My Blog

Lydia Slack

Lydia Slack

Rural writer and founder of Reviving Roots

Growing up, there were nights when I sat in my bedroom, looking out at the family dairy and sheep farm and imagining the life I was going to have. From about the age of 10, I knew I liked girls, but didn’t think my family would accept me that way.

I didn’t know of any gay female role models and I couldn’t relate to the more butch lesbian stereotype. I’ve always loved children, so in my early teens I decided that the only thing I could do, was sacrifice my feelings for women, marry a man, have children and live for them.

Throughout my teens, I really began to resent the LGBT community. How dare they get to live their lives freely, when I had to sacrifice my identity to fit in? As my feelings for women grew, I doubled down on the denial and became actively homophobic, making jokes and comments amongst my friends and family, each time chipping away at part of myself.

I was desperately unhappy and at the age of 18 decided to go on a gap year in southern Africa to experience a different way of life. This bit of independence, on my return, gave me the confidence to begin telling a few of my close friends how I really felt. Eventually I started seeing a girl and told my Mum.

My Mum and I had just come home from her friend’s Christmas party. Perhaps it was the new and exciting relationship, perhaps it was the mulled wine, but we pulled up home in the car, she switched the engine off and I said “Mum, I need to tell you something… I’m bi-sexual”. I knew I was gay, but I wasn’t confident enough to admit it and I thought saying I was bi-sexual would lessen the blow and make life easier. There was a deathly silence, only broken when my Mum turned to me and said… “What’s bi-sexual?”. I told her and really regretted not telling her the whole truth, but she said “Lydia, you don’t do things by halves” and reassured me she still loved me. She told me that I didn’t need to tell anyone else, and that I can keep my private life to myself. We didn’t speak of it again for a year.

A year or so later I had a more serious girlfriend and came out to my uncle who lived in the city and was very open minded. He “accidentally” told my Mum and it all came out again. My Mum had hoped it was a phase and referred back to some of the homophobic comments I’d made when I was younger about players on my cricket team and that I’d told her I was bisexual. I had to come out again, but this time as gay. My family were supportive to me in the moment, but we never spoke about it afterwards, they never talked to other people about it and I felt that deep down they were ashamed of who I was. I moved to London where I felt I could be myself, and every time I came home, I jumped back inside myself. People would ask if I had a boyfriend yet, and I would say no, without explaining anything else. Before coming out for the first time, I thought I’d do it once and that would be it, but people make assumptions all the time and the fear of not being accepted is sometimes so strong that you omit that part of yourself from conversation.

Ten years on from my initial coming out and I’m living with my beautiful fiancée Amelia in the bungalow my grandparents lived, just a few minutes’ drive from the family farm. We both help out on the farm regularly (her more than I!) and feel completely included in the family. As a 10-year-old, I never thought it could be possible.

It’s taken a very long time for me to accept myself and feel comfortable with my sexuality and the biggest challenges have been in my own head, but a few things have really helped.

Firstly, seeing strong LGBT role models in mainstream media has been really important. My Mum and Dad really enjoyed watching Last Tango in Halifax, which portrayed the stories of two families (one of which was in farming), set in Yorkshire. As the plot played out we discover that Caroline, one of the main characters, who’s married to a man and has children, is a lesbian and she divorces her husband and begins a relationship with a woman. Her mother really struggles with this and the conversations that play out between the two felt really reflective of some of the experiences me, my partner and some of my friends have had when coming out to their parents or grandparents. At one point, Caroline says something along the lines of “For God’s sake Mum, it’s 2013”. My Mum repeated this line to me shortly after this episode and she also shared that she’d spoken to my Auntie about how she was struggling and my Auntie had said to her “you like dogs, and I like cats, we don’t know why that is, but we just know”. This, combined with Last Tango in Halifax, really helped my Mum to see that (to quote Lady Gaga) that I was born this way, she hadn’t done anything wrong, and there was nothing for her to worry about.

Secondly, Amelia is an actress and a few months ago, the Director of Photography on a film she was in was a woman. In the first few seconds of talking to her she had said “Last week my wife and I…”. At the time I thought, “Cool, she has a wife and she’s not ashamed to talk about it!”. As we got to know her, she told us that whenever she meets new people, she purposefully brings her wife into the conversation straight away, so that people don’t make assumptions about her sexuality and she knows where she stands. I’ve now adopted this same approach, and it’s completely transformed the way I interact with people and removes any awkward assumptions. It makes me feel proud and empowered and not at the mercy of other people’s expectations.

