse, using mostly reclaimed double-glazing panes. Any carpenter or joiner would be horrified at my give-it-a-go construction. But it’s mostly withstood a lot of very strong wind – Dover sure gets blustery.

Bashed-up as the converted shed has become, my chest remains puffy with pride – to borrow a turn of phrase from an Irish uncle, no longer with us.)

Another blog: St Patrick (diplomat, snake chaser) – and the gifts of language from Ireland

So, after buying all those packets of seeds last year, pretty soon it will be time to try again, make more mistakes, evaluate, repeat. Leave time to time – and let the heated propagators, sunny windowsills and peat-free compost work their magic…

There’s a need to compromise
to get where you want to go,
and there’s a need to take steps
carefully, gradually (…)
Time makes more progress than reason.

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia,
on U.S. President Thomas Jefferson
(Great Lives, BBC Radio 4, Thursday 4 January 2024)

Food(ies) & East Kent

While walking from Dover to Capel-le-Ferne recently – five miles felt fine at the time, including a bracing hale shower – I blame myself, as not long before I told Seamus how much I like winter walks – I hit on an idea involving food, writing, and local businesses.

More and better details to follow. It’s the germ of an idea for now… but it might just grow. I’ll work on a minimum viable product to launch in April, then another improved iteration six months later.

From the archive: Show your local high street some love: 7 ideas (online, offline, out mooching)

Cookie and a heart shape to illustrate a blog by Brian McGee about food, farming and frugal living

Farming: small is beautiful?

Recently I saw a smallholding for sale on an Orkney island of 80 inhabitants. It looks amazing, in so many ways, but I’m not ready to take that big a plunge. Oh, nor do I have the finances in place either (those pesky details).

Late last year I found some land to rent not far from Dover. That didn’t work out, for various reasons. Progress all the same? You bet.

Another possible route to gain more experience and contacts is to get work on a farm, ideally as a person Friday including hands-on time with the animals, needless to say. I talked about my plans on LinkedIn, asking people in different locations if they had any contacts or ideas.

I was touched by the lovely response. Thank you again.

We’re agnostic about where that [work on a farm] might be, and to move this new project along, we’ll network, be curious and keep learning. I’ve been treading water for a while now, so it’s heartening to have hit on a new way forward.

(The “we” includes Seamus the sheepdog, who’s part of the package.)
Bee hives to illustrate a blog by Brian McGee about food, farming and frugal living

Bees, chickens, sheep, goats: keep learning (get started!)

Thanks to The Lost Orchard, a book by the French chef Raymond Blanc, I heard about Brogdale Collections in Faversham, only an hour or so away from where I live now.

The courses they run, from planning an orchard to keeping bees, are very motivating to me. I plan to do a few this year, both there and elsewhere.

That will allow me to make a start on keeping chickens, for instance, on the land I already have (my back garden in Dover), rather than wait until I own or rent X number of acres somewhere else.

Seamus, my border collie, is from a farm in Herefordshire.
His parents are both working sheepdogs, so let’s see if he helps
me round up the chucks, guiding them gently back into their fox-proof coop.

As for bees, I might also be able to keep a hive or two in my garden, another step in the smallholding direction. So, and without giving myself a hard time: <Mush mush, push push, Brian. Keep going!> There’s a whole lot of progress I can keep on making, even with a relatively small garden.

Ask, listen, think (repeat)

Meandering is all very well, but specific goals are grand too. It’s not unreasonable to visit at least one farm a month: ask for introductions, cajole if necessary, follow up.

  • keep the visits short and sweet
  • prepare your questions in advance
  • take or bake a thank-you offering

All the usual, common-sense ways to say <I value your time, and am grateful>.

Network is not everyone’s favourite word, or activity. How about we just say talk to people, listen, be interested, ask the occasional question perhaps.

