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Sense of Place: Evocative Exhibition Depicts Farming Lives in Cumbria

Alice Griffiths

30th November 2022

Forty Farms is a collection of photographs (and film), created in 2020 by photographer (and farmer) Amy Bateman and conveys a real sense of place. It features farms from across Cumbria, many of which are in located within the Lake District National Park. While visiting these farms, Amy struck up conversations with the farming families she met and the exhibition also reflects their views on farming, politics and the environment; with quotes, recordings and interviews.

Forty Farms film by Amy Bateman Photography

Its huge value to geographers comes not only from its depiction of the landscapes and varied agricultural systems, but also the expression of farmers' lived experiences in the UK in the twenty-first century; post-Brexit and in the face of climate change.

James Rebanks’ mixed farm in Cumbria is featured - of course, his writing in A Shepherd’s Life (2015) and English Pastoral (2020) would also be of use to A level students seeking the Lake District’s sense of place. Rebanks memorably wrote about the difficulty of making a living from the fells (marginal land, in farming terms) as well as the clash between local families and incomers, of all political persuasions:

‘This valley may remain unloved by both die-hard production-focused farmers (“It is cute, but just a life-style choice”) and extreme wilderness-loving ecologists (“Please could you disappear because we’d rather the uplands were forested”) but to me it represents a beautiful compromise, and it is improving all the time, as we learn new things and find fresh solutions to its challenges. I am proud of my community both for keeping the old ways going and trying to find new ways to address the desperate problems of our age.

I believe in this landscape and its people.’

The Forty Farms exhibition is hosted in Rheged's gallery, near Penrith, in Cumbria until 4 January 2023. But if you can’t get there do take 3 minutes out of your day to view the stunning and immersive video footage created as part of the project (link above).

If you visit the exhibition in person, as I did, you can take part in it via a large-scale interactive mural (or jigsaw) created by artist Derek Eland plus sticky-note wall. You are asked to respond to the question:

‘If you were a Cumbrian farmer how would you use the land?’

Further details of the Forty Farms exhibition can be found here.

Alice Griffiths

Alice has taught Geography over a period of twenty years. She is a published author and editor of a wide range of A level resources and has also created award-winning, online content for younger students. An occasional presenter at the GA’s annual conference, she was head of department at an 11-18 school until 2020.

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