Finally, discovering Agrespect. I was very lucky to be introduced to Agrespect by Julie Robinson who I met by chance at a dinner just a few months ago. It’s so brilliant to read the stories of other LGBT people in agriculture and realise that there are likeminded people across the LGBT and agricultural community.
I feel extremely fortunate to be able to be myself. My partner and I plan to settle in the countryside, hopefully with a smallholding and some children of our own. I’m really looking forward to the future and for anybody who’s struggling, just reach out to this extremely supportive community. You can be in control of your own narrative, and you will attract likeminded people once you start being who you are.

Matthew NaylorLydia Slack
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Ben Lewis

Ben Lewis

Farmers and Manager for Rural Payments in Wales

I was born in 1983 into the umpteenth generation of Welsh beef and sheep hill farmers in my family near Hay-on-Wye, on the Welsh Borders.

I am the youngest of three and we worked on the 500 acre farm from a very young age. We were lambing ewes as soon as we could walk and helping out with tractor work as soon as we could reach the pedals. We didn’t know any different, but being farmers and working with livestock was ingrained in us from day one and remains strongly to this day.

I enjoyed school, and as the youngest sibling I was the one thought most likely to go off and ‘get a real job’. I left school after A-levels and headed to Bristol to study with the intent of becoming a land agent and auctioneer……I hated it! I missed home and missed the farm even more. When my older brother came out as gay and moved away from the farm I decided that this was my chance and farming would be my career after all. I jacked in the uni course and threw myself into farming life. I got heavily involved in Young Farmers and met the girl I married.

To the outside world, life was perfect. Running a successful farming business with my parents and my wife, it all seemed pretty good. But in my head I knew it wasn’t right. The choice to repress being gay and choose to live ‘the normal life’ was having an impact on my wellbeing and happiness. After 4 years together, it couldn’t go on any longer and I told her that I liked boys. We amicably parted and I came out to my parents. My Dad is my best friend and I was terrified of the impact it would have on what he thought of me. His reaction was simply ‘well you’re the same old Benny to me’.

This I feel is when life began for me. Living in a very rural part of Mid Wales in 2009, the gossip was rife. Everyone had very strong opinions and a lot of friends turned their backs on me. Sadly I felt that being gay and being on the farm would never go together and I decided to take time out from the farm. I returned to University in Cirencester and gained a post graduate degree in agriculture. Following graduation, I started working for Rural Payments Wales in the Welsh Government. The move to Cardiff opened my eyes up to a new world, but I missed the farm and I missed farming and spent every weekend at home with Dad on the farm. If only I could do both………

In 2018 I get a random FB friend request through from a young, ginger dairy farmer, Frazer. We have a short chat and enjoy a bit of banter about cows and…erm… other things and decide we should meet up for a cuppa. We hit it off right away and soon we were spending every weekend together at his diary farm outside Newport, South Wales.

2 years down the line and we are now living together at the farm. I work in the week bringing in a steady wage and spend weekends mending and welding what he’s broken in the week. Frazer works full time on the family dairy farm and we have a flock of pedigree Suffolks.

I never thought that I would get the opportunity to combine my personal life and farming. I initially thought that I had to hide my sexuality to be farmer and then thought that I had to hide being a farmer to be gay. However, through awareness, inclusion and shifting attitudes, I am now living ‘the normal life’. Normal is living with the person you love and doing the things you’re passionate about – life is too short not to.

Matthew NaylorBen Lewis
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Benjamin Firth

Benjamin Firth


I never planned to work in agriculture my father is a farmer but it simply wasn’t something I had ever considered.

Growing up in a rural village in Lincolnshire with my Mum, Step Dad and three brothers, I was busy getting myself into mischief and trying to be noticed. That’s not something that happens a lot when you’re the youngest of four boys and your twin has a severe physical disability. Not that I believe any of that is a bad thing, I don’t think I would have liked being the oldest, way too much pressure to conform and do everything that you’re told.

The only real interaction I had with agriculture whilst growing up was with my stepdad, who was an agronomist. I used to love riding around with him, visiting all his customers and their farms, walking through the fields. It was so much fun I LOVED it. He did too especially singing to Queen and Meatloaf on full blast in his car and using me as an excuse for not having a packed lunch.

I never really struggled to come out. I was aged 14 in 2008 at a Church of England school with no other out LGBTQ+ students, I didn’t think it was a big deal. I told a few friends and, after that went well, I knew I wanted everyone to know. So I took the decision to tell a friend who I knew absolutely could not keep a secret.