As the Irish novelist Marian Keyes said in one of her BBC Radio 4 shows, what if they just said, and I paraphrase: <What if they just said you’ll meet some new people and have a chat. That sounds much less off-putting.>

Anyhow, among the possibilities to network / talk & listen to people, near me, soon (just a coincidence these all fall on a Wednesday):

Sustainable Food Systems, Wednesday 17 January, London (free)

Kent Farming Conference, Wednesday 24 January, Maidstone (free)

The Future of Meat, Wednesday 31 January, London (£20)

Among those farm visits? A return, hopefully, to the farm in Herefordshire where our Seamus is from.

The other day on LinkedIn I got talking – just a to and fro of comments that sometimes happens – to someone who has a smallholding, from what I could gather, near Bath. And how about the smallholder in Wales, also met on LinkedIn, whose farm includes rescue donkeys?

Together with seeing family in Wiltshire, and a possible farm visit there via an accountant friend, a wee road trip of a few days might come together… If I don’t ask to visit, they can’t say no 🙂 Or yes.

Farming & Facebook

Learning by osmosis can only take us so far, maybe. Still, seeing regular posts by Thorabella Farm, a smallholding in the Scottish Higlands (it’s about an hour’s drive from Inverness) can’t do my knowledge – or better said, my current lack of knowledge – about farming any harm.

Thorabella is featured in Series 6 of This Farming Life, a series on BBC iPlayer. Congratulations to them, incidentally, on the competition they’re running this month.

The post about it has had, as I write, not shy of 700 shares and 400+ comments. That kind of engagement with a small business on social media is so lovely to see, and we hope it brings the farm much (extra) success.

A not unrelated blog 🙂 How to encourage reader comments on your blogs: seven ideas

A photo  of a cup of coffee to illustrate a blog by Brian McGee about food, farming and frugal living

The beginnings of a new and
(two-way-street) supportive network?

There are a farmers, growers and chefs whose posts I, inevitably, follow on Instagram. Come to think of it, I got talking to someone in Australia about sheep farming the other week.

When and if I keep sheep – a lot of hard work, I have no doubt – I’ll need all the help I can get to get me started. So no surprise, I’ll be very happy to take him up on his kind offer to give me some tips.

Add up those five-minute chats on WhatsApp, brief exchanges of messages on Instagram, or comments and replies on LinkedIn… you have the beginnings of a new and (two-way-street) supportive network. What’s not to like?

Muddle now >> clarity later

Yes, this blog has been more of a meander than a laser-focused “think piece”. May we be forgiven; this is where I am right now. And no, I didn’t get to talk about things frugal, including my emerging venture #oldfindsnewstories. (That page is, like the rest of us, also a work in progress.)

Next up: some more detailed goal setting for the year ahead, perhaps with the help of a mentor. There may well be a blog in that too…

For now, good luck with your own plans as a new year gets underway. I, and readers of this blog too, I’m sure, will want to hear what new ventures you are working on, or considering.

Image & video credits:
12019, NatashaG, ulleo, jeanvdmeulen on Pixabay;
Tom Ungerer, Markus Spiske, Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.

*What are your own projects or new ventures in 2024?
What and who helps you to gain clarity and set
realistic, achievable – ambitious! – goals?
Please add a comment below. I’ll reply to every one.
My target is at least five reader comments for this blog.
Many thanks!*

Chicken and coop in a blog by Brian McGee about food, farming and frugal living

12 comments on “Food, farming, frugal living: my focus for 2024. Here’s a flavour

  1. Catherine Bishop on

    Happy New Year Brian.
    Pear crumble sounds delicious!
    Wishing you progress with your plans for the year.
    Catherine x

    • Brian McGee on

      Thanks a lot for your comment, and Happy New Year to you too. Crumble and grumble just do not go together, I agree!

      Nor do pear and despair, come to think of it 🙂 x

  2. Gill Wing on

    Your blog, Instagram and Facebook pages are a garden of delight, Brian! I’ve just spent a happy hour perusing all four.

    Your enthusiasm for the craft of creating – and the art of living – shines through in every post. Thanks for this one! I look forward to seeing where 2024 takes you.

