Day 2 at the Oxford Real Food & Farming conference

Despite the red wine, I managed to get there on time for the 2nd day, and sat in the gallery to listen to Ben Hartman who wrote ‘Lean Farm.’ His book and farm focus on how to be more efficient and therefore more viable. One suggestion he had was take a photo of the toolshed when it’s tidy and laminate it and put it up, so anyone working or volunteering there knows where to put things back!

Then I went to ’10 years of agri-ecology’ which is a term for social justice as well as organic farming principles. It covered new research from Oxford University showing that methane does not persist in the atmosphere like carbon does. Therefore beef production may not be as much of a climate disaster as previously thought. Jyoti from Landworkers Alliance wasn’t speaking but made some interesting points about land use mapping, and how you need to layer it to get land use down. This could be by feeding food waste to animals or dairy production on arable leys.

Quote is from Chomsky

Then I went to one called ‘Using story to reshape the food system” about using social media to take people on ajourney and let them interact with farmers. I knew this was going to be good, as Guy Singh-Watson from Riverford and Josiah Meldrum from Hodmedod’s are really good speakers. Guy explained how he paid £500,000 to an advertising company to tell him that people react to an emotional story, not facts and figures. He advised that they use their newsletter to communicate why broad beans have chocolate spot or the potatoes have scab. It definately gave me food for thought about how I communicate with the box scheme customers. Josiah from Hodmedod’s said they used art, to convey the history and methodology of the unsexy British bean. And he noted the importance of the farmer receiving nice messages about what customers have done with their 500g bag of dried peas. As someone who stands on the market stalls, I already know who this is so fufilling to hear.

And the final session of the day, and the most dramatic was “Linking sustainable and healthy diets to farming outputs” with George Monbiot and Joanna Blythman. George kicked off by comparing delegates to typewriter manufacturers in the 1970s who were excited by carbon paper or Kodak in the 1980s. He said farmer’s were not noticing the jaugernaut, and that the change from food being produced on farms to food produced in factories was coming int he nick of time to feed people and the planet. He said the proteins in meat and milk would be manufactured in labs. He did say that local organic veg production would be least affected by this, and did make a difference to climate change, but I still can’t say I agreed with him. I feel this kind of confrontational attitude would have been better aimed at the National Union of Farmer’s conference down the road, rather than for an audience made up of experts in sustainable, organic and compassionate farming.

Thankfully, the wonderful food journalist Joanna Blythman, stepped up to speak next and wiped the floor with him in a calm and dignified way. As somone who was very influenced by her ‘Shopped, The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets’ published in 2004, it was great to find she’s was also a great speaker. She is a believer in basing your diet on whole, unprocessed foods that you cook yourself, and spoke about sustainable land use that uses animals for fertility. We use organic chicken muck from Abbey Leys Farm to fertilise the land that we grow our veg on. She spoke against the current neuroticism surrounding food, and pointed out to George that telling foreign countries not to eat meat was a colonial mindset. She noted that in the UK butter, milk and meat were the best produce, and that we didn’t have the growing conditions of Tuscany (don’t I know it!) She called George “intellectually dishonest” and said he seems to think he had intellectual property rights on climate change. Ouch! He totally deserved it.

Day 1 at the Oxford Real Food & Farming conference

Earlier this year I attended my first Real Food & Farming Conference in Oxford, thanks to a bursary ticket. As I was feeling broke and broken when I applied for the bursary ticket, I had hoped to get inspired, and I did!

The first workshop of the day was the climate justice one, and Gail from XR started by thanking farmers who were involved in agro-ecology for what they were doing. She said she knows we’re “under-valued, under-appreciated and under-paid.” As someone who became an organic grower after being a climate change campaigner I needed to hear that. Nowadays the growing is so all-encompassing there’s no time for campaigning, but I still question whether this is the most useful way to combat climate change and feel guilty about not doing enough.

Oli from Landworkers Alliance and Ecological Land Co-op gave a really good talk, and I actually want to nick some bits from it. He really conveyed how being a small local grower links into a much bigger picture of a sustainable food system, and this is something I think it’s difficult to convey to our market and veg box customers.

Then I went to a session aimed at grower’s called ‘Market Gardening at Lauriston Farm: reviving small raised beds within a mixed farm.’ The Dutch man who ran it Andre Kleinjans was totally charming, and I got a few technical tips to try at our market garden. Then I went to a session called ‘Making your Food Enterprise more efficient’ which maybe was a slightly disngenuous title as it was actually about the Open Food Network, and putting your crops on this platform to sell.

