A new year…really?

I began this year with optimism, a new set of goals, a hopeful wish for new experiences and a determination to put 2020 firmly in the past and make the most of each and every day this year. In personal terms, society terms, global health terms and farming terms 2020 was a year of upheaval, and that’s putting it lightly.

Today, in the virtual sphere (because that’s where everything takes place these days), the Oxford Farming Conference is taking place. At the time of writing we have already been ‘treated’ to hearing from all four ministers responsible for agriculture in their various home nations. We’ve also had a session on trade and the Frank Parkinson lecture which was this year delivered by ‘the Godfather of Sustainability’ – John Elkington. Tow key things have come to the fore for me so far. One of those is the need for defined purpose and determination in communicating that purpose in a clear manner. The other is that we need to act, and that means all of us, however we can. That action in itself needs to be defined and goal orientated, ideally with a long term vision.

I am a fan of goal setting but I only became so after a few struggles in life – ‘failure’ often teaches us to change the game, to flip things on their head and to think about what it is that we really want or ‘need’. Goal setting has become part of my own way of moving forward in life. Structure, routine, lists. Every so often things will happen in life that you have to react to, but most of life can be structured and imagined beforehand. We all have the power to predict and make our own futures to some extent, even if it is only having the freedom to decide what to eat for lunch.

How then, does this follow through to land management or indeed business management? This is a broad question and broad concept and clearly goals enable progress, but are they enough? Does resilience require more? I believe it does.

I listen to the debate at Oxford Farming and I look forward to the debate at Oxford Real Farming over the next few days. I hear that we need to move when it comes to sustainability on our own micro-business levels and we need to move quickly. I then look to my family’s farm here in Essex and what we need to do practically on the ground over the next few years. We have a plan but can only enact it at a certain pace. A step by step approach has to be the way but we are limited by people, money and other similar resources. It will be an acute challenge. I know of numerous other SMEs who are in the same boat. I therefore question whether, as a sector generally, whether we will be able to move as quickly as we need to. Just on our farm level we need to transform our energy, growing methods and we need to go much further when it comes to landscape scale conservation and critically in measuring and recording data.

These are just thoughts, but an indication of how I’m thinking as we go into 2021. I am largely optimistic for the near future, but this will only be based on all of us being able to enact actions quickly, and whilst I hope we can, it is a push. All we can do is just keep moving forwards.

Happy new year to you all.

Sustainable Travel Tips Post COVID-19 – guest post by Luke Smith

COVID-19 has completely upended daily activities and routines. Practically every aspect of life has been touched by the pandemic, whether you’re talking about social distancing and wearing face masks when you visit your favourite pub or working and attending school remotely.

Another major area of life that’s been affected — or more accurately halted — by the epidemic is travel. With each country in the EU constantly creating a menagerie of different regulations and gatherings of all sorts being regularly banned, everything from luxurious global vacations to small holiday get-togethers over the border has become difficult.

However, at some point, the pandemic-induced chaos will come to an end and travel will resume once again. The question is, how can you keep your travel sustainable in a post-COVID-19 world where everyone will now be aware of the added dangers of recklessly spreading germs when travelling? Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind as you plan out your future adventures.

Start Close to Home

While the pandemic remains an ongoing affair, it’s still possible to travel within the safety of your own hometown. You can do this in a few different ways:

  • Look for local culinary or touristy hotspots that you haven’t yet been able to see yourself.
  • Visit natural landmarks in your vicinity, from the Verdon Gorge to the Cliffs of Dover to the Alps, there’s always a natural phenomenon close by.
  • Utilize remote options like “Covid-eos” to connect with others and learn about other locations without even needing to leave your home.

By looking local, you can explore both the natural and manmade wonders of your home region — and even sow the seeds for future travel by making national and international connections online. The best part is, the geographically limited characteristics of this kind of experience naturally reduces the impact that your travels will have on the environment, as well.