    • Brian McGee on

      What a kind and generous comment, Gill. Thanks very much. So pleased to hear you’re enjoying my posts on Instagram and Facebook too.

      I started next week’s blog yesterday… and am trying to be less deadline-driven, giving myself more time to think, mull and ponder (Thursday is publication day for #BMweeklyblogchallenge).

      It’s all progress 🙂

  3. Danielle Usherwood on

    Love the new year energy in this blog Brian! The festive break has given us all time to rest and recharge the batteries ready to hit the ground running this year!

    I’m excited to see how your plans unfold. We too have often talked about getting some chickens. You can’t beat freshly laid free range eggs! And I’d definitely be interested in retailing some local honey from you if you get that up and running too!

    Perhaps we will become chicken parents at the same time and can start a support group for it? “Coffee and Chicken Chat”.

    Anyhow, keep up the motivation and inspiration. I’m excited to see where this year leads you!

    • Brian McGee on

      What a lovely post, thanks very much for your enthusiasm and encouragement, as ever. I love the idea of a hen-hoomans support group, meeting up over Kaffee und Kuchen (in Market Square Kitchen in Dover, for example!).

      “Hello chuck, how are you cooping” Sorry, but a pun can be fun. Before long I’ll no doubt write a chicken-themed blog. Bees too? For sure. Seeing my hard-working bees’ honey for sale in your cafés* will be a wonderful moment. Slowly slowly. (*I still need to visit your Sandwich branch…)

      Incidentally, I stumbled on a really interesting post on LinkedIn the other day about lending patience to ourselves and our plans. I’ll tag you in a comment there, as I think you might enjoy that read too.

      You’re so right, taking time to rest and recharge is vital for all of us. None of us is a robot, and downing tools / upping feet is productive, anyhow.

  4. Philip on

    Now that I know what “rewilding” is, I look forward to reading about how you “dewild” your potager and cajole its produce into culinary delights.

    I can also come up with some names for your chickens when you get them. Our two (as I’m sure you remember) were called Dalida and Regine (in a tribute to redheads), but I’m sure we can come up with something more British in terms of reference.

    In any event, I look forward to participating , albeit vicariously, in your ambitious plans for 2024!

    • Brian McGee on

      Thanks a lot for your comment. I like the sound of the a) dewild b) cajole c) cook d) eat programme. That will spur me on, once I get (re)started…

      I remember the names Dalide and Regine but can’t recall paying the chooks much attention. Perhaps their time on your patch didn’t coincide with my visits. In any case, may I be forgiven for any unintentional slight to the hens of then.

      Love old-fashioned names like Ethel, Edna, Edith… among many other possibilities. Henrietta the hen is another strong contender.

      Vicarioius, nothing! Once production restarts, and animal husbandry expands, you will be very welcome to pitch in when you find yourself this way (or wherever I might end up…)

      Nudging friends into voluntary contribution of labour… is that permissible or verboten? Thanks again for the encouragement; it all helps!

    • Brian McGee on

      Aha, yes ‘pole pole’ does it. Patience can be a challenge, for sure, but forcing things to happen at an unrealistic pace hardly makes progress any easier.

      Thanks a lot for that link. Zanzibar looks beautiful, even if I’d probably struggle in the heat.

  5. Alison McLean on

    I don’t I sow how I hadn’t read this one before but what a refreshing read. Just feel like I’ve come in from a walk on the beach and planning a trip to a farm with a loaf of sourdough wrapped in a tea towel to offer.
    Delightful and caring. You are an amazing writer and you never disappoint. Mush, mush, push, push.

    • Brian McGee on

      Thanks a lot for your kind and generous comment, Alison. Thanks in advance for turning up with a loaf of sourdough – a lovely image. Living on a smallholding feels like a long way off at the moment. The next step will be to rent some land near Dover… once I find a suitable plot on the right farm. I posted about the search on LinkedIn today. It’s all progress!


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