I still can’t believe the situation. I read the solicitors letter twice when it arrived last week and then I read it again. My Grandfather has left me his farm! My Father has long been disappointed in me – I didn’t go into a financial institution like he wanted. Instead, I’ve worked for the electricity company fixing faults in the network and hauling cables. Then I took a redundancy offer and spent the last couple of years house-flipping with a mate. I’ve always enjoyed getting my hands dirty! Now I’m standing here in an overgrown yard at half-Seven in the morning with my brother, Jon, looking at a pile of junk…Barn contents on Boundary Farm

…Jon is another of Father’s disappointments – he runs a successful car mechanic’s business just outside Bridgenorth. He’s here to help me get the old farm machinery working so I can assess it and decide what to keep and what to sell. He’s brought a battery booster kit and a load of tools with him. Now we’re waiting for the Junkman to turn up – I’ve hired him to remove the rubbish which he says he will do for £100.

He showed up around five-to-eight with a his son and a labourer. Initially he glumly surveyed the mix of general rubbish and the carcasses of long-dead farming machines. “There’s more than I thought you said?” – angling to get more money for the clearance. “There’s a lot of scrap metal there,” I pointed out “So you should make good on your time.” He shook his head again and fished out a phone to call in a couple more labourers who were waiting with the truck in the lane outside. Once started, it took the seven of us couple of hours to shift out most of the junk. The old muck-spreader still rolled, albeit with a particularly shrill squeak from one of the bearings. Most of the other stuff could easily be carried by two people. There were some metal beams in the side lean-to. The Junkman’s face broke into a smile – “Now those are really good!” he said. In the end we were left with just the tractor carcass behind the working Fendt tractor. Jon hooked up the battery booster to the Fendt and punched the button. It turned over immediately and settled into a reassuring rumble. We used it to drag the wreck out of the barn and then, with a set of rollers that the junkman had brought, slowly pulled it round to the road. It took a lot of manoeuvring to drag it onto his trailer but once it was tied down we had finally finished and said our farewells as he went on his way.

Jon and I looked around the barn and the yard and made a list of the equipment left on site……”You could keep the Fendt.” he said. “I don’t know, it needs a lot of work. I think I want to start with a new tractor.” The Bizon harvester was a horror story hidden away at the back of the barn. “He can’t have still been using that can he?” “I don’t think so.” Jon looked at the engine, “Might start…” he said, after checking the oil levels, and went off to get the battery booster again. We cranked the engine four.. five.. six times and each time it showed not sign of firing then on the seventh it coughed once. We tried again and it burst into unsteady life filling the barn with a cloud of black fumes. We both stepped back outside for air and waited for the fog to clear. After a few minutes Jon went back, climbed to the driving seat and slowly reversed the Bizon out into the light – I swear it blinked at the sunshine!

In the end I decided that only the Strautmann trailer and the Kuhn subsoiler were worth keeping. The Capello corn-header for the harvester gave a ‘should I, shouldn’t I?’ moment but in the end I decided that should go too. Leaving the Bizon’s engine running, Jon took his leave of me and headed off to Bridgenorth. I climbed onto the Bizon and set off for a meeting with the local New Holland dealer…Driving the Bizon to the dealer past Boundary Farm’s only field

My meeting with the dealer – Graeme – was an interesting one. I’m not sure whether he wanted to laugh or cry when he saw the Bizon. “Don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those – probably belongs in a museum – you sure you don’t want to donate it to the Severn Valley Railway or something?” On the basis that I was doing a trade-in for a new tractor and a small harvester he decided to make me a reasonable offer. I left him to take the harvester away to his storage area while I walked back to the farm and collected the Fendt with the Einboch seeder. Graeme was much happier with the Fendt – “You sure you want to sell? – Nice tractors these – But not as good as ours of course!” he hurriedly finished. I told him of the Capello and he offered to send a couple of his team round to collect it later in the day. Then we settled down to discuss my needs and what I could get with my limited finances.