The final session of the day I went to was ‘What will post-Brexit trade deals mean for our farmers, environment. welfare and food standards,’and this was really interesting. There was a woman called Jean Blayock who was a trade negotiator with Global Justice Now, and was incredibly passionate and engaging. She explained what was going in laypersons terms, like that Teresa May’s government had been working to ‘close regulatory alignment’ with the EU, but Boris Johnson had changed this to ‘substantially equivalence’ which was woolly terminology. She also said that the decisions were being made behind closed doors. If it sounds all too depressing, she did end by saying TTIP was stopped on the streets.

With my head exploding and my body protesting I’d been sat down all day, I walked through Oxford and back to where I was staying where I had a lovely dinner and drank too much red wine.

Lindsay’s musings on starting the market garden

I feel that people are so focused on food, with fad diets and putting your dinner on Instagram, but so disconnected with how it’s produced. The food system is broken when we can eat cucumbers, tomatoes, and French beans 360 days of the year. Current expectations to have whatever food you want, whenever you want and the corporate food culture of supermarkets has left us with bland tasteless vegetables.

They have erased our seasons, so the selection is extremely monotonous, as it’s the same in August as it is in December. Most people can’t trace their food back to the place and people that grew it. They don’t know what they could grow in their own back garden.

So, I started Reddy Lane Market Garden, and began growing and sourcing organic veg and selling it locally. Being a market gardener is hard, it can be isolating and lonely due to the long and unsociable hours. Running the community sessions was a wonderful way to counter this and connect to people through food. Reddy Lane is here for the long term and I will be working the land for years to come, so I hope we can continue to run the community sessions and continue to connect through food.

Our social value

Last year we piloted a community volunteering program at our market garden, and now we have our Social Value Report 2020 showing what we did. You can read the report by clicking on the download button.

We exist to create opportunities for food sovereignty, climate friendly farming and wellbeing. Last year, we demonstated this with:
-684 volunteer hours were undertaken across 9 months involving 28 diverse people.
-40 sessions were run on food growing.
-This equates to a combined value of £15,960.00 through volunteering
-114 interactions between the organic growing community and local people took place.

Volunteer sessions increased the confidence and independence of community members, as people developed new social circles, increased activity outdoors and enabled connections with nature.
Volunteer benefits included:
100% of people involved reported health and wellbeing benefits
100% of those interviewed built skills, knowledge and experience in food growing
45% were total beginners to growing upon starting the programme

We also traded at 77 local markets, and delivered over 1100 veg boxes to local people.

We want to build on this for 2020, and we want you to get involved. In January, we changed our company structure to a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, which reflects our values and means we are more accountable. If you would be interested in joining the volunteer sessions, please send me your email address. If you’d be interested in a veg box, also send your email. And if you’d like to hear what we are doing next year, send your email to be added to our main mailing list. Click here to email us.

Nettle stew

-Onion
-Few cloves of garlic
-Stock (ours had chicken and preserved lemons in)
-Handful of tomatoes
-Courgette or two
-Nettles
-Tin of butter beans
-Oil for cooking
-Red wine
-Salt /pepper / dried thyme

Not sure entirely why, but I was fixing the fence and decided to pick a patch of nettles, and here’s the result.

Fry the onion and garlic in oil.
Add the courgette & tomatoes (or anything you have available. We are glutting with these at the moment).
Add the beans & stock. Salt, pepper & dried herbs. Simmer.
Add the nettles. Just the tops & new leaves as stalks are stringy. They won’t sting you after they’ve had some heat, but be careful adding them to the pan.
Simmer until the nettles & beans are cooked how you like them.
The key to this is the stock. Ours was leftover chicken with preserved lemons.

Just the ticket for a cold September evening, I had mine with quinoa and a glass of red wine. Enjoy 🙂

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(Words and images: Lindsay Whalen)

Start of 2019

So, we are into Spring 2019 already, and it has been very busy for me personally. I sdrhave never worked so hard in my life as I worked in March of this year. We started trading weekly at Altrincham Market on a Friday, we took on our first employee (the lovely Maria), we built a lean-to and packing area, we started putting the site into full production and we started running our community sessions at the farm.

The lean-to and packing area was built by Jed and Jim, and we are thrilled with it and using it to pack the veg boxes on Sunday now.

davThe community growing sessions are now up and running out at the market garden. The sessions will run throughout the growing season, on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. There are lots of different tasks for all different levels of experience and ability, and we have lots of brew breaks and time spent leaning on the garden fork. We’re a welcoming bunch, and would love you to come and lend a hand at your local organic market garden.
Dates currently scheduled are:
Wednesday 17th April
Saturday 20th April
Tuesday 23rd April
Wednesday 1st May
Saturday 11th May
Tuesday 14th May
More dates will be confirmed later and there’s more info on the community page of the website.

