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The dads and their families nurturing a special bond on the farm

With Open Farm Weekend and Father's Day approaching, three Northern Ireland farmers tell Karen Ireland about their most important relationships.

BY Karen Ireland

Published 17/06/2016

Farmer Simon Best with children Jack, Sam and Lucy on their farm in Poyntzpass
Farmer Simon Best with children Jack, Sam and Lucy on their farm in Poyntzpass
Ireland rugby captain Rory Best with dad John and brother Simon
James Alexander with his dad Nelson
James Alexander with wife Ruth and children Isla, Mya, Alicia and Jaxson
William Bingham with daughter Charis, son James and wife Isobel

While most of us will be treating ours dads to their favourite meal or a day out on Sunday, for the farming community there's still work to be done producing the fresh food we all take for granted.

And with Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend also happening as part of the year of Food and Drink it will be a busy day for the rural community. The free day out promises fun for all the family with farms opening up their gates to the public to discover how our food is produced and getting up close with animals at a variety of locations across Northern Ireland.

Expect cookery demonstrations and tastings on each of the farms as well as a range of activities for children.

Here we talk to three dads and find out what farming and fatherhood means to them and how they combine the two.

‘I love working with my father and have learnt so much from him’

Former Ulster and Ireland rugby player Simon Best (38) runs Acton House Farm in Poyntzpass, Newry, with his father John (63) and brother Rory, who is the captain of the Ireland Rugby team which tomorrow plays the second test against South Africa. Simon's wife Katy (37) is a commercial director at George Best City Airport. They have three children Jack (6), Sam (5) and Lucy (2). He says:

I went into the family farm, which produces cereal and beef cattle, about seven years ago following a career of 12 years in professional rugby. I retired from the game when it was discovered I had an irregular heartbeat.

Farming can be a lonely job when you are out all day, and that was one of the biggest adjustments for me, especially as I was used to the camaraderie and being part of a team playing rugby.

That said, I work with my dad and we have a good team of guys with us, although due to changes over the years the team has got smaller.

I love working with my dad and feel I have learnt so much from him, not just in recent years, but as I was growing up on the farm. Farming is definitely an inter-generational vocation, and you build the farm up to hand it over to the next generation.

My dad is very active and he has been very progressive in terms of the farm business. He is always looking for new ways to improve and do things.

He listens to my ideas and we work on things together. My brother Rory also helps out on the farm when he is at home. He is in South Africa at the moment and dad is out there supporting him. The farm is very much a family concern. Dad is a great teacher and leader, but he is open-minded too and lets me have my say and we try new things. He has great integrity and is very modest.

I try to be a family man, just like him, and I love spending time with my children. There is no point in working hard and pouring your life into something if you don't get to enjoy time with your family, so I make the children a priority. They do help out and enjoy being on the farm, but they are still very young.

We spend a lot of time with dad and my mum Pat, who support us so much. My children are very sporty. They have just started gymnastics and also enjoy swimming and playing tennis. They are very outdoorsy and love exploring.

I would never put any pressure on Jack to go into the farm. He will make up his own mind when the time comes, just like I did. This Father's Day I hope to just relax and put my feet up as we are having the open day on Saturday from 11 am to 4pm.

Afterwards, I will probably just want to relax and take it easy. I will see what Katy has planned for me.

Visit www.openfarmweekend.com/project/action-house- farm/

‘I saw his determination and it made me want to get involved’

James Alexander (35) runs Jalex Farm in Randalstown with his father Nelson (63). He is married to Ruth and they have five children, Mya (6), Alicia (5), Isla (4), Jaxson (3) and Eliza (four months). He says:

With five children aged six and under, life is busy in our household. Father's Day is very special to me, but it will be taken up this year by the open day on the farm when we are encouraging people to call in and learn more about agriculture and what we do.

We are a cattle farm which my grandfather established from scratch and then my dad introduced a tractor and machinery selling business to run alongside it.

