Not long after the yoga starts on Kitridding Farm in Cumbria, the gazebo, which had been sheltering the exercise group from rain, blows away in a hefty gust of wind. For a while, the yoga continues but before long, it proves unsustainable. A downward-facing dog isn’t much fun in a downpour.
Hailed as the first of its kind, personal trainer Emma Grunnill’s farmyard fitness festival aims to promote the benefits of fresh dairy products, as well as small batch meat and locally sourced fruit and vegetables. A farm in Kirkby Lonsdale near Kendal serves as the location, and more than 150 people turn up to work out in the fields. Afterwards, they refuel with raw milk protein shots, cheese from local supplier Whin Yeats Dairy, and bowls of nutty granola.
Grunnill’s message is clear: exercise is fun and the diet that sustains it needn’t be restrictive, despite the fact that an increasing number of people now shun dairy products in favour of nut milks. Last year, the Food Standards Agency found that nearly 8 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds believe they are allergic to cow’s milk, compared to just over 1 percent of people aged over 75. The recent wellness craze may have contributed to this, painting milk as difficult to digest and touting the nutritional value of non-dairy milks, but the growth of veganism among millennials has also dented milk’s popularity. Last year, agricultural market researchers predicted that the UK’s alternative milk sector would rise by 43 percent by 2021.
For Grunnill and other members of the rural community involved in today’s fitness festival, however, milk is an ideal post-workout drink. She wants to get others thinking the same way, too.
“I don’t agree with cutting anything from our diets unless we have to for a medical reason or an allergy,” Grunnill tells me. “A balanced, whole (‘whole’ meaning something as close to its natural state as possible), and nutritious diet is what we should all be aiming for.”
She continues: “If someone is cutting dairy or meat products from their diet completely because they don’t like the taste or texture, then that’s different. But I think the healthiest way to live is to eat balanced and in moderation. I live on a beef and sheep farm and I sleep next to a farmer. I eat meat and I eat dairy, but I also have dairy and meat-free meals and drinks because moderation, sustainability, and being realistic is key.”
Grunnill, together with six other personal trainers from the area, lead pilates, boxercise, and HIIT workouts (popularised by celebrity trainer Joe Wicks) throughout the day. Sheep in the nearby fields don’t seem too phased by the fluorescent, Lycra-clad bodies and before long, the dumbbells are put down and the attendees head to the tent for raw milk shots.
“Dairy is high in protein content, which benefits muscle recovery and sustains us for longer,” Grunnill says. She believes raw milk—unpasteurised, and, due to consumer laws, only available at the farm gate—is the best of the lot.
“It’s a product that has gone through very little, if any, processing,” she adds.
I wrote about how farmers were beginning to identify raw milk as an emerging market in 2015. Back then, it was viewed as a high-end culinary triumph rather than something to be enjoyed after running about in leggings on a farm. Maybe it can be both. But are raw milk shots really all that appetising?
“If you have protein shakes and you already drink raw milk, what’s not to like?” Grunnill says. “A clean diet means a fresh, whole diet—eating food as close to its natural state as possible and knowing where it comes from. What’s more clean than fresh milk or going to your local butcher for steak?”
Terms like “wellness” and “clean eating” became ubiquitous in recent years, and the resulting backlash against the bloggers and Instagram influencers promoting restrictive eating in the name of health has been formidable. Farmers are now playing their part in bridging the disconnect between consumers and food sources.
Stewart Lambert, whose farm was used for the fitness festival, tells me that it’s important to educate people about food, whether locally or on a wider scale.
“Education is the thing isn’t it? People can realise eating fresh food doesn’t have to be expensive,” he argues. “Neither does exercise. Schools are struggling with cuts and people are time poor, but if we can just show people the alternatives.”
Lambert also visits schools and talks to children about milk.
“I know a lot of young people don’t see milk as particularly healthy,” he says. “It’s great without loads of stuff chucked in it. It’s the same with meat—why do people not buy brisket anymore?”
At the farm, none of the fitness festival attendees appear to have a dairy intolerance or allergy. Few turn down a bowl of Liz Herd’s homemade granola. “I don’t add sugar to it,” she says. “Very filling with fresh milk.”
A harder healthy eating sell might be the cheese, one of the fattiest foods around. That’s not to say it should be avoided. Millennials who turn away cheese are surely doing themselves a disservice. There is real pleasure to be found in cheese, especially after doing yoga in the rain.