Arthur and May proved to be an unbeatable team; this was largely due to their inbuilt tenacity and drive, but what set them apart from the rest was their combined love and appreciation for Mother Nature.
Arthur’s love was for the earth, wildlife and farming, whilst May’s passion for the relationship between food and human health completed the cycle. Together, they understood the critical importance of diversity and balance; this awareness shone through every aspect of their business.
Arthur’s understanding came after taking over the ruined farm from his father. Arthur and his mother had a huge task ahead of them, but learnt much from the old farm workers. They taught Arthur about the importance of real manure for the soil in comparison to the chemical fertilisers his father, Alfred, had used. His interest was stimulated, the benefits were obvious and here his life’s journey began.
Arthur’s eldest daughter recalls the passion that both of her parents had for nature: “It’s important to keep a balance of beneficial bacteria in your stomach and yoghourt encourages this. They [Arthur and May] were passionate about helping people have healthier lives. Their whole life’s philosophy was using nature’s surpluses and making the most from their natural environment. Dad was very well read… he would read avidly in the evenings; despite leaving school at such a young age, he was very enquiring about the science of farming…. He believed if you worked with nature instead of against it, nature will serve you in bounty.
“Mum’s philosophy was exactly the same… she believed food should be consumed in as natural a state as possible, and of course making it very tasty using natural ingredients … They believed in trying not to use artificial additives in food or in the soil, and they believed if you altered natural foods too much, this would impact on your body.”
Arthur’s philosophies for health, experimentation, and improvement continued at Fordhall throughout the years of the dairy. His outdoor grazing system, the rotations used and the types of grass and forage planted are extensively reported in many magazines of the time including Farm and Country Magazine, 1961and The Listener in 1971. His constant experimentation, matched with exhaustive reading and research, allowed Arthur to create his own unique way of farming.
“We as farmers can only guess at what really goes on and judge from what appears to bring results, balancing the needs of all our plants and animals with the elements, assisting nature in her struggle to produce a surplus, and using that surplus for raising our standard of living.” Arthur Hollins, Healthy Living, April 1975.
This eventually led him to a system of outdoor grazing as an article in the Delicatessen from 1965 explains “Unlike most dairy farms, Fordhall keep their cows out all year round; fresh grazing is continued by the planting of special pastures which are rested during the usual growing season and bear grasses which can continue to grow at exceptionally low temperatures.”
Arthur found this system to be healthy for his pastures and for the livestock. He saw no reduction in milk production, and his cows were happy. His research into protecting the soil continued, and he developed a cultivating machine patented as the Pulvo-Seeder, and later known as the CulturSeeder. This machine maintained a soil mulch cover whilst sowing seeds below it. It aerated the soil and did not cause compaction or destroy the soil layers. Arthur believed this was the future for sustainable arable farming.
Unfortunately, after the dairy closed in the late 1970s Arthur found it difficult to find the time to get the machine to market. Nevertheless, his unique system of outdoor grazing, based on rotation of livestock and a diversity of plants in the pastures, remains at Fordhall to this day, and is maintained by his youngest son, Ben Hollins.
We used a crop of hardy greens, rape and rye, with the mushrooms and farmyard manure spread on top after the crop was up…This method provided cover for all the cold-blooded animals of the soil; they in turn, cultivated that soil in the root areas of the plants. It provided darkness and humidity for the vigorous growth of fungi, producing large quantities of nitrogen, and kept the eelworm and wireworm down to balanced numbers by trapping them. It gave nature a chance to create an ecological balance of insects and soil-animal life, their only way of evolution, through a survival of the fittest, with all of them depending on each other for food. The plants returned vast quantities of living cells created through photosynthesis from above the soil, to add to the soil micro-billions. Amino acids were fed back into the root area by the plants all winter; every sunny day gave a bonus. Feeding animals on such fields meant that the remainder of the crop was being composted by the animals’ stomachs and the surplus energy returned to the soil by their droppings and urine, which encouraged visits from thousands of birds: they too left a bonus…
I was beginning to learn how to live off nature’s surplus, and to understand that nature’s cultivating machinery- the soil animals- was far superior to anything man could devise. Organic farming, to me, means using an area of land to grow plants, to be used as food for other human beings, and availing myself of all the tricks of the trade which nature has developed during the billions of years it has taken her to create soil. “Nature’s technology is born of millions of years’ experience: man’s is only a century or two old. My teacher must be nature.” Arthur Hollins, The Listener December 2nd 1971.
“When I came for my interview, he took me into the field to the left and there was a lovely herbal lay – I’d never heard of it before – there was chicory and yarrow and all these herbs. They were so deep rooted and they’d be bringing minerals coming up and that in turn gets into the cows and he was so enthusiastic over it. It looked delicious!” Chris Clowes
To find out what employees of Arthur and May said about them click here