Deirdre O’Mahony’s residency at the University of Reading’s Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), began with the proposition, is ‘carbon-neutral’ beef possible? Research at the university is currently testing the effect of different kinds of forage on animal and soil health and on levels of methane produced by livestock. Deirdre spent the residency investigating references to historical forages like Sainfoin, the name derives from the French for healthy hay, in the MERL archives and reviewed some of the extensive collection of historical documentary films produced to teach increased efficiency in agriculture. 

Speculative Optimism is the poetic essayistic film produced from this research. Shot on location in the museum archives, at the University of Reading’s Hall Farm and at Cotswold Seed’s Honeydale Farm and factory, the film points to the history of changing agricultural policies that now requires farmers to be economically efficient, practice environmental sustainability and maintain the visual premium and heritage value of landscapes. Some might argue this is an impossible task. Refusing a singular position or narrative, the film relies on unconscious visual associations inspired by the imagery to provide unexpected insights into the complexities of global food production today.

Produced and Directed by Deirdre O’Mahony

Editor:  Connie Farrell

Camera: Tom Flanagan

Additional Camera: Deirdre O’Mahony

Design:  Kaye Tolland


Particular thanks to the following:  

The Staff at the Museum of English Rural Life.

Cotswold Seeds Ltd., Honeydale Farm.

Dr. David Humphries, Dr. Anna Thompson CEDAR, University of Reading Hall Farm.

Alex Lasater, The Dale Lasater Ranch, Matheson, Colorado, USA.

Dr. Irene Muller-Harvey and the LegumePlus Project, University of Reading.

Paul Totterdell Cotswold Seeds Ltd.

Dromoher, Kilnaboy, Co. Clare, Ireland