alongside this man, as a general agricultural worker, for five
years, 1975-1980. I received a good training in agriculture from
him. However, it is only now, after his death, that I realise I
had the rare honour of serving an apprenticeship in husbandry.
I come at the end of a line of training in the business of husbandry
which goes all the way back to the beginnings of humanity. It is
for this reason that it is now my duty, as well as my passionate
desire, to carry on this business and to do my part in sharing
the tricks of the trade with as many people as possible. This business
of planetary management is too important to be protected with trade
Walter Edwards was a Devonian farmer of the apparently
old fashioned sort that one can come across in many out of the
way places around this county. Walter’s prime business was
husbandry. This is not to be confused with farming, although he
was a farmer as well. Farming is a business measured by accounting
for the costs put into the land and the value of the produce coming
out of the land. Husbandry is also that but it is a much, much
Husbandry involves having a broad enough understanding
of what it is to be human to see that it is our job to look after
the soil which looks after us. It is an open love affair with a
portion of the Earth. Husbandry has its own long term accounting
system: it can be judged by the longevity of what is best about
Walter loved the dirt that supported him with an enthusiasm.
He was a man who spoke up on behalf of the soil he looked after.
He was a man with a traditional upbringing in the husbandry business
and he was also a deeply intelligent man who thought and
worked hard all his life for better ways in which he could carry
out his trade.
Walter as a young man
The mechanics of husbandry - being open to the new
The soil Walter loved is located at a place called Fair Oak, in
the Parish of Upottery in Devon. Walter was born in 1925 at Fair
Oak. In 2003 he died in the same house. His whole life was spent
at Fair Oak.
He went to Upottery School as one of three children. He had an
older brother, Arthur, whose remains now lie near Walter’s
in the graveyard at Upottery. And he had a younger sister, Olive,
who still lives just a mile or two away from Fair Oak. I talked
to her after his death and she told me a little about his early
years: "'E was the clever one at school, Walter was. Arthur
per’aps less so”, said Olive, remembering them
Olive remembers him in those years as the sensible
one of the family – but she remembers him as the mischievous
one as well. Clever, sensible and mischievous: that was a
difficult combination to pull off, and he did it with a likable
was married to Ida. He looked after her, and was looked after
by her, for over fifty years. They sit holding hands in the
picture of their golden wedding: “First time I ever seen them doing
that!”, says his daughter Hazel.
Walter was in the Home
Guard during the Second World War, based at Honiton. Some of
the time they would be guarding the Waterloo line where it goes
into a tunnel on its way between London and Exeter. He would
be up all night armed with his shotgun. In the days he would
be doing his farm work, armed with the new Standard Fordson tractor.
Walter had a natural aptitude for mechanical things, as well
as an aptitude for looking after his soil and his livestock.
The first tractor arrived on his farm in 1942, when Walter
was seventeen. Up until then all motive power used for the
husbandry of the acres of Fair Oak came from horses plus
a single, ancient water mill. Walter became the man responsible
for the mechanisation of husbandry at Fair Oak. Fair Oak
was well mechanised when he died with electric milking, powered
grain handling, ten tractors, a telescopic materials handler,
two combine harvesters and a computer.
Even though Walter’s health was failing in his last years,
he had bought himself a computer. He was cautious about taking
in new technology but he wasn’t shy about it either. The
apparent slowness of country people in areas like Devon is because
thoughtful people like Walter need time to work out how to use
new materials and tools as husbandry tools. Husbandry – taking
responsibility for the whole of an ecology – demands
that we pause for thought.
His life spanned the management of husbandry assisted only
by horse power when he was sixteen, all the way through to
the computer age when he was sending e-mails to his daughters.
It was a long and creative life.He was taught in particular
how to look after the 247 acres that lie within the boundaries
of Fair Oak, by his father Tom, and his mother, Eva. Old
Tom was born at Fair Oak in 1898. These people and their
ancestors have been intimately concerned with the soil business
since the beginnings of husbandry.
In conclusion: fighting husbandry's corner
Walter’s life was courageous and it was tragic. He was
fighting a battle for our soil against the forces of our economy
which do not value our soil. The traditions of the peasantry
around the world go right to the roots of humanity. Here we
have the remains of the traditions of the systems of husbandry
which are particular to this corner of Britain. Tragically
our noble peasant culture is failing, as they are all round
the world. They are being lost because of the illusion, set
into the rules of economic engagement, that we have more important
business than handling the soil. This illusion we must lose
very soon, or all our futures will be grim and tragic.
has now at its fingertips an awareness of the importance of
looking after our natural resources and our climate. Unfortunately
many people are under the paralysing illusion that it is
an impossible task, and that the forces of economics and planetary
climate change are too great for us to handle. However husbandry,
as Walter and all our ancestors practiced it, is the business
of handling the immeasurably vast forces of nature which act
on our soil. We can look after these vast forces within the
boundaries of our capabilities.
However, before husbandry can
thrive again we must align the economic interests of each and
every one of us with looking after the soil of the world. A
way to do this has been indicated by another inspiration for
our work, the ideology of Henry George (see seperate page about
Husbandry is the business
of looking after systems of nature far bigger than ourselves.
By carefully tilling soil, and communicating the importance of
doing so, we can influence even the global economy. We can and
must contribute to helping our authorities put in place taxation
systems which align the powerful forces of human self-interest
with the business of looking after the immense forces which
act on our soils.
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