Batch Your Adventures

One of the simplest ways to reduce your impact as you get from point A to point B is by batching your adventures. Rather than spending a weekend across the pond in New York City or a week visiting Italy, plan less often multi-week trips that require as little long-distance travel as possible. Fly into Rome and then slowly move through France and Spain over the next few weeks, knocking three countries off of that ambitious bucket list with just two plane flights rather than six.

If you’re serious about the long-term travel option, the best way you can batch your adventures at minimal cost to the environment is by coupling your work and travel activities together. Look for a new position in a sustainable yet travel-heavy industry, such as becoming an international aid worker or travel nurse. This can allow you to both make a difference and see new places at the same time.

Plan Ahead

COVID-19 has rewritten the rulebook when it comes to safe interpersonal interactions, and there’s no guarantee that these guidelines will completely disappear once travelling becomes freer once again. By planning every trip well in advance, you give yourself a chance to research local rules and ordinances in your destination.

You can also use that time to look for more sustainable travel options, such as using trains, local bus systems, or even renting a bike — which happens to be the safest form of social distance travel, as well.

Don’t Leave Your Sustainable Mindset Behind

Finally, remember that when you travel you’re still on the same globe that you inhabit when you’re in your living room. In other words, the same sustainability principles that dictate your quiet rural English or busy Parisian lifestyles should also apply while you’re visiting Port-au-Prince or hiking Kilimanjaro.

From recycling and reusing items to avoiding unnecessary carbon emissions to considering where your food comes from, make an effort to carry all of your lifestyle choices over into your travel activities.

Now, it’s important to point out that many sustainable activities on the homefront won’t naturally translate to a travel setting easily. For instance, you can’t guarantee that a hotel will have high-efficiency heating or low-consumption water fixtures. However, it doesn’t change the fact that you should do your best to both live sustainably and support local sustainably-minded enterprises whenever you can locate and patronize them.

Keeping the Long-Term in Focus

The COVID-19 virus may be in the spotlight at the moment. However, there are still countless other important considerations that should not be lost in the pandemic chaos — including sustainability.

By doing things like planning ahead, exploring local regions, looking for sustainable travel options, and batching your trips you can ensure that your travels, whether tomorrow or a year in the future, remain both Earth-friendly and fun.

Most importantly, remember to maintain the right mindset as you travel. Don’t let a unique situation tempt you to abandon sustainable activity and eco-friendly thinking. Striving to maintain a sustainable travelling mindset throughout your adventures will enable you to thoroughly enjoy yourself with a clean conscience that you haven’t compromised on the Earth’s integrity in your attempt to see its wonders. On the contrary, you’ll be able to rest in the fact that you managed to successfully weave both terrestrial desires together.

Writer’s Block

It has been months since I wrote on this blog, something that has been difficult to swallow, for it was here that I began publically thinking about and discussing issues connected with the countryside in the first place, almost seven years ago. I have titled this post ‘writer’s block’ but that hasn’t been the reason for silence – far from it, there has been an overload of topics to discuss this year. The difficulty has been fitting writing in on top of my other commitments – both new and existing – and my writing has, regrettably, suffered as a result. To try and rectify this I have begun a course in freelance and feature writing with the London School of Journalism and I look forward to increasing my writing and research output in 2021, perhaps returning to the essence of where I started in 2013.

2020 has been a year unlike any other. Personally I have had a year of turbulence, but a lot of positive to draw from it. I have rarely been busier in terms of work and podcasting especially has pushed to a whole new level. I hadn’t predicted that in 2020 I would begin making and presenting podcasts for a number of new clients, and learning new skills when it comes to audio production. With this in mind I am excited where the future of rural communications is going, and this was echoed in comments last night when I recorded a podcast with Jane Craigie of Jane Craigie Marketing. I believe we have only scraped the surface when it comes to the ability of rural businesses getting their messages across and strengthening the rural voice and story.