I would like to say that was that and it was all done but that wouldn’t be telling the full story. It was massive gossip for a week or three but after every single student (and a few members of staff) had come up and asked whether it was true, the big deal of Ben being gay went away. That was until my lovely head teacher told me that if I wanted to be gay, I couldn’t do it in his school. Well I was gay, very out and very much at his school.

At the same time, I came out everyone in my family. It was never really an issue for me. I had a very brief phone conversation with my father and I guess it was a big shock for him. When you come out it can be a surprise to family or friends and not everyone necessarily reacts the way you hope they will.

Move forward a few years, I was 19, recently out of a three-year relationship and looking for a job. I thought “What I do with a qualification in business?” That is about the least directional further education course possible – probably why I chose it in the first place, if I’m honest. So, looking for a job, what next? My father asked me if I would temporarily help him out on the farm for six months.

This was a great idea, I thought. I was desperate for a job and he needed some help. Everyone’s a winner. The thing that I haven’t mentioned is that we hadn’t spoken for three years but with my ‘Let’s go for it, what’s the worst that can happen?’ attitude, I said yes.

And really what was the worst that could happen?

A    I didn’t like it? Well I wouldn’t be in any worse position than before.
B    I didn’t like working on the farm? I wouldn’t know until I tried it.
C    I didn’t really have a plan C!

I started working for my father on the farm and it was great for a start. I thought “Wow, this is really something that I want to do.”

I took on more responsibility and by the time I left the farm last summer I had gone from not having driven a tractor much to being responsible for all the drilling, fertiliser application, driving the sprayer and (the best bit for me) being in the office. I was looking after Gatekeeper, all the cattle movements and crop and beef assurance. My father really wasn’t a fan of office-based farm life and I bloody loved it so that worked very well.

By the summer of 2018 I really wanted a new challenge and started looking for a new job. I had enjoyed my first job in agriculture so that’s where I started to look. I had a few months looking which was a very nice change, having time to sit down and really think about what I really wanted to do.

I now I work for a business with two main enterprises – module plant propagation and growing, storing and selling potatoes. We grow and store 10,000 tonnes of potatoes each year and we produce in excess of 25 million plants per year – mostly vegetables – for farmers to plant. We also grow protected lettuce for supermarkets. My job includes selling potatoes to supermarkets and I head up new projects, so that’s pretty fun, as I have lots of ideas.

Back to more current affairs, another massive part of my life is Tim, my partner. He’s a hero, and that’s an understatement. We have been slightly on and off over the past five years, mostly on, but we have both been sorting out some complex emotions, and I think we have ironed out some creases before they become mountains we couldn’t get over. I really wouldn’t be where I am now without his amazing support!

Oh and talking of support. This is how it all started… Matt (my neighbouring farmer and, more importantly, bestie) and I were watching television and there was a feature on about gay farmers. To put it bluntly, it made being gay in the countryside sound very depressing. That isn’t a criticism of the farmer they were interviewing -everyone has their own story and this is real life not a fairy tale – but we said to each other, ‘Well that’s not how I feel. I bloody love working in agriculture and also bloody love being a gay man!’

So we decided together to do something about it and start an organisation to help all the LGBTQ+ people in agriculture. We want them to see that they are not alone and, more importantly, to show those who don’t feel it’s a safe, or even possible to come out, that there are many successful LGBTQ+ people working in agriculture. This is how Agrespect was born!

Matthew NaylorBenjamin Firth
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Lynn and Dana Norris Webb

Lynn and Dana Norris Webb

Nursery owners

Meet two people who fell in love, Lynn and Dana…

This isn’t where it started, though. Roll back to 2005. And, as those of you older than dirt will remember, this was when when web cams were few and far between and cost an additional mortgage on your home.  No such thing as Skype or Facebook.

Sounds like I’m talking about a million years ago.

America is a 9 hour flight from London to the most of the east cost, and this is where a 4500 mile journey begins.

Dana is American, and me, I’m Lynn from Norfolk in the UK. We met in a chat room for Butch Femmes. What attracted me to chat with Dana was her handle of “Landscaper”… ooohhh I thought, I’m a landscaper too.

And so it began. We chatted for about 8 months until finally I asked for her phone number to call her. We learned of our commonality of landscaping gardening and our dreams.

I was the owner of a very successful landscape and garden design company and I owned a nursery growing perennial plants, shrubs and trees too. I also purchased an established grass cutting grounds maintenance company, with all the equipment. And hired plenty of local staff and set about tendering for new work.I converted an old cricket pavilion to an organic green grocery and fruiters on my nursery.

It was busy, busy, busy back then.

But in 2000 I began the start of something that was literally going to change my life. In 2004 following failed knee replacements I had an amputation of my right leg above knee.

