Caught by the River

Looking Back to Look Forwards

15th September 2019

A great piece by Jo Mortimer about growing up on her grandad’s organic farm. Originally published on her blog, and republished here with kind permission.

My grandad, Ron, was most often to be found arse skyward, sowing seed, thinning out, weeding or harvesting. Otherwise, leaning against a fence post, he would deftly roll a fag which remained stuck to his bottom lip until sundown.

He took on our Mid Sussex farm sometime in the 30s. I lived with him until I was sixteen, he passed away when I was seventeen – I wish I’d stuck around a little longer. Until then, though, life tripped along. For a while we had sheep. The ram got out and literally rammed my grandad against a tree stump, whereupon he declared, ‘Fuck that’ and got rid of them. Vegetables, chickens and fruit trees – they were his bag. He named each of our forty-or-so chickens and taught me how to kill and prep them for the chest freezer.

The farm was organic – a decision down to how skint we were as much as anything else – but if I knew my grandad at all, I think he would have thought that you just need decent soil, elbow-grease and a bit of luck. Seed spuds were piled high in my great-aunt’s bedroom, conveniently freed-up when she died. Eventually, the old house was freed-up all together when asbestos was discovered in the roof. Goats moved in – I played my grandma’s piano to them until it was crushed during the Great Storm of ‘87.

But I digress.

So far as I know, my grandad never left Sussex. He kept himself to himself; only Brighton and Hove Albion could really move him to excitement. He stayed on the farm because the farm was perfect – flora and fauna rubbed along together just fine. We lived symbiotically; the very idea of it being any other way was never entertained. Now I know how lucky I was.

The farm doesn’t exist anymore. It’s more or less buried beneath Legoland housing. Wildflower meadows, all those hand-sown drills of spuds and carrots – you’d never know they’d ever been there. Luckily, though, the badger sett and woodland appear to live on.

A fair few people ate the food my grandad grew, through wartime, right up until his passing. I don’t remember particularly making the connection or thanking him – he made no mention of it, either. But I would like to thank him now, for everything he taught me and for keeping us safe and healthy. He gave us an extraordinarily beautiful home, and he also gave wildlife a safe place to flourish. Bravo, Grandad – you did good.


You can peruse Jo’s website here, or follow her on Twitter / Instagram.