Getting a fill up of hope from Longford’s finest

YouTube means many things to many people. Entertainment, education, a platform to promote themselves and/or their businesses. In my case, it’s probably a combination of all of the above. Except in my case, it is probably more therapy above all of possible uses listed up to now.

Though even at that, it can be something of a double edged sword. Churning up a maelstrom of emotions. Yes, obviously, keeping the farming heart and mind in this seat well and truly afloat. What mightn’t be as obvious, mind you, is that it causes an equal if not greater amount of upset as it does happiness.

Longing, pining for a world I just don’t feel part of anymore. Whilst feeling like a fraud being out with all the local lads. As many of you will know by now my own direct involvement in farming ground to an unexpected and heartbreaking halt about two and a years ago.

Yes, somebody in a wheelchair can get stuck into farming. Not just from a record-keeping perspective either. Hanging gates, feed troughs or drinkers that bit lower than ‘normal’ allows a chair to get right in where it needs to be and the occupant thereof do a bit.

Yours truly is currently mulling the viability of undertaking a fairly major research project revolving around disability access in farming, but, even if that’s not a runner, one must remain mindful of the old dictum which decrees there’s more than one way to skin a cat. If, for whatever reason, you felt the urge to do such a thing!

To that end, thanks to what turned out to be a blessed tip from another farming YouTube fan, a fill up of hope has been received via Longford’s finest – Farmer Phil. Or, to put it more officially, Philip Stewart and his family.

To the unitiated or non agriculturally inclined, it’s just farmers filming what they get up to on a daily basis. But it’s more than that. Much more. It’s not a choreographed ‘everything is groovy’ job which some channels can be.

With Phil, you get the good, the bad, the in between and the adventures. All done in an atmosphere of craic, encouragement and positivity.

Philip Stewart with his father Derek (Father Phil) and sister Jessica

For this viewer at least, the Stewarts are tremendous ambassadors for the hundreds of thousands of farm families up and down the country. Everybody does their bit. Primarily Farmer Phil, his fiance Olivia, father Derek – known and adored by Phil’s nigh on 65,000 subscribers as Father Phil – but also his younger brother Eric and sisters Kim and Jessica, Mother Phil and uncle Ian are wholly invested in what is a seriously impressive operation.

It appeals to me on so many levels. From the good humoured manner in which the family go about their day, to Father Phil’s seemingly endless reserves of knowledge on machinery on mechanics, to the family’s extensive collection of vintage machines.

An old Grey Fergie like my grandfather’s

Undoubtedly my favourite of which is the Massey Ferguson TVO 20. The tractor with which my grandfather ploughed the first garden here at home in 1967 while the late George Hutton Snr had also made a bit of history by piloting a similar machine when the first tractor ploughing was done on our farm in 1959.

However, for very personal reasons, there are two other elements to the story of Farmer Phil and his family which resonate to an even greater degree with the occupant of this seat.

Firstly, the fact that the family run a calf-to-beef system. Buying in up to 500 youngsters in for very reasonable money and bringing them right through to slaughter. If, or hopefully when, I ever get back into farming ‘properly’, if staying at cattle, it will have to be with a calf-to-beef system for practical and other reasons.

Mind you, the Stewart clan also amply demonstrate that farm diversification is something to be embraced rather than feel bad about. As they also encompass pigs, poultry, vegetable crops, bees, a farm shop stocked with all their own produce and even a 100-tree orchard in the magnificent business model.

Now, at this point it must be said that the family have the ground and facilities to take on such an operation, not everybody would. Certainly we don’t. That said, as much as the urbanisation of farming is something which grates with me, there are more ways than the obvious to make something work.

Thus, while my stuttering attempts at growing vegetables are a long way short of where I want them to be at present, the possibility of them being expanded into a possible business opportunity has by no means being given up on. Beef will always have the biggest hold on my heart but there is definitely a certain excitement to exploring sheep and/or poultry too.

Aside from everything mentioned up to this point, the other reason such a connection is felt with Farmer Phil and his family revolves around his uncle Ian. Simply because I see so much of my late father in him.

The most obvious slmilarities being the manner in which it’s most so clear that farming is what it’s all about for him. Secondly, his powers of recall for events, machinery and stock. Derek is very much his equal in that regard also.

To listen to him recall nearly every piece of machinery the Stewart family have owned for almost 100 years – and the workings of each of them – is entertainment, education and inspiration rolled into one.

During the second week of July, both myself and Susie tested positive for Covid-19 having avoided the vile thing for 18 months. As a means of coping with having isolate, I started into watching Farmer Phil’s channel and, as of tonight, August 17th, I’m within a few months of watching every video thereon.

What it has also done is (i) strenghtened my resolve to get back into farming in some meaningful, viable way and (ii) made me absolutely determined to make a trip down to Longford, to meet Phil and his remarkable family and support their inspirational business.

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