Everything started to go wrong and my business started to fail because I couldn’t get around to clients to visit with them and discuss their plans. You see, not everyone has a wheelchair accessible home and garden. And bit by bit I started to fold my businesses. The nursery went first, then the design side, and grass cutting ground maintenance at the end of the cutting season.

Meanwhile I’m chatting to the landscaper lady in North Carolina.
What an interesting woman I found her, she worked for a company that laid plants out in all the Home Depot or in her words “Homodepot”
She handled all the plants, designed layouts and took daily care of all the stock. She loved her job, but hated the heat from the black tarmac when it was 114 in the shade. And the plants needed constant watering.

Dana told me about her own history of farming tobacco on hundreds of acres and the issues with hand picking, drying, curing and selling the finished product.

In March 2006 I opted to go and see this mystery woman in the flesh, and planned a flight to North Carolina. Ten days later I met the love of my life.
We talked of our plans, our future, because we were certain we would have one.

Dana’s dream was to found and build her own nursery on the land adjacent to her home – about 1/4 acre site neatly placed between granny’s old house, the farm and her Mum and Dad’s house. And so our journey of purchasing a greenhouse, ground cover, clearing land, and accumulation of pots, and tables to create “The Secret Garden on 904”

In 2007, at the end of the summer season, I had been back to the USA 3 times, and on my 4th trip I opted to stay longer. We were creating a beautiful nursery as well as growing Daylilies (Hemerocallis ) in fact our personal collection of those was huge – spending hundreds of dollars on just one plant to grow divide and then re sell. I stayed longer and longer, and eventually stayed 6 months past my visa return date.

We came back to the UK in 2009 as Dana had been very poorly and I knew she needed a break from life in North Carolina. So in the winter when everything was quiet, we toddled back here.
2010 spring saw us headed back to North Carolina. I knew it may have been difficult to get back in the country but, as the USA didn’t have a biometrics system back then, I travelled again on my visitor visa.

Life for us was very busy with our new project and I again overstayed. I knew I was in a very desperate situation and it probably wouldn’t be without penalty.

In 2012 Dana proposed to me. The law had not yet changed to include all 50 states of the USA but IOWA was progressive enough to be among the first to allow marriage between same sex couples.

Our business thrived and even though I was wheelchair-bound, we still managed to maintain customers, and work in our own garden.

In 2013 we both came back to the UK. Dana obtained a visa so she could be there to help me. Sadly we closed the nursery vowing to open it back up again once we returned together to the USA. We started the process of immigration for my return to the USA

At the latter end of 2015 we were told by our friend that our home had been broken into and everything had been stolen. Clothes, including socks, jewellery and kitchen ware. And so much more. Wheels and brakes from our vehicle propping it up on blocks.

And after that bit of “great news” Dana’s father suffered a heart attack and I insisted she went home to be with him. So began our life together with an ocean between us.

In 2016 I went for my first interview at the American Embassy London and was refused. We were asked to fill out form I-601 – literally a written story of our life together.

In December 2016, Dana came to visit for six months but during this time her father passed away. She was very ill herself at the time and was rushed into hospital. And once better, she made her way back to NC and to be with her Mum during this terrible tragedy.

In late 2018 we had an excited message from our attorney to say that our I-601 had been approved and that it was excellent news. I called Dana and told her “Honey, get ready I am coming home”

The following day in December 2018 I received an email from the immigration unit to say that I needed to go for yet another medical and then an interview on December 19th

I arrived at the allotted time, laden down with documentation and handed over my passport, swore my oath and stood in front of the immigration officer. Once again I was turned down.

I was shaking, heart broken. Unsure, unclear. And totally confused.
I got back to my car. Called Dana at home in NC and told her the whole sorry scenario.

And so as of today, our attorney is working on our case.

The good news is that this month, after an 11 month separation, I welcomed my gorgeous Dana back to the UK for 5.5 months . It’s not ideal, it really isn’t, but it shows strength and the true grit of our love and our togetherness.

In the US, our nursery stands as an empty shell and our home a mess after Hurricane Florence ripped the roof off. But we have our small back yard growing area, and I’ve grown all the perennials for our virgin front garden, we are expecting a litter of boxer puppies in the first two weeks of June and we are enjoying re-kindling our love for one another.

Don’t for one minute think that a 4500 mile journey is a simple plane ride. It’s so much more when you fall in love with someone from another country. It’s not just a journey, it’s a mammoth trek, filled with potholes and pain. Separation and anxieties.

