Last night I saw this great film about four years in the life of a Pevensey Levels dairy farm. After the film there was a lively Q&A session with Phil, his Dad and Andy Heathcote (director).
Small dairy farming units are shutting down at an alarming rate, largely due to the ridiculously low prices paid for milk by processors. Supermarkets have lulled customers into believing that milk is a cheap product (but I suspect that they still make a reasonable profit per pint); and in the last few days there has been a call for more mega-farms to keep food prices down.
In this film Phil turns his family business around by finding new ways of selling his milk. He now only sells ‘raw milk’ (unpasteurised milk, and other products derived from it) direct to customers. By law (in England) unpasteurised milk can only be retailed by producers. Hook & Son came up with an innovative way to retail their milk at Selfridges: a vending machine was installed (they can legally sell their milk at Borough Market – so why can’t their robot sell it in Selfridges?). This led to Phil’s appearance in court, but the legal position is still not clarified due to the Food Standards Agency dropping the case. It seems the FSA didn’t want to lose, but in any case the rules about the sale of raw milk are now under review.
Phil said it’s completely illegal to sell raw milk in Scotland, although this doesn’t prevent customers north of the border buying from the on-line farm shop (just like Amazon, the sale takes place where the server is located!).
The film is beautifully shot, showing an idyllic landscape (when it’s not raining). But it’s not an easy life – Phil said he works at least 60 hours a week – “although it’s not a job, it’s way of life”.