By Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 26, 2007
LONDON, Jan. 25 -- The mud. The long, wet, dark winter days and those cows, cows, cows demanding attention every morning and night. How's a lonely Welsh dairy farmer to find love?
Five single farmers -- three men and two women -- have become an overnight sensation in Wales by putting their photos on thousands of plastic milk containers on grocery shelves. Their "Fancy a Farmer?" stickers also list a Web site ( http://www.pishynwales.com/) where potential suitors can get in touch with them.
"It started as a bit of lark," said Ian Jones, 30, who came up with the idea and launched it on St. Dwynwen's Day, which in Wales is similar to Valentine's Day.
Monday, he and a few other farmers stood at the production line at the Calon Wen organic milk cooperative and stuck several thousand of the dating stickers onto passing one-liter and two-liter milk containers. Jones said it was tough to keep up with the fast flow of containers coming down the conveyor belt, making it something of a slapstick comedy routine.
"Half the bottling plant was in stitches watching us," Jones said.
Since the milk containers hit the stores this week, thousands of people have visited the Web site and Jones and the other farmers have begun receiving letters and dating offers at their homes -- even though they didn't publicize exactly where they live.
"The addresses are sort of vague, but the postman worked it out," he said.
Other farmers, including some in neighboring Ireland, have heard about the novel dating technique and are calling to say they wouldn't mind if their mug was on a milk carton, too.
In recent years, more and more of the 3 million people who live in Wales have left the hillside villages and towns for the city, particularly Cardiff, the Welsh capital, and London. Officials at Britain's Milk Development Council said the number of dairy farmers in England and Wales has shrunk from 28,000 in 1995 to about 13,000 today. And many well-heeled city-dwellers are retiring to the Welsh countryside, driving up housing prices and making homes less affordable for younger people.
This makes it hard for a farmer to find a mate or even a Friday night date, Jones said. He lives on a 250-acre farm in Groes near a village of only 150 people. "If you go to the same town all the time and see the same people and you haven't clicked with them, then it's not going to happen," said Jones, who, incidentally, likes backpacking, listening to the Killers and Norah Jones and wants to find an "easygoing woman" who is "not too thin."
"Not the sort of supermodel stick type, if you know what I mean," Jones said.
"We didn't think it would go as big as this," said Elen Morris, 23, a farmer's daughter from north Wales who agreed to put her photo on the milk containers so she could perhaps meet a man who is "easy-going, funny, someone you can have a laugh with."
She said she is surprised so many people are talking about the idea that you could pick up a date along with a pint of milk. She is being stopped on the street by people who exclaim: "You're the girl on the milk bottle!"
She adds, by the way, that Mr. Right would not have to be a farmer.
Morris said she has heard about the campaigns in the United States that put photos of missing children on milk cartons. The farmers' romance campaign uses the same philosophy: Most people drink milk, so the containers are an ideal way to advertise.
"It can be a great life," said Roger Kerr, director of the Calon Wen (which means "pure heart" in Welsh) cooperative, whose milk is used in the "Fancy a Farmer?" campaign. "A lot of people would like to have a nice house in the countryside, with lots of space and fresh air. It has huge advantages. But it's not a particularly sociable job, milking cows.
"A lot of the girls leave, and life can be hard for the guys who are left," Kerr said.
Jones said he dreamed up this dating idea because he doesn't want to leave his rural life but needs a soul mate.
He and his father rise at 5 a.m. each day to milk their almost 100 cows, and then do it again in the early evening -- a task that takes nearly three hours each time, even using a portable milking machine.
"The hours can be long," he said. "But I'd rather be spending those extra hours in the countryside than sitting in a car in the city."