We have been through a lot but we have faced it together. Wish us luck as we struggle with governments and state departments and ever growing fees for our hard working attorney.

Matthew NaylorLynn and Dana Norris Webb
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Ben Mifflin

Ben Mifflin

Doctor and sheep breeder

I am 26 years old, born in Shrewsbury now living on the Stafford/Cheshire border, about to start my Medical career as a Junior Doctor in August.

I grew up in Shropshire, in a much more urban setting than I live in now, my Dad being a Teacher and my Mum a Nurse. After going off to University and finishing my first degree in Biomedical Science, we relocated to my Mum’s family farm.

I now live on the  ex-dairy farm that was bought by my grandfather and grandmother. Alongside managing their herd they also ran a coal haulage business with strong ties to the local colliery. After their passing and the dispersal of the herd, my parents took on the farm 6 years ago. With the help of me and my two sisters we modernised and restored the surrounding fields and farmhouse.

In their “retirement” my parents started to breed Pedigree Texel sheep, starting the Birchenwood Flock. This is named after my grandfather’s cattle herd. Over time this has evolved into a whole family project. Now we’ve expanded into several breeds and are involved in annual agricultural shows.

I then went on to apply and get into Medical school and I’m weeks from finishing my training. As a medical student I have gone from working in the delivery ward of the hospital straight to working in the lambing shed with my father – there are some differences!

It was during my 1st year of Medicine, that I began to tell my family and friends that I was gay, and despite those early day regrets, it was the most life-changing and enriching thing I have ever done.

Because I skipped the classic farm born and bred upbringing, I sometimes worried  how I was perceived by those in our farming community. I am  open about being gay and about my partner and I have had experiences, both in my medical training and through the farming community, where I’ve seen some of the ingrained homophobia and lack of awareness that still exists.

My partner is actively involved in the farming side of my life and we are looking forward to a busy and rewarding future together. He is properly one of the family – he’s dragged along for shearing, lambing and even gets on the end of a fork for mucking out.

Matthew NaylorBen Mifflin
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Henry White

Henry White

Rose Grower

Hello my name is Henry, I’m a 2nd generation Rose Grower. I have been farming roses with my family since I was a wee boy.

I am single and openly gay to friends and family, having come out to them quite easily after college. To them it has never been a problem.
Shortly after coming out I moved to Edinburgh and then London, which was really life affirming – working in clubs, restaurants and my initial passion: television. After a few seasonal trips back home to help with the roses, I began to fall in love with both the craft of rose growing, and the peace of the countryside – I found it so refreshing to the rush of the city. It was then I knew I wanted to take up work within the industry.

I ended up studying at Capel Manor Regents Park on an RHS course and within a year I had caught the green finger bug. I was duty manager at Fulham Palace Garden Centre and began working with a gardener friend in and around Chelsea and southwest London. My time working in cities made me more open minded, I grew comfortable speaking to a wide range of people from all sorts of backgrounds. I also gained an adoptive nephew via my gay ex-flatmates. They have become my best friends and you will see us march every year at London Pride to celebrate gay adoption.

My next big decision was to move to Norfolk and ‘do the roses’ permanently. After being away for 5 years I remember thinking; there was no one like me back there; I’d miss my London friends. But, I also knew my family needed help, they are close to retirement and they needed some younger hands to help mould their business for the future.

It’s been 5 years now, it took me a while to adjust initially, but now I couldn’t be happier. I work outdoors every day, breathing in the clean country air and obviously the sweet smell of roses! My work can be lonely sometimes, with just the plants for company, but that is soon forgotten with the joy of my craft. Not everyone is built for this sort of work, but I’m now much stronger for it.

My love of modern living and media has continued, I’ve moved our business online with a new website, which we launched last year, this has taken off very nicely. I commute to my nursery from my home in the centre of Norwich, so I’m still living the city life with as many colours of rainbow as I possibly can, which has helped me feel the acceptance I need.

I feel the future for me is bright as a gay horticulturalist in Norfolk, there is obviously a little way to go for voices in our community to be heard, but it’s people within our industry who can change things. So from today I want my voice to be visible and thank you for taking time to read this.

Matthew NaylorHenry White
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Rob Clunas

Rob Clunas

Manager – Royal Northern Countryside Initiative

I am currently the project manager of a small Scottish charity, the RNCI which educates children about farming and where food comes from

My role is helping young people to understand the countryside and the hard work that goes on around them. I think in the beginning farmers were a bit unsure of me, asking if I had a girlfriend or giving me plenty of space. Now I am fully accepted by all my volunteer farmers and although I often dial back “the fabulous” we all seem to have a good laugh. Nothing brings people together better than the blunt nature of children. Even with Northern Scotland being a very old fashioned place its amazing to see the growing acceptance for the LGBT+ community.

