Caroline Drummond, of Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) talks to Ian Wilkinson

PUBLISHED: 15:25 17 August 2010 | UPDATED: 16:01 20 February 2013

Caroline Drummond Photo: Ian WIlkinson

Caroline Drummond Photo: Ian WIlkinson

Ian Wilkinson talks to Caroline Drummond, Chief Executive Officer of Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) and finds out about her role and how she got it

Ian Wilkinson talks to Caroline Drummond, Chief Executive Officer of Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) and finds out about her role and how she got it


Caroline Drummond has been Linking Environment and Farming's (LEAF's) Chief Executive since its inception in 1991. It is a membership organisation and registered charity concerned with helping farmers produce good quality food with care for the environment, while working with their local community. "We live in challenging times. Both economic uncertainty and global warming has highlighted the absolute necessity of making sustainable choices - particularly in relation to food. After all, food is a basic human need. How are we going to feed nine billion people by 2050, with vastly different climatic conditions, different disease spectrums for both crops and animals and increasing pressures on land, on water and soil? Having a balanced approach to farming is critical. And that is what LEAF and its farm management scheme is all about."


Caroline lives with her husband, Phil, and nine-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, on a dairy farm in the beautiful Looe Valley near Liskeard. The family home is appropriate for someone whose working life revolves around an organisation dedicated to encouraging concern for our environment. Built by the couple a few years ago, it is an eco-friendly, timber-framed wooden farmhouse with slate roof, passive solar heating and efficient insulation. "It's fantastic - airy, warm and spacious," she says.


As a child, Caroline grew up in Hampshire but she did not come from a farming background; her father was a deep-sea diver. However, from an early age she became fascinated by the countryside and by her natural surroundings. At school she excelled in maths, chemistry and biology, and so agricultural college seemed an obvious choice. Seale Hayne College, near Newton Abbot in Devon, offered her a place on the condition that she gained experience in farm work, so Caroline spent the next year on a Welsh dairy farm milking cows three times a day!


The college provided Caroline with work placements to supplement theoretical knowledge and she learnt how to work the land on farms in this country and abroad. On gaining her degree she travelled extensively and worked on dairy, arable and sheep farms, drove fork lift trucks for a living, stripped maize, worked in an abattoir and even herded sheep on a motorbike in Australia! "It was fantastic!" she recalls. "We were right out in the bush and we had to look out for the sheep and then bring them in for shearing or for other treatments. It's a tough old life out there and the problems they have are much more direct and immediate - salinity problems, plagues or simply coping with the extremes of temperature. Here we tend to have a much more gentle relationship with our environment."


Back in England in 1991, a friend showed her an advert for a job with a new organisation called LEAF. Set up by David Richardson and others concerned about the widening gap between farmers and consumers, they were determined to re-establish trust by encouraging responsible farming and better public understanding of it. LEAF needed a project co-ordinator and Caroline got the job. "It was doing everything that I believed in."


She has been there ever since and in the past 18 years the organisation has grown from humble beginnings to one representing thousands of farmers throughout the UK. It also has a number of solid achievements under its belt, of which the design and creation of an Integrated Farm Management System is probably the most significant. Caroline explains: "It's a guide to food producers, which encompasses the best of natural farming methods such as crop rotation and leaving a wildlife 'corridor' between crops and waterways, a minimal use of pesticides - balanced with modern technology such as efficient soil management, and even the use of satellite mapping."


It's a busy life for Caroline. "I'm normally at the headquarters in the National Agricultural Centre at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire for three days a week," she says. "And for the rest of the time I'm travelling around getting the message across - lobbying in London or Brussels, meetings with DEFRA. The other week I was in Prague at a conference."


How on earth does she combine all this with family life? "I'm very lucky," she says. "Phil, my husband, is very supportive and we also have a wonderful family structure because his parents live up at the big farmhouse and are a real help with our daughter Gabrielle. At the moment we manage very well and this part of Cornwall is such a joy to return to at weekends."


Another of LEAF's achievements is its Leaf Marque accreditation scheme. The Leaf Marque label is appearing on a growing number of products in supermarkets, most notably Waitrose, but others are joining in. Caroline is delighted with its success. "It builds on the familiar 'red tractor' label and assures customers that the food has been produced on a farm with a real commitment to the environment," she says.


But perhaps LEAF's most popular achievement is the annual Open Farm Sunday. It's the industry's open day when hundreds of farmers invite the public to pull on their wellies and get down to the nearest farm to see what farmers do, why they do it and why farms matter. "It's a great family day out," explains Caroline. "Maybe get your children thinking about where their food comes from - where milk comes from - feeling grain and making the connection with bread, and just linking them with nature. Above all, it's great fun and everyone, including parents, will learn something."


In Caroline Drummond both farmers and consumers have a real champion.



Open Farm Sunday is on 7 June. For information including the location of the nearest farm participating, call 0247 6413911 or visit www.farmsunday.org. For further information on LEAF call 0247 6413 911 or visit www.leafuk.org

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