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Darragh McManus: what exactly was the point of RTE's Big Week on the Farm?


Credit: RTE

Credit: RTE

Credit: RTE

Big Week on the Farm kicked off this evening on RTE One, with the first of five shows, which air every night until Friday.

The “main” part is based in Westmeath, hosted by Ella McSweeney and Aine Lawlor; tonight they also had outside broadcasts in Kerry, with Darragh McCullough, and Donegal and Helen Carroll (the latter two will be visiting a further eight locations throughout the week).

And it was all…well. Kind of hard to know what to make of it, really.

On the one hand, Big Week on the Farm was a bit of crack, it was quite informative, the hour flew by nicely, and all involved – presenters and contributors both – were very likeable.

On the other hand, the question nibbled away at the back of your mind throughout the 55 or so minutes running time: what exactly is the point of doing this?

Oh, I know that’s a hideous cliché of reviewing anything. The pompous critic in his ivory tower, superciliously declaiming, “What is the point of this, minions? Explain yourselves, before I have you thrashed.”

The question still bopped around in my head, though. It’s not even one that necessarily needs an answer; I mean, lots of television is totally pointless, but it can still be fun. But bop around, it did.

So while we’re on the subject: what exactly was the point of Big Week on the Farm?

The show is being produced in conjunction with Science Foundation Ireland, therefore I presume that a large part of its remit is to educate people, as spring kicks into gear: about farming methods and food production, about flora and fauna and the land and the natural world.

All very laudable, and many people are woefully ignorant, in the literal sense, of where exactly their food originates. So tonight we learned about pig insemination, salmon farming, robot milking of cows (not as cool and futuristic as that sounds – they weren’t humanoid cyber-beings with chrome exoskeletons and Terminator-style red eyes, sadly), lambing, seaweed harvesting and more.

I chuckled guiltily when Aine Lawlor remarked, “Seaweed is good for pigs – good for their meat and good for their health”. Two contradictory assertions there, methinks…

We learned that badgers avoid cows, for some reason, and mate twice a year; we saw some of that through night-vision footage. We also saw a catheter being inserted into a female pig’s vagina – no, you didn’t hallucinate that, it really happened.

We had self-professed “city girl” Mairead Ronan milking a cow by hand, and a young Donegal guy called Ivan Scott break the Guinness speed record for sheep-shearing.

It was all grand, really. Is that a proper critical judgment – “grand”? I’d be lying if I said I hated it, or even disliked it; but it’d be wrong to say I was bowled over by it either. As George Orwell once remarked of the majority of books he was given to review, it inspired no strong feelings in me either way.

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Possibly this is because I live in a village, which is surrounded by farms and even contains two or three; I see farm animals, farmers, fields, crops, nature in all its bucolic glory and all the rest of it, literally every day. So, while some of this stuff was new to me and perfectly interesting, as a whole the concept isn’t hugely novel.

However, if you’re one of those urbanites who have never been “down the country” – especially one who believes that food comes from “the shop”, arriving there from heaven or Mars or somewhere by a strange and mysterious process which is really none of your business – you should probably tune in for the rest of the week.

At worst, you’ll get four hours of undemanding telly. At best, you’ll learn something.

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