While interviewing for this job I made sure not to mention my sexual orientation using nondescript words like “they” or “my other half” rather than “he” or his name but as I was getting up to leave, I perhaps dropped my guard and my boyfriend. Feeling myself redden and get hot under the collar, I quickly scanned the faces of the panel; one of which looked a touch taken aback. I remember sitting in the car after thinking I’d blown it, making a big deal of it. My advice to others is be open and honest from the outset, let them get to meet the real you. For me it avoided any awkwardness further down the line.

My boyfriend himself is from farming stock and it turned out had gone to school with one of the interview panel; Scotland is a small place. Now three years together and I’ve yet to feed him to the pigs, we have a house together, a dog and if he gets his act together maybe one day some wedding bells.

Matthew NaylorRob Clunas
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Tim Scott-Saunder

Tim Scott-Saunders


I am retired from a military career and serve as a trustee of our local Heritage Trust. I do stewarding at the museum, crew the restored lifeboat and I’m the general dog’s body at our fairs. I open my garden for Walton -In-Bloom.

This week I have heard the cuckoo, which brought back memories of my childhood. As I write, I am watching with interest a pheasant in the 80 acre field behind my home. My grandfather used to have pheasants. When my father went to prepschool, he was suprised at how big hen’s eggs were – he though everyone ate pheasants eggs.

My father also once said that homosexuality was the sole cause of the loss of the British Empire.

It wasn’t easy when I came out to him and my mother in the 1970’s. I fell in love with a man and I felt so strongly about him that I just had to tell my parents and to hell with the consequences. The news was received with a numb silence and gritted teeth. My family were not accepting.

I was perhaps lucky that in Exeter there was a gay pub – The Acorn. My shyness was overcome as I was introduced to everyone and given a genuine welcome. There was Lamda, a society meeting monthly for interesting talks and a cuppa. There were also parties, though in those days if a man was not invited he might well, out of spite, phone the police and it would be raided.

In Torquay was the Double 2 club. So I would fill up my Rover 80 with friends and set out on a Saturday evening. Up top was a dance floor; below was a quiet area with sofas for conversation and a drink. Another opened up in Paignton with mirrors the length of the dance floor. Dancing was so intense we steamed up the mirrors. Afterwards we would dip in the sea.

The older gay men that I met were cagey. For much of their lives even a suspicion of gayness meant at best ostracism, at worst instant prison, ruin and disgrace. It had been awful for these people.

In Hampshire in the 1980s, I belonged to a classical music group which met monthly in the hosts’ homes with pleasant men and good music. Studland had a vast gay beach, though monitored by Police. It was not uncommon for men to be entrapped by young policemen posing as gay and full details would appear in the local paper. The Police would also phone up employers and try to get the man the sack.

My working life began in the Army, later on in the Royal Marines Reserve. I am educated, adore classical music, history, fine art and the countryside. The type of men that I get on really well with are countrymen, ex-servicemen and artists; but 17 years living with the latter nearly drove me mad!

I am now retired and reluctantly single. I moved to North East Essex. I settled into my new home, transformed the garden, played my piano, took long walks, read books, played with my cat and interacted with the locals.

Then the loneliness set in and I wonder where you go now to meet other gay men now. Many of my friends from my younger days died during the AIDS epidemic. The vibrant gay social scene that I used to know and enjoy has been killed off by computer dating. Most of the gay pubs have closed as people have moved to meeting on the internet – not something familiar or comfortable to my generation. A monthly gay tea party in Ipswich, where I was just getting to know them, closed.

I feel adrift just as Adam was alone but most certainly doesn’t feel like the Garden of Eden.

I reflect that although times are more accepting, something from the gay community of my youth has died. The life of gay people can be isolated as we get older. The geography can make it especially hard for people who live and work in the countryside.

I sometimes feel like a gay ghost. Hopefully somewhere out there is a compatible gay man to whom I can devote my life.

Matthew NaylorTim Scott-Saunder
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Mark Jacob

Mark Jacob

Future Farming Directorate – DEFRA

I grew up in the Republic of Ireland, a child of the city but only one generation removed from the farm.

My mother was raised a farmer’s daughter and this probably played a role in why every weekend of my childhood was spent donning wellies or hiking boots and escaping the grey pavements of Waterford City to tramp through mucky fields and mountains with delight. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are set amongst the iconic rolling green fields of the Irish countryside.
As such, it’s hardly surprising that a love of the natural (and semi-natural) environment has been steadfast throughout my life. I left home after finishing secondary school to study zoology at University College Cork and followed a fascination with animals to the USA for further study and eventually to my role here at Defra in London.