The tractor was quite easy – “I’d suggest the T6.155 – power should be plenty and it’s a nicely balanced compact machine with take-off’s front and rear.” The harvester was harder and a secondhand TX32 was the only one that I could truly afford. I expressed my concern about the size of my field for the harvester. “Well, we can’t do anything about the hopper capacity.” he said, “But I think I can help you with the header. Normally these come with a 4m width but I happen to have a 6.1m cutter and trailer that will fit. You’ll be taking a bigger bite each row but, of course, you’ll have to empty into a trailer more often. You do have a trailer?” I assured him that I did have a trailer – “But I will probably need to get a larger one quite soon.” I added. We shook hands on our deal and I took the Harvester home, then walked back to collect the tractor and header…New Holland T6.155 with harvester header and Graeme’s New Holland dealership in the background

…As I rolled down the road I pondered on the future – would I settle into farming or fold under the strain? Only time would tell.

I expected to hear from Sophie the next morning about visiting Holzman’s farm to take a look around but the call never came. Over the next couple of weeks I picked up jobs as they were offered by the local farmers. I even had a fertilizing job for Sophie but she didn’t say anything about the farm and I felt it best to let sleeping dogs lie. Time dragged on and I forgot all about it. If I was disappointed initially, I quickly put it behind me. Anna left the subject alone too – allowing it to fade into the background of our lives although she must have known how much I wanted to look at the opportunity that was on offer.

Five weeks had passed when the phone rang late on a Saturday evening – It was Sophie. Initially I assumed that she had an urgent job that needed doing on Sunday, farming is often urgent jobs that either have been waiting for a gap in other work or are dictated by changes in the weather. But Sopihe launched into an apology – “I’m sorry Nick.. I meant to tell you but I kept putting it off.. Didn’t want to disappoint you.” I probably mumbled a confused “that’s all right” type of response, I don’t recall, but Sophie had more to tell. “We were a bit premature, Tim hasn’t put the farm on the market yet. But he is selling and he would be happy to go down the road of a private sale if you’re still interested?” I took a moment to catch my breath.. I heard Anna ask in the background “Are you OK?” – apparently I’d gone a little pale. “I’m still interested!” I gasped. “Great – Tim’s given me the keys so I can show you around tomorrow morning! I’ve got a couple of things to sort out first thing. Could we meet at the bottom of the lane at 10:30?” I agreed and hung up the phone.

It was just Sophie and I that morning – Anna had the lunchtime shift at the Horseshoes so she decided not to come – “I’ll only confuse matters anyhow.” she said and gave me a peck on the cheek. As we walked up the lane, avoiding some puddles from overnight rain, Sophie began to give me some background to the farm. Old man Holzman appeared after the war. He married a local girl and bought a vacant farm – it’s owner having been posted missing in action early in the North African campaign. It was rumoured that Holzman was a German prisoner of war who had decided to settle in England after hostilities ceased but it had never been confirmed. Over time any mistrust in this newcomer had given way to normal farming cooperation as Holzman had proved himself willing to help out the other farms. Sophie couldn’t confirm that there was any truth in the PoW rumour but she thought it was most likely gossip driven by the german sounding name.

Tim was the couple’s second son. The elder boy wasn’t interested in farming and left to pursue an engineering career. Tim had stayed on and took over the farm when his father could no longer manage it. It was a sad story really, Ma Holzman died quite young and Old Man Holzman lost interest in life after her passing. Working hard on the farm, Tim Holzman had never married. “And that,” said Sophie, “brings us to the present.” “Tim’s been running down the farm for a few years now. He’s not a well man and can’t manage it any more.” “The big C.” she said in response to my unspoken question as we reached the farmyard.

My tour was a simple one – there was not a lot to see. “Tim’s already auctioned off most of the machinery – I believe he still has a tractor for old times sake but thats in his garage at the farmhouse.” “All that’s left for sale are the buildings and three fields.” As Sophie walked me round I began to get an idea of what a curates egg the place was. “Here’s the old shelter – good place for a tractor and there’s a basic workshop.”……”Old man Holzman once tried keeping sheep – he built this way back to keep them……but he lost the sheep during a foot and mouth outbreak and never replaced the flock.” “And this is the jewel in the crown – a nice new barn with lots of storage space!”……”Tim added it ten years back when things were looking good.”

