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 Q&A with Lynn Cassells and Sandra Baer, authors of Our Wild Faming Life

Posted by Lucy H on 24th Feb 2022

Q&A with Lynn Cassells and Sandra Baer, authors of Our Wild Faming Life

Our Wild Farming Life

Our Wild Farming Life is a fascinating story. What prompted you to write it (and where did you find the time?)

For a few years, a number of people had said to us ‘You should write a book’ but it was never something we seriously considered. Until one day, in early Summer 2020, an email appeared in our inbox from Chelsea Green Publishing, asking just that question and if we would be interested in a chat. After sending in some sample pieces of writing, they offered us a contract and the rest is history. It took around 9months in total to write the book and yes, it was a challenge! For many months, Lynn would get up at 5am, write until it was time for morning chores and then work on croft jobs for the rest of the day. Sandra would then spend evening after evening reading and editing, until eventually, between the two of us, we had a book!

Who do you think is your typical reader, if such a person exists? Who would you love to read your book?

We think that our book has a really wide appeal. Whilst we talk about our journey into farming, it’s all about how we jumped into following our dreams with both feet and choosing a life where growing our own food and living a life closer to the land took priority. It was also meant to be life at a slower pace but we haven’t managed that bit yet – living somewhere like Lynbreck means that we are continually inspired about new projects we could undertake. In terms of who we would love to read our book? Everyone! The core message is a positive one, of empowerment and belief that a different way of life and living is possible.

Careful and humane deer management is vital to maintain a healthy wildlife balance, and you discuss it sensitively. Do you also have badgers on your land, and if so, are they a problem?

Lynn is a trained deer stalker and after her first successful stalk in an area where were due to plant 17,400 trees, we butchered the carcass and reflected a lot on the type of meat we were processing – something that died with as little pain or stress as possible and lived exclusively on a wild diet. In the book, we talk about how that really impacted and influenced us on how we would want any farmed animals at Lynbreck to live. We aren’t aware of any badgers on our land but we do keep an eye out as they are in our local area.

The impact of outside space on mental health is significant (particularly gardening, and walking) but not everyone has access to open space. Have you found your location to be helpful during difficult times?

This is such a pertinent question following the times we live in making us even more thankful of where we are and the land around us. Getting outside, building that connection to nature, is everything and one of the positives that has come out of this whole experience is that people are now appreciating the green spaces that they have around them, even more. Lynn used to live in London and Sandra grew up on the edge of Zurich so we have both experienced living in built up areas. In contrast at Lynbreck, we are surrounded by wide open space on all sides and we love it and are thankful for it daily.

How did having a film crew around feel? Did it cause much disruption to the running of the farm?

We had the loveliest crew of 2 people – a lady on camera and a man on sound. It definitely took us a few months to get used to it but gradually their presence started to feel quite normal. They were really good at trying not to get in the way of our work and in the end became firm friends who we miss dearly. We shared so much of our lives with them, spending more time than we have with many of our closest friends, so in the end, they felt very much part of the furniture.

Highland cattle

Which of the animals is your favourite? (The hens sound amazing!)

Ah it’s impossible to say! The hens are great fun and we always say that no matter what, hens in some numbers will always be at Lynbreck – they have the most incredible cycle of energy burst/snooze/energy burst/snooze and many love nothing more than to sleep next to a quiet human that has settled for a half hour with a cup of tea in the sunshine. The cattle are a docile bunch and it is food for the soul to sit with them as they quietly graze or chew the cud after a hearty breakfast. They have the most lovely scent, almost floral which probably comes from the fact that they eat a lot of pasture that is full of wildflowers! And the pigs are a lot of fun. If you are ever having a bad day, their natural joie de vivre will definitely give you a pick up. Pigs seem to just love everything and everyone.

“Tree hay” and nettles as winter food for cattle sounds like a fantastic use of existing materials – have any of your neighbours taken up the idea too?

We don’t know of anyone in our immediate vicinity utilising tree hay the way that we do but in general it certainly seems like more and more people are talking about it, not just dried, but tree leaves as fresh browse. It’s a really important consideration, not just from a mineral and nutrition point of view, but also in terms of cost. In farming, we tend to rely on bought in minerals and supplementary nutrition but so much more can be accessed from the land for free if there is enough diversity for the animals to choose from.

You’ve planted a forest. What do you want to happen to it in years to come?

Planting our forest was a dream come true and it is so exciting to watch it grow, year on year. The initial vision was always as a place for nature but as our ideas and connection to the land have evolved, it has become so much more than that. It will be a wonderful place for us to walk and enjoy and provide vital cover for the teams of livestock that we hope to have roaming in there in the future. One thing that we desperately need more of for our animals is shelter in the winter and shade in the summer which our new woodlands, our living barns, will provide.

It’s clear that diversification is vital in the farming world. Are there any other types of public access events or courses that you’d like to try on the farm?

