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  • Writer's pictureJohn Dempster

A beautiful way to live: HighlandLIT's Book Week Scotland event.

HighlandLIT celebrated Book Week Scotland with a two-part event at the Glen Mhor Hotel on Tuesday 15th November. In the first half, Lynn Cassells, co-author with Sandra Baer of Our Wild Farming Life: Adventures on a Scottish Highland Croft, discussed their journey into crofting at Lynbreck Croft near Grantown on Spey. After the interval, members and friends of HighlandLIT shared their nominations for our ‘Special Books’ list – you can read them all here – and everyone got a copy of one of the books, plus a second book to share with others. The event, and the book giveaway was funded by Scottish Book Trust, to whom we are extremely grateful.

Lynn’s talk was fascinating. She described how she and Sandra gave up their work as forest rangers, and with a vision of living self-sufficiently off the land, bought the croft at Lynbreck – which covers 160 acres, and, at 350 metres above sea level is very exposed to the elements.

Initially, the plan was to grow enough healthy food to meet their own needs, but they soon realised they’d have to turn to farming to provide an income stream – and farming was something they knew nothing about. With imagination, vision, willingness to learn, and physical commitment to the task their acres are now a small-scale farm. Each of the two contributes her own skill-set: Sandra is very gifted in dealing with the animals, while Lynn is the writer and project-planner who draws up funding applications. (Their first project was what they call ‘The Great Lynbreck Tree Plant’, which involved planting 17400 trees within just four weeks!.)

Lynn and Sandra seek to let nature guide them in their use of the land. (See the philosophy behind their farming here.) They aim to give their animals a good life, and in return the beasts enrich the land with their foraging and droppings, and provide rich, healthy meat which is prepared for sale in the Croft’s own butchery.

They have four sources of income. They have Highland cows. There are 70 hens (who live in a ‘henmobile’ which is moved round the field to allow the residents to systematically to work over ground removing moss and feeding the soil.) Eggs are sold locally through an ‘egg club.’

There are pigs, ‘ecological engineers’, fierce forager who disturb the undergrowth and allow more species to grow. And there are bees – they have from 5- 15 hives.

The result of all this activity is that the farm seeks to break even, selling the eggs, meat boxes, honey, and added-value ‘artisan meats’ such as bacon and cured meat.

But there seems to be no end to Lynn and Sandra’s imagination and energy - they also run tourism courses, welcoming people onto the croft, describing their various projects and telling stories of regenerative farming, and soil health. They have also appeared on BBC’s This Farming Life, and have now published Our Wild Farming Life.

Lynn says it’s easy for them to tell their story because it’s a story people want to hear. People want to hear about sensitive land use, they want you to give your animals a good live. I recent years they have won 6 awards for the excellence of what they are doing.

The Lynbreck Croft website tells us that Lynn and Sandra seek to ‘look after our own corner of Scotland.’ On the 15th, someone asked Lynn if she thought that this approach could save the world? ‘Yes!’ she replied. She said that their aim to the ‘world’ which they had the ability to influence – the world of themselves, the croft, their families, the local community. And if, around the world people committed to live in this way – each group taking care of their own ‘world’, living true to nature, then the world will be healed. It sounds like a whole new way of structuring society – collaborative, rather then competitive. It is a powerful vision.

And Lynn and Sandra are content with the choices they’ve made. ‘Our decisions now put health and happiness first,’ says Lynn. ‘It’s a beautiful way to live.’

The photos show Lynn Cassells with HighlandLIT Committee Members Penelope Hamilton and Mark Williams, and folk who were present displaying the books they chose in the Giveaway.


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