26,500 dairy farms existed in the UK in 2001; by 2011 there were 14,700. In 1950 there were no less than 196,000 dairy farms, which means that over the past 60 years, 92.5 per cent of them have disappeared. More and more the next generation are turning away from dairy farming because they simply cannot afford to make ends meet.
In Bristol, in Spring 2016, Nessie Reid will be exhibiting The Milking Parlour: a performance based public exhibition exploring the values we hold towards our food and the type of relationships we possess with our food and farming system in general. In order to explore these themes, Nessie has chosen to use the medium of milk: something once hailed as a superfood – providing 34 % of our RDA of protein – now undervalued, and often cheaper to buy than bottled water.
Nessie will live with two cows for 5 days in Bristol City Centre, constructing a temporary milking parlour. The intention of taking two cows out of their usual context – the farm- and into an urban environment – the centre of Bristol – is to represent the disconnect between the cities we live in and the food we eat, the milk we consume and the natural processes involved in producing these everyday products.
Visitors to the exhibition will experience the cows being milked, get involved in debate, witness some of the less-glamorous processes involved in producing milk, and hear stories from dairy farmers throughout the South West of England. Within the parlour itself, Nessie will be live full time with the cows where she will milk, feed, muck out and sleep near them, being the chief caretaker. During calving and lambing season, it is common for farmers to construct temporary beds within the animal pens, in order to watch over them.
The purpose of this ‘live-in’ is to demonstrate the often arduous and challenging processes involved in producing an everyday product like milk: something we rarely think twice about as we scan the supermarket shelves. The idea was initially inspired by The Sustainable Food Trust’s 2013 True Cost Accounting conference, coupled with a moving talk at the Oxford Real Farming Conference about milk being cheaper than bottled water, where Nessie decided milk was the ideal lens through which to talk about the true (and hidden) social, economic and environmental costs behind our food and farming system.
Nessie’s research (November 2014 – April 2016) will be recorded via the Dairy Blog and Gallery. For a detailed introduction to the project, watch The Milking Parlour film. The intention is for The Milking Parlour to be extended for 2 years to become a national tour, of which funding applications are currently underway.
The Milking Parlour is an 18-month Cape Farewell artist residency, based in Bristol. Cape Farewell is an international programme bringing together creatives, scientists and informers to stimulate a cultural narrative to communicate the urgency of our global climate challenge.

 

25 thoughts on “

  1. This is inspired. Could you perhaps also invite a supermarket boss to discuss the low farm gate price of milk and what their objectives are in keeping prices below the cost of production?

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    1. The only objectives are profit, greed and global market share. It would however be interesting for members of the public to be able to cross examine the buyers from the supermarkets and representatives from the processors on this matter. Whether they would be prepared to attend is an entirely different matter.

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      1. Would have been really keen but unfortunately I’m out of the country from 13th – 27th of April, I’m sure it will be a huge success…….next one Trafalgar Square!

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  2. Great project – so important to reconnect people with animal behind the product. Do you know the Swedish campaign ‘Mjölk är tkjockare än vatten’ (milk is thicker than water) https://www.facebook.com/rundbalskonst where graffiti artists were spraying this slogan on piles of silage bales placed around the country including in cities. Good luck

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  3. Hi. I’m a small scale diary farmer from south Gloucestershire. I also run a YouTube channel about our farm called the funky farmer. If you need any farm videos to go with the project let me know. Rich

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      1. Hi. If you look up ‘Thefunkyfarmer’ on YouTube you can find my channel with about 700 videos filmed by me on our farm. Let me know if you want any videos to use for this project. My video of the cows going out to grass in the spring is a great one. So far it’s had over 700,000 views on YouTube

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  4. Interesting idea,cows in the city, but not unusual if you go back 150 years or so. Many cities had large dairies (up to 400 cows in one herd in London) to provide fresh milk to the urban population. The advent of the railways heralded the demise of these business’ although there were still urban cowkeepers in Liverpool into the 1970s.
    Good luck with your venture it’s a great idea.

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    1. Thank you Graham. This is much of the inspiration for bringing the cows into the city… it would have been normal for city dwellers to see cows, and know where their milk comes from. These days, most people – who live in cities – rarely get a chance to ever see cows, and thus understand where their milk comes from.

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  5. Hi Nessie, I’m watching this with interest as a tenant dairy farmer with plummeting farmgate price (15.5p per litre from 1 March). I will be trying to get to Bristol to see you from Saltash, Cornwall, and wish you well with the project. I hope it can provoke and inspire not just the public but the industry stakeholders to keep agriculture alive in Britain. Good luck and enjoy your time with the cows x

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    1. Thanks Judith. Really great to hear from you and I’m sorry – and horrified – to hear 15.5 pence per litre. Madness. It would be great if you can make it for the show, even better, if you’d like to help out. I want as many different voices, and as much experience, in the show as possible. Thanks and very warm wishes to you,

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  6. Hi! I am a journalism MA student at the University of Westminster in London. My colleague and I are pitching a documentary about the plight of farmers in the UK, especially in light of the dairy price cuts that are driving many of them into losses/out of business.

    I came across your blog and would love to chat with you about this!

    If this is okay with you, please do drop me a line at: w1509252@my.westminster.ac.uk.

    Thanks so much!
    Anushka

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    1. Anushka, Great to hear from you. Thanks for getting touch. I’d love to hear more about your project.Are you going to the farmers march next wed? I think it would be highly relevant to your research and we could also meet there? I’ll be there interviewing farmers all day.

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  7. Sounds like a really interesting project, and realise you must have overcome some significant logistics to bring it about! Will any of the content relate to veal? I’m interested in the disconnect between most narratives around ethical eating and the knowledge of the details re food production. So for example there’s argument that if you drink milk, the humane logical corollary is eating veal (rose veal of course; cruelty free compared to ‘traditional’/ French veal). (NB I am not suggesting advocating or criticising anyone’s diet)

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