Being Amanda Owen: 'Just do your thing, I think there is lots of women in farming doing just that'

Autumn in the countryside is a true celebration of life in rural Britain. Here, Emily Ashworth talks to Amanda Owen about her new book, Celebrating the Seasons and shares her favourite seasonal recipes with Farmers Guardian.

clock • 8 min read
Being Amanda Owen: 'Just do your thing, I think there is lots of women in farming doing just that'

Autumn in the countryside is a true celebration of life in rural Britain. Here, Emily Ashworth talks to Amanda Owen about her new book, Celebrating the Seasons and shares her favourite seasonal recipes with Farmers Guardian.

There is one thing that never changes about Amanda Owen and that is her what you see is what you get attitude. It is the founding principle upon which she lives and so far, it has certainly done her no harm.

Living life out on her 809-hectare (2,000-acre) hill farm, Ravenseat, in Swaledale, Amandas life out on the vast moors of North Yorkshire may seem picture perfect but, shying away from the truth is not something she makes a habit of especially when it comes to her nine children. She is, she says, just like anyone else.

It is that realness and ability to say it like it is, that people love. Her social media accounts continue to inspire and connect, having racked up 527,000 followers on Instagram to date.

It is relatable - I have got the same things going on as any other person, says Amanda.

Nothing goes to plan, as with so many variables there is always stuff going on.

I am not standing on a soap box preaching anything or saying to do it like me, in fact quite often I am saying to not do it like me.

Just do your thing, I think there is lots of women in farming doing just that.

Bringing a family up on farm

Her children who are all now aged between five and 21, have always been, and continue to be, the epicentre of Amandas life. Some question her and the idea of bringing such a brood up in the midst of absolutely nowhere, being 50 miles from the nearest large town.

But for anyone who has ever met Raven, Reuben, Miles, Edith, Violet, Sidney, Annas, Clemmie, and Nancy, know that they are all extremely warm, welcoming and unafraid to chat to those passing through the farm.

She says: My main focus has always been my kids.

People always ask, have the kids not been affected by this? They would have to meet them to see how totally untouched and unbothered they are.

Because farming is a great leveller.

We do not see ourselves as special or extraordinary, we just happen to live in an extraordinary place. And when you talk about women living and working here and bringing up children, you do have a different mindset.

You are not always looking over your shoulder comparing yourself and that is where you have to be careful with social media.

But, of course, farming is all consuming; it is a job you do out of love. And Amanda is the perfect example of this.

You live on the job and that is unique, she says.

It is not like an office job where once 5pm comes you can put a different head on. You are so enveloped in it all and you are directly affected by different factors and it is so volatile. Even if you are away talking about it, you are still living it and doing it. I get to travel all over the place and talk about motherhood, the countryside and being a shepherdess, but wherever I get dropped, you still have the same mindset. Farming is a way of thinking; you are always asking questions.

Becoming The Yorkshire Shepherdess

Since finding herself in the limelight, Amanda has used her position to be a true champion for the industry, particularly for women.

Being a woman working in the rural sector, it is unique. You could be working the land or anything, but you still want to be a woman and be feminine, while not be stereotyped, she says, sporting her somewhat trademark skirt and wellies, while the sound of her bangles jingle lightly as she speaks.

I am happy, I enjoy what I do and I am good at what I do, just like many other women in the industry. Sometimes as woman you can feel like the lynch pin in it all.

As a five times bestseller, with numerous literary accolades under her belt, she is genuinely passionate about encouraging people to see farming for what it is, and more so, what it has to offer.

Her own suburban upbringing is an example of what can happen when you chase your dream and put the hard work in.

She says: I get letters from kids saying they want to be a farmer, and I will respond with yes, be a farmer because people will always need to eat, but by saying that it is like I am reinforcing it back to myself, because it can be an isolating way of life.

But I would not change anything about it, the bottom line is that it is exciting. Yes, there are struggles, yes there is stress, but there is not the daily grind of nine to five. You are the master of your own destiny.

On farm, home is where the heart is and, she says, the way farms like this were run are being championed again and maybe the way forward.

And like many others in the sector, although the future is uncertain, like usual they will adapt and continue to move forwards.

At one point the shift was to do more and more; to squeeze farms like this to make them more productive, says Amanda.

But it feels like we are readdressing [things]. I am not saying you should take your foot off the gas, but to just change the emphasis a bit.

Thinking about the pandemic and what that did, it focused a lot of people. The shelves were cleared of food; people were surprised about the journey their food took to get to the supermarket shelf and how balanced on a knife edge this was, especially when people go out and buy all the food.

But I am a big believer in doing a little bit of everything. Do not be closed down to any kind of idea.

Here at the farm, we can do it all, if we have the right amount of cows we can over winter them in the barns, they make the right of amount of muck that goes back onto the fields, we have got the countryside schemes, carbon capture and moorland restoration.

For a lot of people it is not an option.

It is very hard to know what the way forward is, but we should be able to feed our own people. We almost need to wean people off the idea they can have it all and all year round.

Rising food costs

Her new book, Celebrating the Seasons, takes you through a year on farm, eating what is available and using the land as a guide.

This is her fifth book and although one of her greatest pleasures has always been reading, indulging in classic countryside tales such as James Herriot, to have the chance to write her own was not always the plan.

I did not have the credentials, I am terribly under qualified and an E in English at GCSE was not really promising, was it? says Amanda.

I was a reader, always non-fiction. Call me dull, but it was always the same sort of stuff about the countryside.

I found that for me it was like the holy grail. It sounds ridiculous, but it was escapism.

I was living a very suburban life and kept my head down and these books used to take me to these wild and wonderful places.

I wanted to be out there on the moors.

Celebrating the Seasons is part memoir, part recipe book, documenting, she says, what it is like to live and work with all the things you are not supposed to - children and animals.

And although keen to promote seasonality, she only wishes to encourage people to think about their food more.

Not everyone has access to the offerings that Amanda and her family find naturally on the farm, but small tweaks can make big differences.

Eating seasonally

You can pull elements of seasonality in and get your kids involved, she says.

If people come to the farm and lend a hand they get fed, it is how it is.

It is using basic ingredients and making it smell fabulous, making anything I can prepare in ten minutes and leave for two hours. Take your roast chicken, the leftover bits go on a pizza and the next day you can make a soup from the carcass. There are so many things you can pull together. I do not like wasting things.

Food is what binds us.

We meet people to eat; we meet over food; we meet over a drink.

I am just someone who has a lot of people to feed and I never turn anyone away.

I would like the book to raise a smile, and hopefully [people] will try a few of the recipes. And getting your little offspring to try them would be even better. The kiddies need to be onside. If we can get them involved and enthusiastic, then the future is safe, is it not?

It is taking it back to the basics. We have got all these things going on, but there are some things that will always unite us: the countryside, food, farming and people, and no matter where you go in the world that translates.

There is always something happening at Ravenseat, but one thing you can guarantee, as you look out across the vast moorland that Amanda proudly calls home, is nature always makes itself known, especially right now.

She says: It is so cold, but there is the most beautiful light at this time of year, with the most beautiful contrast, and there is still that last flush of grass that has not been nipped away yet.

There is something about autumn.

You feel, particularly here, left to your own devices. The tourists have gone, the cattle come in and sales have passed.

It is a bit of a reset.

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