On the farm we faced the most difficult growing year in my memory, with a wet winter resulting in almost exclusive spring cropping and then a dry spring leading to in further complications. Further, pollination of our sea buckthorn crop was impacted by strong winds in March, resulting in a disastrous harvest. All in all, I won’t be sorry to see the back of 2020. This said, we were able to establish a new outdoor gym and activity centre on the farm (Thrive Outdoor’s Wild Gym) which, despite complications with lockdowns and COVID has been a great addition to the farm. I want to focus on food, conservation and community on the farm and this pushed us miles forward when it comes to the community wing, especially giving families in the area something that bit different, getting kids outdoors and getting back to basics.

On the horizon is Brexit and, over seven years, a transition to a new agricultural policy framework in the UK which will transform the agricultural world, and indeed, potentially the landscape itself. We are (still!) yet to see the detail on what the transition will look like and your guess is as good as mine when it comes to the impact of Brexit on the marketplace, but one thing is for sure at the moment and that is that uncertainty is the word of the day.

How To Build Your Dream Green Home – Guest post by Jade Piper

In the last couple of years, people have become concerned about what impact their actions can have on both the environment and climate change. A lot of the decisions and activities performed by people appear to harm the structure and composition of the Earth; hence the destruction of wildlife, the ozone layer etc.

The idea of ‘going green’ is a way for people to have the type of life they want without negatively affecting the world at large. Deciding to go green is a decision everyone should make, as your decision not to will have a resounding effect on other people and future generations. If you have plans of becoming a homeowner and you would like to jump on the ‘going green’ wagon, there are a couple of things you should incorporate into your build to give you your dream green home.

Below are a few steps you should follow to build your dream green home.

Use Sustainable Building Materials

The most important aspect of building a green home is purchasing sustainable materials, as it is the foundation of everything. There is no material in particular that is generally accepted as durable; instead, you need to look at the pros and cons of a bunch of different materials – the more pros you find, the better!

  • Recycled or Reused Materials

The word recycle means reprocessing. Recycling any material for your green home means reprocessing that material. Materials like rubber tyres can be reprocessed into flooring or plastic bottles into fences and benches.

While reused materials are not processed but refurbished, some of the materials you can reuse for your green dream home can create items such as windows, doors, cabinets, flooring and plumbing fixtures.

  • Sustainably Harvested

Purchasing a sustainably harvested material means the material comes from a well-managed and transparent production line; it also means the supply chain is well documented and certified. An example is any certified wood obtained from the Forest Stewardship Council.

  • Easily Renewable

Some of the materials that are quickly renewable with a fast turnaround growth cycle include; bamboo, cotton, cork, natural linoleum, wood, wheatboard and strawboard.

  • Locally Sourced

Why order your sheets of plywood from Indonesia, which is thousands of miles across the ocean, when you could support your local building industry instead? One of the tips for building your green dream home is to be aware of your local natural resources and put them to good use.

Be aware though, that not all items will tick this box, as some items cannot be locally sourced and would require importation.

Incorporate Water and Energy Efficiency into your Plan

In earlier times, homes used energy (gas or electricity) and water unwisely because both items were seen as infinitely renewable resources – but today, a lot of people know better. Below are some of the ways you can build, fix or remodel your dream green home to use these resources with care.

Energy efficiency

  • Make use of a timer for your outside light, so that it’s only turned on when needed.
  • Insulate your attic.
  • Make use of a timer thermostat.
  • Keep your blinds drawn in both winter and summer to boost your window’s insulating effect.
  • Replace windows that lack insulating gas with new ones.
  • Turn off lights when not in use.
  • Wash clothes in cold water.

Water efficiency

  • If you cannot do away with your lawn, consider replacing natural grass with newer, ultra-realistic artificial turf.
  • Replace your toilet with a low-flow toilet.
  • To avoid running your tap to bring hot water from a remote water heater, install tankless water heaters that heat water at the source.
  • Install a low-flow showerhead.
  • Explore xeriscaping as an alternative to water-hungry landscaping.

Emphasise Indoor Air Quality

The air you breathe should never be compromised, as nothing is more important than air. Before the invention of green homes, a few architects and designers gave little thought to the quality of air within the home.

With the introduction of more chemical substances in the house, you should consider these critical areas when building your dream green home.