As a gay man, I am proud to see how far LGBT+ inclusivity has come in both urban and rural settings, and have seen marked positive societal changes within my own lifetime. Yet I recognise that no society in the world is without at least some trace remnant of intolerance and that the geographical isolation that comes with working as a farmer can leave one feeling equally socially isolated. The work of organisations such as AgRespect makes me proud to work in this industry; in our contemporary society we owe each other mutual respect and appreciation of the strength our diversity brings us as a community.

I was tremendously lucky in the support and love my coming-out was met with but nevertheless it was no easy task. Growing up, Ireland was a seemingly smaller country in a larger world and LGBT+ people were politely not spoken of. I had no visible role models to anchor my sense of place in the world and at times felt alone in my identity. I sit on the steering committee of the Defra Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Asexual and Transgender network and actively strive to be the role model I never had. I am immensely proud to work for an organisation which fosters such a sense of inclusion through encouraging everyone to bring their whole selves to the workplace.

Matthew NaylorMark Jacob
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Frank McLean IV

Frank “Buddy” McLean IV

CSA Farmer

I am a small farmer in central Connecticut. The legal name I was given at birth is that of my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. It’s also the name that nobody but lawyers, doctors, and insurance professionals actually call me by because, also at birth, I was immediately called the same nickname as my father and grandfather. Both were truck drivers, military men, generally well-liked farmers…and neighbors. I’m Buddy.

My parents met at a small country fair competing in the dairy barn. My mother was blond and blue-eyed and drove a new GMC pickup truck, my father was in over his head. They married soon after in a little white church near the country fair where they met. Years later, in her back garden, my father’s mother hosted a baby shower for my mother, pregnant with me. Along with the Farrah Fawcett hairstyles and large Jackie O sunglasses was a white frosted sheet cake with blue writing that said, “Hope it’s a boy!” The cake could have just as easily said “Hope he’s a farmer!”

I grew up on my parent’s farm, which they bought when they married and is beside my grandparent’s farm and baby shower site, which is now mine. The two properties practically share a driveway. They had the same work ethic on the two farms, but very different operations. The men did the tractor work, and the women did everything else. My parents had a small dairy when I was very young and my mother was the neighborhood “milk lady”. That evolved into a replacement dairy heifer operation during my childhood. They now raise purebred beef cattle.

By “they,” I mean mostly my mother. Her parents and grandparents had a small farm, too. She is kind of Wonder Woman, if Wonder Woman’s cape were instead a Carhartt vest. She named, fed, and raised dozens of calves a year while managing their rental properties. She ran a home daycare, grew a large enough vegetable garden to put food by for the year, and served on every local and regional agriculture association possible while my father was driving a truck during the day. He’d have a snack after work and then get out on the farm. Weekends weren’t for rest. We worked, I had chores and responsibilities. In retirement, my grandfather financed my uncles and together they created a business on his farm. They grew vegetables that were sold at local farmers markets and eventually had orchards of apple, peach, and pear trees to sell fruit in local grocery stores.

My brothers and I earned pocket money working for my grandfather. They spent theirs on tools and trucks; I bought the “right” clothes and figure skating lessons. They got four-wheelers and rode through the mud while I had a horse to jump stonewalls and leather riding boots that kept me clean.

While they almost share a driveway off our town road, the two family farms are also connected by a back driveway. During elementary school, I walked this road every morning to meet my cousins at my grandparent’s home to then go to the street to get the school bus from their driveway. The idea was that it looked like we belonged to a house and not a small, obscure driveway. I’m not sure I ever felt I belonged, a house in sight or not.

I wasn’t the boy wished for on cakes by country farm folk. I didn’t know I was gay early on, because I didn’t realize that “gay” existed or what “gay” was. Enamored, I had my first crush on a slightly older neighborhood boy when I was eight. I didn’t know, but I always knew. Perhaps it was self-preservation or possibly willful ignorance? Maybe it was both?

Regardless of how I never felt complete or accepted, I never really wanted to leave or go too far from home or the farms. I went to a small school for Marketing. I wasn’t immediately “out” in college and tried to hide the truth by accepting the advances of girls. And then I met “him” at 19 and stopped trying to hide who I was. I gradually became more comfortable with myself, confident that my friends wouldn’t abandon me. I worked for a huge corporate communication company after college. They were accepting and they liked my work ethic. I moved to a smaller, better company and into a better position. I was told in one round of interviews that they liked the idea of hiring a “farm-boy” because they suspected I therefore knew what hard work was.

