Rural – Jersey Country Life Magazine

‘THE JERSEY SHEEP LADY’ – Book review

Author, Jenni Liddiard

Book review: Alasdair Crosby

‘Nil Desperandum’ might well be the motto of this author – never give up.

She has never given up: to find a farm, to construct a house so she can live on site, to rear sheep, to find happiness. 

She now farms in St Lawrence, with her husband, David, just off the Rue de la Golarde at ‘Field Farm’. The land was once an enormous potato field; now it is a ‘back to the future’ farm: a small mixed farm with sheep and goats and apple trees and free-range chickens: an ikon for those who believe this sort of farming to be part of the future of agriculture in the Island as opposed to just the export-led monoculture  of the potato.  Readers may be aware of her lamb joints and cloudy sparkling apple juice – the latter has  won her a ‘Great Taste’ award from the Guild of Fine Foods.

However, readers with long-ish memories may remember her as Jenni Riggall, who, as in (not quite) the words of the hymn: ‘There’s no discouragement, shall make her  once relent, her first avowed intent, to be a – farmer.’

Having made a career in radiography and worked at the Hospital for many years, Jenni found herself increasingly dissatisfied: she had already started a small hobby smallholding, and increasingly resented the intrusions of her paid job. She wanted to keep sheep – she grew up on a farm in Lincolnshire – but, of course, if you keep sheep, you need somewhere to live close by, so as to be on hand for lambing (often a tricky procedure and often, inconsiderately, in the small hours of the morning).    This made it virtually impossible for her to do what she wanted in Jersey.

For a while, the contentions of Jenni Riggall became a regular theme for media interest and reportage, as, at every turn, she seemed to be blocked and thwarted in her ambitions to build a small farmhouse in a green zone.

All this is described in her autobiography, The Jersey Sheep Lady. For me, this was the most interesting part of the book, as a writer on things rural for the JEP at the time, I was very much aware of her repeated attempts to be allowed to do what she wanted, and, on reading her book, have a good idea of the identities of the characters to whom she refers as ‘Mr J’ etc, or as ‘Mrs Nimby’.

So it is a good read for anyone interested in this footnote in the long annals of Jersey’s agricultural politics.

However, the book is much more than that. There is the story of her childhood and Lincolnshire family. Although growing up in the 1960s and 1970s – not so long ago really, in the count of years – this era is already being slowly overlaid with the patina of time, which lends a certain sepia charm to what was then a perfectly normal upbringing.

Then her work as a radiographer is detailed as is the ultimate success of her battles to be a farmer, and also  – the story of how the person who was the project manager for the construction of her farmhouse, David Liddiard, became her husband.

The book would make a good read for anyone planning to follow in her footsteps and thinking of becoming a smallholder. In her words: ‘The variety of mixed farming is what interests me the most. One minute you are harvesting apples, and the next you are leaping over a fence, to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on a choking goat. Or maybe a missing chicken turns up from her secret hiding place, with eight little chicks in tow. However, the weather is certainly one of the most challenging aspects, because you have absolutely no control. Rain, wind and drought, flooded gutters, frozen pipes and flying goat sheds.’

As there is now an official encouragement for young people to bolster the fast-diminishing ranks of farmers, this description of ‘life on a farm’ with all its joys and problems, reading this book would be an important first step for anyone considering this step… and they could find out as well what an earth a knitted uterus might be.

For copies of her book, please contact the author at her e-mail address: jerseysheep@gmail.com

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