Harvesting Insight: Tom Youngs on the Importance of Farming
England rugby star, family man and passionate farmer: Tom Youngs’ dedication to the things that matter most in his life should be an inspiration to us all. His work with the Prince’s Countryside Fund has helped spread the message about the joys and benefits of farming, the struggles farmers face and the need for greater education when it comes to the origins of the food on our supermarket shelves. We caught up with him to hear more about the importance of creating awareness around these issues and how he manages to fit all of this into his schedule.
Your passion for farming can't be overstated. When did your interest in it start?
The bug started very early on - growing up on a family farm really sparked my interest in farming. Having said that, my brother, who obviously grew up on the same farm, isn’t interested in farming at all! I’ve always enjoyed the lifestyle and working: when my dad left to work the farm every Saturday morning, I’d keep pestering him to take me with him. And on Sunday mornings, I always wanted to know what he’d been up to so I could go on my carpet farm and pretend to do the same stuff. It’s definitely what I see myself doing in the future. I want to go back to the family stead and take the reins.
It’s great that you know what you want to do after you finish your sporting career. Would you encourage others to explore this avenue?
If you enjoy the outdoors, there’s no better job. It can teach you some very good life lessons and teach you some harsh ones too. A lot of my friends’ families are in farming and I see the joy they get out of it. It teaches you to be committed - when you’ve got to go and do something, you’ve got to get up and do it. The cattle need feeding every day, the chickens need cleaning out; you’ve got so much depending on you that you can’t disregard your duties. I do believe that more people should go into it, and there needs to be more education around it to give people a better understanding of where their food comes from.
That’s an important message and one you’re trying to get across with The Prince’s Countryside Fund, isn’t it? Can you describe why you feel the Fund’s work is so important, perhaps now more than ever?
The current political climate is difficult for the best of us, but particularly for farmers. We want farmers to know that we understand that times are tough and that there’s a support network to help them out if they need it. We also want them to know that there’s an outlet for them because it can a pretty lonely job sometimes. If we can help in any way, well… that’s the reason we do what we do.
Being a farmer does sound like a full-on job, so how do you balance your athletic commitments with its demands? Can you give us a breakdown of a standard week in your life?
My week essentially goes from Saturday to a Saturday, with working the farm prioritised for the weekend. Saturday is our main rugby day, so if we win, that can lay the foundations for a good weekend. Sundays are an allocated rest day and an opportunity to spend time with the family. Maisie [Tom’s daughter] has been doing a 2k park run. I don’t run; my wife runs with her, I watch. Then I have a good feed and eat up to 5000 calories, at least, to help the body recover from the demands of the week. Mondays are very much a review day of how the game went, what we need to work on, who we’re playing next and getting details in place ready for the training session. We get back into the training properly with a 45-minute session of quick and intense running on Thursday and spend the morning in the gym. Friday – It’s usually up to the rest of the players, but more than likely we’ll do a team run, then some HIIT sessions.
That’s such a busy schedule! Would you say that being on the farm is a bit of a release from the pressures of rugby?
Absolutely, and gives me the time to reflect on it too. There’s a huge amount of pressure to win, especially being the captain of the rugby team. So, getting up early and climbing in your tractor cab to spend 16 hours going up and down a field, watching deer skip past, gives you the headspace you need to wind down and think. Rugby takes a lot of my time up, and now with a young family, it’s hard to factor in the time to really unwind. The club is very good at letting me do that and giving me the time when I need to go back home – they tend to all laugh at me while I’m doing it, but they’ll allow it! They can’t laugh too hard though - two of my teammates married two of my cousins so there have been points where they’ve tried their hand at farm life too, and liked it. They can see the appeal, as much as they rib me for it.
It’s easy to imagine the appeal. It must be nice farming the produce your family sits down to eat of an evening. What’s your favourite home-grown, home-cooked dish?
It sounds so basic, but one of the things I farm is potatoes, and in our house, we all love a good jacket potato! Small Maris Piper potatoes are also our go-to barbecue staple with lots of butter on. But being from a family of farmers, for example, we’ve got a few beef farmers in our family, we end up swapping produce and eating all sorts of stuff. We’re lucky like that – there’s no shortage of food around the house.
What challenges have you faced as a farmer?
There’s a bit of uncertainty, as we’re looking to diversify our offerings as a family farm. As farmers, we need to look at things as a business. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut where, just because we’ve done things for fifty years, and our grandfathers did it or whatever, we can end up running the business at a loss. We need to be mindful of not getting too caught up in tradition that we end up not moving with the times. Changes in politics mean farming has to be more efficient but one thing we’ve always been very good at, as a country, is how we grow things, and our meat is second to none. Farmers are a unique breed. They’re deeply passionate about what they do and their produce, so as a society, we need to make sure we’re constantly supporting them.
What would you say are the best ways to support farmers?
My greatest bugbear is people not knowing where their food comes from. We need people to really get their heads around the wealth and standards that we live by in this country and those we farm by. There are plenty of farm shops going up everywhere it’s really important to get there and support your local farmer. In a time of global warming, we still insist on importing so much food into the country, but we don’t have to look so far. The food we have here is of such a high standard, so just go out and support it. We should buy British as much as we can, support our local shops and pull together to make sure our farmers are taken care of – they do so much for us and a lot of the work they do is largely taken for granted. But that understanding comes from awareness, so let’s do more to spread that first and foremost!