In an effort to keep their farm going, my grandparents eventually turned everything over to my uncles who had been managing the orchards and gardens. They were life-long rivals with completely different expectations and temperaments. It didn’t work. I moved home to help take care of my beloved grandmother, who had developed dementia. I gave myself one year to help determine her care needs and figure out my next step; I didn’t like spending money on rent and missed open spaces and physical work.

Reacquainting myself intimately with the virtually unchanged surroundings of childhood was humbling. The wallpaper and paint, curtains and silverware were all the same. So was the land – the quiet of mornings in the country, the afternoon sun setting behind the resilient old trees I had mowed around or ridden past in my youth. The riding boots no longer fit, but even the horse was still there. It was as if only I had changed.

Eventually my grandmother passed. My grandfather had life use of their home and farm. Almost every night, I’d visit my and do household chores while he had dessert before bed and we’d chat, he’d tell me family and farm stories. He was less than pleased with the actions and decisions of the sons he had entrusted with the farm. I was approached at different times by them with the same idea: I should take on the farm. Or rather, unspoken, I could take it off of their hands. Nothing ever felt so ridiculous or obvious at the same time. There were other family members potentially more up for the task. But I loved it most, I needed it more.

My grandfather lived long enough to see me successfully put together a deal for one uncle. I know it made him happy that I was trying to keep the farm in the family and there was a renewed excitement in his nightly stories. Drawn out, the next set of negotiations would test every fiber of my being; physical, mental and emotional. It took a decade and numerous lawyers, realtors, appraisers, surveyors and untold sums of money. Money I had saved, equity I had earned, and substantial loans given to me unsolicited, like lifelines from people who had no idea they were actually saving what I couldn’t see was my dream, while simultaneously proving that I am loved and I do belong. There was no paperwork or formal agreements, just “Use this, figure it out and we’ll go from there later.”

My salary at the small-but-better company is respectable, but it isn’t enough to clear my debts and save the farm. It became apparent that if the farm doesn’t contribute, it wouldn’t survive. I can’t leave my “real” job in marketing. The words I fall back on time again are those of Arthur Ashe, my mantra: “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”

Start where you are. Before I took over the farm, the orchards had been removed, the gardens had become hayfields, barn roof was leaking and the equipment had been sold. But there was space, the land – remnants of the past, and the possibility of a future. In speaking with friends about my ideas and options, one suggested I think seriously about doing a Community Supported Agriculture program, commonly referred to as a CSA. As a prepaid subscription to a farm’s produce for an established growing timeframe, a CSA program provides its shareholders with a weekly supply of farm-fresh produce and creates a rare, viable source of financial security for the farmer.

Use what you have. My grandfather’s rototiller was in the barn, I put it to good use after my father helped plow the fields back into gardens with his tractor. The first year I tried to pull together a CSA program out of a small vegetable patch I had eight customers, mostly friends and family. I learned throughout that first season and even made a small profit. Your network equals your net worth… Fortunately I make friends and conversation easily. Interest in my CSA continues to grow and my father still helps to plow and reclaim fields for new vegetable garden space. I had fifty-five customers for the 2018 season.

Do what you can. At first, I thought I could do something small around the farm to make a some money to help with upkeep. Things change, one adapts or doesn’t. I did and I still am. The physical work was (and is) like therapy. Everything happens for a reason. Perhaps if it weren’t for the years of uncertainty, frustration and tears shed I wouldn’t know that this is where I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing. Sometimes I still feel like the kid in figure skating lessons; constantly riding the edge of losing it all and falling hard or remaining focused and making something exciting happen.

I’m still finding the balance between work, family, the farm, friends and dating. It’s probably a good thing I went through the worst of the property struggle single, I would have made a terrible partner. I’m fortunate to live in a very progressive place – my schedule is difficult, dating isn’t. It’s like a garden, really – the more time and effort you put into it, the better the results are. Perhaps I present my produce differently than other farmers – in vintage baskets, on gingham tablecloths with sunflowers in vases, polished – or perhaps not, we all do what works for us. Maybe it is unexpected to have a ‘gay farmer’, but it doesn’t come up. My customer’s children love my farm and call me ‘Farmer Buddy’. They tell me which vegetables they like more than others, bring me birthday presents and send Christmas cards. They run to give me hugs and high-fives when they see me at parties or events. I’m just their farmer. Maybe that’s progress, maybe that’s hope.

Matthew NaylorFrank McLean IV
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