  • Paints

Most latex or acrylic paints out there contain little to no VOC; oil paints, on the other hand do contain VOCs and should not be used in your green home.

  • Floor coverings

You should avoid the use of carpet for flooring as it ranks low when it comes to improving air quality in the house. If you must use carpeting in your home, go for natural materials like wool.

  • Moisture

When we talk about moisture in the house, we are referring to mold, which can be toxic to your health. When building your dream green home, install ceiling fans that do not allow water to settle on the walls in your bathroom and laundry room.

Take Note of the Direction for Energy Efficiency

When building your house, opt for west facing if possible, as it reduces sun exposure into your home which in turn, encourages you to use less energy in the summer months to cool your home.

  • Solar Panels

Solar panel installation is a costly upgrade from the traditional power supply; it’s one of the main renewable and clean sources of energy; it’s benefits more than outweigh the initial cost of installation.

  • Eco-Electrical

Practicing eco-friendly electricity usage might seem tricky, but it’s doable. Install LED and compact fluorescent lighting and always use the least amount of electricity possible in your green home.

Build Smaller

A smaller house with energy-efficiency and eco-friendly construction techniques will have a minimal impact on the environment compared to a bigger house, irrespective of how green it is. Smaller homes are currently on trend because of their efficiency, affordability and low maintenance cost.

Cool Your Roof

The type of material you use for your roofing will have a drastic effect on your home’s energy efficiency. You should consider materials that deflect the solar energy from your roof and cool faster at night.

Building your dream green home is something that you can easily accomplish with some research and planning; it’s not rocket science.

About Jade

Jade owns a small business and is a freelancer writer. Her passions include the environment, healthy living, and travel.

What is the Best Compact Tractor? – Guest Post by Blacktrac

Many homeowners choose to grow their own fruit and vegetables, and some even raise animals. They also build barns and garages. It’s a lot of work which can be stressful and time- consuming. Most homeowners need to use the right tools and equipment to reduce the work overload and save time. 

Owning a compact tractor may be the best decision to make. Getting a compact tractor will make your lifestyle a reality and you can better manage your time. To get started, what is the best compact tractor? The best compact tractor is the right tractor that meets your specific property need. There are many important tips to check before shopping for the best compact tractor? Here are the tips that can help every homeowner choose the best compact tractors.

Tasks & Future Property Plans

One of the important steps to take before buying a compact tractor is to make a list of all the different tasks on the farm. Then consider how you can use the tractor to get the jobs done. Circle the 3-4 tasks that are most often done. For example; Hay handling & feeding animals, Forestry work, Ditch cleaning, digging and grading, Food plots, Brush clearing, Trenching and more. The list will help you in choosing the best compact tractor with a multi-task feature. Once you have identified the important tasks, there are many available compact tractors for sale in the market.

The Right Tyre Tread for your Tractor

The right tyre tread for your tractor is very important because it will determine the work to be accomplished on the farm. Ask yourself are you just buying the tractors to mow grass or for another thing? If the primary reason for buying a tractor is for mowing, then a turf tire will be perfect for your lawns. Most farmers choose the industrial tires so-called R-4 tire trend because it can provide traction for various farm projects. It is more durable to run on harder surfaces.

Tractor Attachments

Most tractors are equipped with a front-end loader package. The brand or model of the compact tractor for sale determines the attachment. They design the attachment to fit the tractor size and increase the work capacity of the tractor. This can help you work faster and prevent any back-breaking work. The tractor attachment is connected with the hydraulic system by remote or spool valves. The hydraulic system is the powerhouse of the tractor, it controls the brakes, steering, front-end-loader and more. New buyers must ensure to check the hydraulic pump capacity of the tractor. The sole compact tractor has the best hydraulic pumps with enough power to run the attachments.

The maximum lift height and lift capacity features should be noted when choosing the tractors for sale. Most maximum lift capacity tractors are usually measured at the pivot pins and the maximum lift height is measured at the bucket level at the pivot pins.

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