In addition to the family, my wife Ruth works in the office five days a week and owns two Subway businesses.

There is certainly never a dull moment in our lives, but we wouldn't have it any other way. There is nothing like going home after a busy day on the farm and seeing five wee faces smiling up at you and being excited to see you.

The girls especially are full of hugs and kisses.

Being a farmer, you don't have much time to stop and reflect. It is great working with my dad and we have a great relationship, although, like every father-son relationship it can be frustrating at times because we do have a difference of opinion on things.

However, we debate things and come to a compromise and that's how we progress and move on to develop and grow the business.

I didn't always want to work on the farm with dad. I toyed with the idea of being a vet at one stage and love cooking so I also considered being a chef.

My dad worked hard and tripled the size of the land my grandfather had, so when I saw his determination and how hard he had worked it made me want to get involved in the family business.

I went to Greenmount College and studied for a year before coming home and work alongside dad.

My dad and I have always been close. Now, Ruth and I live a couple of minutes away from my parents and enjoy spending time together outside of work.

Mum is great with the children and looks after them while we are at work. Farming is a real family affair, but we all have to work hard together to make it a success.

The children are interested in the farm too and they all have their own animals and interests.

But my girls are 'girlie girls' and prefer princesses and sparkles to the muck and dirt of the farm.

Jaxson loves tractors and diggers and follows me around the farm - just like I did with my dad. It is a real generational thing.

Our Open Days will run on Friday and Saturday from 10 am to 4pm.

Visit .openfarmweekend.com/project/jalex-herd-farm/

'Being surrounded by children is wonderful... I feel very blessed'

William Bingham (51) owns Rathmourne Farm in Ballyroney outside Banbridge. He is married to Isobel (44), a teacher, and they have two children James (13) and Charis (10). The couple also foster youngsters and have two young children living with them at the minute. He says:

Father's Day is a special time in our household as we are always surrounded by children. Isobel is a teacher and we have always loved children and they have been really important to us.

Unfortunately, after we had our own two we were told we couldn't have any more of our own. I think it's a miracle we had our two to begin with.

We decided to apply to foster. We thought we would offer less fortunate children who were going through difficult times the opportunity to be part of a loving family.

Fifteen months ago we were approved and we are loving it. We currently have a brother and sister staying with us and they are settling in and becoming part of the family. It is amazing all the love you have to go around.

Our own children have adapted well, too. The boys will occasionally muck in and help out on the farm too - especially if they think they are going to get some pocket money out of it.

I love the flexibility farming allows me as a dad. As a pig farmer I'm not as restricted the same way as cattle farmers are. I can head away for the day and look after the pigs later in the evening. And if Isobel or the children need me I am just two minutes across the road.

Isobel has taken a career break from teaching to concentrate on fostering and she loves being at home with the family.

I think she enjoys life on the farm too, although she would be the first to admit that, even after all these years, she has never got used to the farm smells. Pigs especially are smelly.

My work on the farm allows me the freedom to be able to go to events such as sports day or school plays. I feel very blessed as I would hate to miss out on these events as the children grow up - they aren't young for very long.

We are a very tight family unit and I spend as much time with the children as possible. Being surrounded by the children is wonderful and the love they give back is tenfold. There is nothing like the feeling when you go along to a BB or GB display and you see that face looking out and giving you a wave in the crowd. Your heart just melts.

I think that I have a great work-life balance. I have been working on the farm since I joined my dad Joe over 30 years ago after I left Greenmount College. I learnt a lot from him.

When I am not working I enjoy watching football or playing a bit of golf. We are also very involved in church life.

Our farm is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday, so Father's Day will be a busy day. We are having a Worship and Wellies Day on Sunday at 3pm when we will be joining together to praise God for all the wonderful things that he has given us.

Visit www.openfarmweekend.com/project/rathmourne-pig-farm/

To locate your nearest farm visit www.openfarmweekend.com

Belfast Telegraph

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