The Moo Man has many qualities one might not expect from a film about milk.
The documentary, which is being screened this month at Growing Communities’ Moo-vie Night, has a dreamlike quality. It is intimate, funny and quite captivating.
Sussex farmer Stephen Hook, who has a stall at Stoke Newington’s farmers’ market selling ‘raw’ (non-pasturised) milk, tenderly strokes his happy-seeming cows and addresses them by name. Ida is the “queen of the herd”, he says.
But this picture of the dairy industry is increasingly rare. Stephen is solemn as he laments: “Family farms are being lost… that’s what makes me angry, it really does.”
In an economic climate of plummeting prices and rising production costs, more than half of Britain’s dairy farmers have gone out of business since 2002, with 9,724 remaining as of this August – a fall of 0.5 per cent from July. Indeed, British dairy farmers have recently protested in various supermarkets after major milk producers announced more price cuts.
These issues can seem remote for city-dwellers, who are inevitably alienated from the production of much of their food. According to charity Wide Horizons, over 35 per cent of UK children have never visited the countryside, and LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) found in a survey of 2000 British young adults that 40 per cent did not connect milk to an image of a cow.
For urbanites then, The Moo Man may shed light on the reality of life on a small dairy farm, as it documents the farmers’ determined efforts to secure the cows’ welfare and produce an ‘ethical’ product. Going thoroughly against the grain, Hook attempts to save his family farm by rejecting cost-cutting dairies and supermarkets, and instead fostering a familial atmosphere with his team and herd.
The Moo Man will be screened by Growing Communities, the Hackney social enterprise that aims to bring people closer to food sources, as part of their Urban Food Fortnight and Organic September. Viewers will be offered milkshakes and cocktails made with cream and milk from the farm, and there’ll be a Q&A session with Stephen Hook afterwards.
“It’s vital to pay fair prices to support these small family farmers, who are the basis of a more sustainable food system and have really high animal welfare standards,” said Growing Communities market manager Kerry Rankine. “This film shows just what it takes to keep a small farm going.”
The Moo Man
St Paul’s Church Hall, N16 7UY