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FARM LIFE: David Brooke

Pictured is David with the family in the 1990s – from left, David, Joseph, Rebecca, Cath with the youngest, Alys
David Brooke writes about his life in agriculture, from Herefordshire to west Wales. We also hear about his work with mental health charities after his own family’s tragic loss.

Photo: Pictured is David with the family in the 1990s – from left, David, Joseph, Rebecca, Cath with the youngest, Alys.

David Brooke sy’n ysgrifennu am ei fywyd yn amaethyddiaeth, gan symud o Swydd Henffordd i orllewin Cymru. Fe glywn hefyd am ei waith gydag elusennau iechyd meddwl yn dilyn colled ofnadwy yn deulu ei hun.

I always wanted to farm – and announced this at 4 years old. Dad farmed 170 acres of heavy soil in North Herefordshire; his family were tenant farmers near Ross on Wye. Mum was from the Elan Valley in mid Wales, one of 11 children .Her family farmed 8 farms at one time many as tenants. Stock farming was clearly in my DNA.

After college and working abroad in Holland and the USA, I married my childhood sweetheart and rented a Worcestershire County council holding near Malvern. We started with 38 dairy cows and within 6 years we had 3 children, 70 cows and about 120 stock on 72 acres.

Dad had passed away so with help from his estate we then purchased 98 acres in Penrhiwllan, Ceredigion, selling 70 heifers and youngstock to finance the deal – with a lot of help from the bank.

We prospered there but Cath (my late wife) suffered with her mental health and tried to end her life a number of times. In 2002 we moved to Tanycoed, near Llandysul in Carmarthenshire, with our now 4 children and milking a 100 cows, organically. We also had 80 ewes at one stage, and some poultry, along with up to 250 cattle.

The business was good, but my wife’s mental health continued to decline, and nearly 8 years ago she drowned herself in the Teifi river, which bordered the farm.

As I approached 60 and with all our children in good careers, I decided to rent the farm to a young local farming family – Arfon and Emma James and their daughters – who continue in organic milk and beef production, also keeping some sheep. I milked regularly for Arfon for four years but without the tie of running the business I was able to broaden my horizons somewhat.

I started volunteering with Tir Dewi, a local West Wales charity supporting the rural community, mostly in the area of mental health. Through the charity I am currently working with two people who, like myself, have lost their spouses and are coming to terms with the grief and loss. 

I also volunteer with HUTS (Help Us To Survive), a small, local charity in Newcastle Emlyn that supports people in a variety of ways. I have a befriending role through the charity and am currently supporting a lady whose husband is in full-time care with dementia.

 A year ago I trained as a CRUSE bereavement support worker and have been able to support some 7 people in total this past year, all struggling to come to terms with the loss of a loved one.

We (my new partner and I) moved house 12 months ago and I stopped milking at Tanycoed although I now milk at another local farm in Capel Dewi, so my direct link to agriculture carries on. This allows me time to continue my role supporting others, as well as pursuing my passion for community singing with Llandysul gospel choir, and Sweet Harmony, a community choir in Carmarthen.

Recently I bought a sailing dinghy and hope to develop my sailing skills on the wonderful Cardigan coast. 

I would urge all those who have been through the ‘university of life’ to volunteer and support others if they can make time – it really is very enriching and worthwhile.

I’d also encourage anyone who is struggling with their own mental health and well-being, or is worried about someone they know, to reach out. We hear a lot more about mental health today than we did just a few years ago. The stigma is slowly being broken down and the conversation is starting to open up – but there’s still a lot more to do. 

There are by today many organisations who can provide help and support, even in rural areas, several of which specialise in issues relating to agriculture and rural life. These include (click/tap the links below to visit the organisations websites): 

The DPJ Foundation

Tir Dewi 

The Samaritans

The Farming Community Network 

Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution

Mind Cymru

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