From the award-winning podcasters behind CEREAL and Who Feeds Us? comes Landed – a personal exploration of land ownership and colonial legacy, told by a Scottish farmer’s son as he returns home to his family farm. Landed, by Farmerama Radio, is produced by Col Gordon, a 34-year-old baker and seed researcher who grew up on a 270 acre livestock farm, Inchindown, in the Highlands.

In the series, Gordon starts to question long-held assumptions that challenge his idea of the small family farm and the viability of its future. Over four episodes, he explores not only the current challenges of farm succession and access to land, but also of lost history, colonial legacy and traditional Gaelic relationships with the land, going as far back as the Highland Clearances and the slave trade. He also examines Scotland's role as both coloniser and colonised.

Throughout the series, Gordon speaks to farmers, family members and activists, historians, academics, and eco-psychotherapists. He starts to ask who the land should serve and how it can be made to do so. He seeks to discover how we can repair some of the damage caused by past and present exploitation, and create a future where landscapes are managed collectively for the benefit of everyone.

Why did you choose podcasting?

Podcasts are a great way to tell longer, complex or nuanced stories. They’re accessible with global reach, and listeners generally give you their undivided attention for 45 minutes to an hour. I chose to tell this story via Farmerama Radio as I had been a listener for a long time, and they’re very good at unpacking topics in an inspiring, non-judgemental way. This, I felt, was particularly important considering the topics in the series. The idea of the family farm being a colonial concept is potentially jarring for people, as it was for me. I never wanted to dismiss the small family farm, but rather to bring it to life within its full ecological, cultural and historical contexts.

Your podcast “unpicks Scotland’s role as both coloniser and colonised” – what does that entail?

Landed specifically focuses on the Highlands and Gaelic culture. It was the Black Lives Matter protests which instigated my investigation into traditional Gaelic relationships with the land. What I discovered was that the changes happening in the landscapes of the Highlands and Islands were deeply interwoven with colonial processes all over the world. The podcast recognises Gaels as both victims of domestic colonisation but also the role they had in colonising other places through their own displacement. It shows how patterns of land ownership and management and the physical shape of our landscapes have been shaped by colonisation around the world.

What effect do you hope it will have?

Landed came about out of frustration that conversations about farm succession aren’t happening enough. We’re at a critical point in our agricultural history and I’ve come to realise that the current model of the family farm isn’t taking us in the direction we need to be headed for a more just food and farming future. I hope that the topics discussed might spark more conversation about how we treat farms and farmland. And I hope the series challenges us to look beyond the current model of the family farm and how we can make our landscapes truly sustainable and accessible for all.

What might surprise people about life as a young farmer in Scotland today?

I don’t think people realise how hard it is to get into farming and how tough it is to become a farmer if you aren’t born into it. The family farm structure only works if you’re born in the right place, to the right family, and have exactly the right partner. Everything has to line up. There are enormous barriers to entry.

Best thing about being a farmer?

I don’t actually call myself a farmer yet despite being brought up on a farm and working on the farm today. For now, Dad is the farmer and makes the decisions. I work alongside him, listening and learning. To me, the best thing about being or becoming a farmer is that you’re in a very privileged position – you can effect change in some way because you are a steward of the land.

Worst thing?

From speaking to Dad and other farmers, the hardest thing is loneliness. There used to be many people working on the land, on farms, doing different jobs and sharing the workload and keeping each other entertained. There was a real sense of community. But since Dad’s generation, farms are mostly run by a single individual. Add to that how difficult it is to make a living from a family farm – start-up and infrastructure costs can be huge, prices for produce are often low and almost always unpredictable. There is generally very little room for error, and farmers can find themselves further and further in debt trying to keep up. It’s not easy. Many farmers are overworked, isolated, and lonely.

What would you like the future of farming to be?

I love my family's farm and I want to make sure it can thrive in the future and be a model for how people might be able to farm in ecological ways. I want farming to provide dignified and fulfilling livelihoods for more people and to feed local communities. I hope that we can work toward a future of agroecology where we work in sympathy with the natural world, working with whole landscapes instead of separating productive versus unproductive land; where we focus on growing food and fibres in shorter supply chains, with more people connected to the land, rather than farms just being used for commodities and exports.

How do you think Brexit will play out?

With the average age of farmers now over 59, we are likely to see huge numbers of farms change hands in the next decade. Add the implications of Brexit, and new subsidy schemes and these all bring lots of uncertainty for many farming families. We’re already seeing trade deals that do not protect small scale farmers. We're also seeing the emergence of carbon markets in response to the climate crisis, where large corporations are starting to snap up huge areas of land, including farmland, in order to plant trees, restore peatland and rewild. All of these things are critically important, but the way they’re shaping up to be implemented will almost certainly mean that even fewer people can live in, or have a say in, what happens to these landscapes and the farms within them.

What can we learn from the old ways?

In the past, people by necessity had to learn how to interact with the land, and they knew the place they were in intimately - they knew every part of the landscape and how to make use of it. This tangible connection to place will be important if we’re going to live more in balance with the natural word. Our current trajectory is towards greater separation between "humans" and "nature", with megafarms on the one hand and people-less “wilderness” on the other. For many, nature is becoming a place we’re excluded from rather than something we are part of.

What response have you had from farmers to first episode?

I was a bit nervous about the response from farmers, particularly my family and the local community. But I’ve been surprised at how many people have reached out in support. Farmers from all over the country have taken the time to send me positive encouragement. So that’s a relief!

Who are your fave podcasters?

Topping my list are Farmerama, The Highland Good Food Podcast, Scene on Radio, and Revisionist History.

What does the future hold?

There’s no doubt that we’re headed toward a succession crisis. If land starts coming onto the market in the hundreds or thousands of acres, there are very few people who can afford to bid on it. The barriers to entry will get harder and we could be moving towards bigger, more industrialised farms and carbon capture landscapes, with fewer people on the land, and greater concentration of land ownership – with a small number of people in control of huge amounts of land. And a situation where people are further disconnected from the processes of food production. This is already happening. Between 1990 and 2016, one-third of family farms disappeared and were amalgamated into bigger farms.

We have a very narrow window of time to come up with strategies to change this and widen access to land. That’s why this conversation is so timely. In the series we explore what alternatives might exist, considering traditions such as crofting and the new community buyout legislation which is gaining momentum.

Our landscapes are about to enter a period of potentially huge transformation. There's a lot to be hopeful about, but we need to engage now in these critical conversations about what we want our land to be in the future.

Listen to Landed by Farmerama Radio on all major podcasting platforms. Episodes released fortnightly.