The fields looked to be a good size with two of them doing grass for hay or silage…
…and the third growing a crop of Wheat…

I had to ask, “How come there’s a crop?” “Tim’s been paying other farmers to do the work on his land for him – I think Mark prepared the field and sowed the crop.” “I’ve helped out myself in the past as well as buying a couple of fields when he was in a bit of a hole.” “Anyway, that’s the farm and its assets.” “What do you think?” I looked around the empty yard and the abandoned sheep facility. The big modern barn was a huge plus along with the workshop in the old shelter. The grass looked ready to harvest but the Wheat was going to need some looking after to get a full return from the crop. If I bought this farm I was going to have to find a way to make money with very little and I was probably going to have to lease equipment early on. “I think I need to run it past Anna!” “OK,” said Sophie, “But don’t take too long – Tim’s going to have to put it on the general market soon and if it goes to auction there will be a lot of crows circling to pick the bones.”

Around twenty years ago I was stood in a winebar. We were drinking Bolly, celebrating another deal that had gone well for our clients and therefore for us. It was a time of high pressure playing with money that wasn’t ours in the first place! Do well and you were well rewarded – fail and you were out. I was doing well and making a lot of money. One of the older dealers – much older than most of us in that bar – liked to tell stories of insider dealing trades of the past before the law changed. That evening we found ourselves together at the end of the bar, semi-isolated from our colleagues, and he took the opportunity to share a gem of drunken wisdom with me. “You know… All the important deals are done in smoke filled rooms don’t you?” It was certainly true in my experience – much was decided before any trading began, though he was wrong about one thing. The smoke filled rooms were no more with smoking bans in public places across the capital. I reached a point not long after that celebration where I realised that the pressure of trading stocks was something I wanted to walk away from. I was also developing a rather annoying conscience which pained me when I thought someone had got a raw deal out of our efforts to make a killing. It dawned on me – “I’m in the wrong job!” So I took a package to leave back in 2007 when the city was under pressure to come clean about its dealings and just before the crash of 2008.

Life in the wilderness was scary at first. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But slowly I found myself getting involved with nature projects as a way of keeping busy and earning a little money. It was the start of a journey. I applied to work at a wildlife sanctuary. I found myself out in the driving rain making hedges and fences safe so that the wildlife was protected and somehow it felt good! Then I started doing work as a farm labourer – it didn’t pay well but I had that lump sum behind me to cover any shortfall and I found that a frugal life actually meant I could put a little money away some weeks.

I moved from one area to another, following the work. I met my current partner, Anna, while working as a labourer in Gloucestershire. I think she likes my dream even if she doesn’t believe it will ever happen. You see, I’ve been dreaming of owning my own farm some day and that prospect suddenly became a lot more realistic this week. We’ve been living in the village of Ballygreen for a couple of years now……I do work on the local farms and she works behind the bar in the Three Horseshoes as well as making pottery, some of which she sells for a good price. I’ve kept a tight reign on my finances and Anna has often made sure we have food on the table each day. Between us we have enough in the bank to perhaps fulfill that dream.

Last night, while sitting in the ‘Horseshoes with a couple of the farmers that I do work for, Sophie Brennan mentioned that Holzman’s Farm was going up for sale. Tim Holzman is looking to get out of farming and has no heir to take over his farm. “He’s going to stay in the farmhouse, so that’s not for sale” she said……That prompted a lot of chat over the ale. I knew Sophie had bought fields from Holzman in the past – he has been reducing his workload before retiring. I’ve worked a couple of them for Sophie. I wondered what was left of the farm – prompting some derision from the table. Just three fields and a yard with a couple of buildings. It seems that the farmers with the exception of Sophie were not interested in buying. I made a point of asking Sophie as I have a friendly working relationship with her and she owns the land around, “Are you intending to buy?* and she said “I don’t think so.” “Would you have any issues with me buying that farm?” I asked. “If you’ve got the £200k or so then why not? – I can take you up there tomorrow to take a look if you want. I know Tim well and I know he’d want the land to stay under the plough.”

It came back to me that night as I wandered back to our lodgings with Anna – “You know… All the important deals are done in smoke filled rooms don’t you?” I’d just made a pledge to look at something that could cost us a lot of our savings and give us a lot of heartache too. Anna was non-commital – she needed to see. I guess it would all come down to the visit with Sophie and the price Holzman wanted for what was left of his farm.