We’ve always wanted Lynbreck to be a place where people can come to, reconnect with the land and learn about regenerative living. We currently run a monthly public tour, bespoke private tours, a residential course which we have written ourselves on self-sufficient living and running a small-scale farming enterprise, as well as hosting a few other courses on woodcraft and foraging. Going forward, we would love to host and deliver more courses on traditional crafts such as basket weaving and charcoal burning. For us, these are important ways to share our learnings and make some extra income but we have to make sure that they are carefully managed. Lynbreck is our home so we are always trying to strike that balance between sharing it with others, but keeping it structured so that we still have our privacy and down time as well.

What do you hope people discover and take away from the book?

We hope that people finish the book with a smile on their face. It is an open, honest story of a journey into a way of life that is deeply rooted in the land we live on, where we explore the relevance of this way of living and farming in a very fast paced, stressful 21st century world. It’s about questioning what is really important in your life, what true happiness and joy looks like to each and every one of us, and living to experience as much of it as possible.

Croft

What’s the most relaxing part of your day, usually? Do you have any rituals or routines which help you recover from the ongoing stress of daily life?

We’re certainly getting better at taking time out for ourselves and have learned just how important it is to do this. Lynn really enjoys running and tries to get out at least 3 times a week, often down into the forest trails. Sandra loves to potter around in the vegetable garden and polytunnel and enjoys getting distracted by all the animals. We both love reading and have recently taken up yoga classes which is a great way to relax the mind and strengthen our bodies.

Is there a place you’d really love to visit, and if so, why?

There is so much of Scotland that we have yet to explore. It is an incredibly diverse country with some of the most breath-taking landscapes in the world that when, in the hopefully not too distant future, we do manage to get a holiday away, we’ll probably stay in this country. It would be amazing to visit Orkney or climb Suilven, an iconic mountain up in the north west.

There’s a harrowing recounting of the farm well running dry, and how you worked around it. What would you like to see being done to try to mitigate climate change and not waste resources?

Our current relationship with the world, one where our way of living involves taking more than we give, is damaging not just for the planet, but for our own mental and physical health. We live longer yet we seem to be getting sicker and more unhappy, where life goals are to earn more money to consume more goods and services. We don’t have the solutions to global problems but we believe that the answer to a better world lies within each of us doing our bit. It’s not about doing without or making sacrifices, it’s about re-harmonising ourselves with the natural world around us, repairing social bonds, rebuilding communities and regenerating the land we rely on to provide us with food, water and shelter.

The COVID-19 situation has affected us all in different ways. How did you manage in the lockdowns?

Initially, like everyone, we had a lot to process as the world became a very different place. But really, with the exception of cancelling our tours and courses, life didn’t really change for us and if anything, we had more time to just live; grow food, care for our animals, deliver produce to customers and enjoy the tranquillity. What we missed the most was seeing friends and family.

Now that we are able to meet up with friends again (fingers crossed it stays that way!) who would be coming to your fantasy dinner party, and why?

We are very fortunate to have lived in lots of different places around the world; Northern Ireland, Switzerland, England, Canada, France, Austria, and have met so many incredible people along the way, but the downside is that we rarely get to see them. Therefore, we’d invite our dear friends from all walks of life, and of course our family who we’d love to see a lot more of.

What would your perfect day look like?

We’re quite easy to please so a sunny, non-windy and midge free day on the croft sounds pretty perfect to us. The weather dictates our day-to-day activities so much that usually we just get up, see what the day is offering us, and try to make the most of it.

Do you have a favourite genre or author? What books or authors would you say were significant influences on you?

Lynn: I enjoy reading a wide variety of literature from fiction to non-fiction. Recently, I’ve loved the writing of Raynor Winn, a fabulous author with an incredible story and such a beautiful and brave voice. I’ve also been reading some of Jordan Petersons work, someone who can be seen as a controversial figure but his books make for a very interesting read. What I very rarely read is literature around farming!

Sandra: I tend to alternate between fiction and non-fiction so that relaxing and learning are nicely balanced. Books relevant to our lives on the croft are high up on the list with topics such as regenerative agriculture, permaculture, herbalism and rural skills providing us with a wealth of ideas and inspiration.

What are you reading at the moment?

Lynn: I’ve just finished Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and I’m currently reading Beyond Order by Jordan Peterson.

Sandra: I’m actually re-reading the book ‘Scotland’s Wild Medicine’ by Lilia Sinclair and Claire Holohan. A fantastic book that beautifully illustrates how so much of what we need to stay healthy is already provided for in the natural environment.

What were your favourite books as a child?

Lynn: I loved anything written by Enid Blyton, especially The Famous Five and the St Clare’s series. I was also a massive fan of the Beano comic series. My favourite book of all time though is Swallows and Amazons.

Sandra: I was a huge fan of The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien and once I was old enough my mum read the entire trilogy of The Lord of the Rings to me, a literary masterpiece that has accompanied me through life ever since.

Thank you very much for speaking to us, we wish you every success with the book.

Author photos by Sandra Angers Blondin

Order your copy of Our Wild Farming Life HERE