In the polytunnel, we have rocket and salad, which we will be selling at the markets and sdrin the veg boxes over the next couple of weeks. The broad beans, spinach and some of the beetroot are in. Plenty more beetroot have been sown in trays. This week we are turning our attention to French beans, herbs and kales.

We are putting out content on the eating with the seasons page of our website too about what to do with the veg as the seasons progress. Katy Brown has written some lovely words on wild garlic and rhubarb. If you would like to send some thoughts or recipes on your favourite seasonal veg, then we may publish it (with full credit) if you email it to us. Tip: if you take a photo of your meal, do it outside, as otherwise the light won’t be right for publishing.

 

 

 

What a season!

We continued into Winter building the tunnel. We built the door frames, we hung the ventilation netting, we covered it with plastic and got it drum tight. This is achieved by dropping the mid rail by 7cm on each side, and George achieved this in his usual style. By hitting it really hard with a hammer!


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Trimming off the excess plastic after skinning the tunnel.

We also laid the foundations and built the shed. Pretty hard to make the shed look inspiring, but it was a really important job to get ticked off before Winter.

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Then we planted the 15kg of organic garlic, which is the final job of the season, and we always do garlic as there is alot of leeway as to when you can get it down. As long as it’s in before Xmas, then we have still had good yields. The image on the left shows George using a flame weeder to burn the holes into the ground fabric, and the one on the right is 15kg laid down.


Then just in time for Xmas we had some great news, that we have been awarded £10k grant to deliver our community growing sessions. This covers volunteer travel, lunch, tools and waterproof clothing. If you are interested in getting involved in 2019, please drop us a line on contact [at] reddylane.com

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The tunnel

1It feels a long time after the crowdfund, but we have finally begun construction on our 100 foot polytunnel.

Polyunnels on this scale are really expensive, and it costs the same again to have it constructed for you. So, after a lot of ummming and aaahhhing we decided to use all the crowdfund money for the raw materials, and construct it ourselves. This meant we got a larger polytunnel and a very daunting task for October. It has been keeping us all very busy, and we’ve definately had some tension in the group, but it does look rather wonderful already. We have learnt alot!2

It is quite a task to construct, and there are many stages. One of the first tasks is taking delivery of it all, and trying to work out what it all is. It seemed so much timber and packets of ironmongery.

Then you need to very accurately measure it out, and dig 32 holes for the 16 hoops. The base plates then sit inside this, and are anchored on to tubes, and then backfilled. Measuring and levelling them took forever. Personally I nearly cried this day….

But then you can really quickly construct the hoops and something rather wonderful begins to take shape.

dav

Bureaucratic wins

We have been told by the planners we can build Reddy Lane Market Garden to the specifications that we want to, and we have had our organic licenses issued by the Soil Association.

Planning permission
Reddy Lane Market Garden has finally been granted full approval to build its  27.43 x 5.49m (90x 18 feet) polytunnel, and storage shed with packing area. It took alot of phone calls, a meeting, then complicated to-scale maps and done at home technical drawings. Oh, and a £90 fee! But we were finally told we could proceed without needing full planning permission, which felt like a major step forward, so now we can finally begin to build the site.

We were only allowed to proceed because the field we are in is many hectares, and therefore the landlowners have permitted development rights to farm their land. The landowners also kindly submitted the application in their names. There is no way we would have been granted permission on the original site that fell through in Strines, as the landowners only owned 8 acres, and that is not enough land. Dealing with some of the staff at the planning office was frustrating, and highlighted how far there is to go before we can even contemplate good availability for locally produced pesticide free food. The entire planning system for farm “development” would need to be re-hauled. Also, it would help if they could envisage that women under 40 years old might be capable of running farms.

Compost loo
The easiest building task to begin with was the compost loo, which we think is pretty important to ensure volunteers can feel comfortable helping out. It is being put together by building a frame and attaching fence panels to it. The floor is paving slabs and the ceiling is corrugated plastic. We are hoping this will come together at two fifths of the cost of buying one as a bundle, which can be eye-wateringly expensive for what is a small garden shed with a box and a loo seat in.

Organic license
Reddy Lane Market Garden is already part of a much larger organically certified farm called Abbey Leys Farm. It has already been through it’s three year conversion period, so the license for our market garden just had to transfer to our name, but this included a three hour inspection on crop rotation, organic seeds and inputs, and  fertility building. We will be audited another 2x in the first year to make sure we are compliant. We wrote a short why buy organic page here.

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Rabbit fencing

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Lindsay using the ‘monkey’ to whack in some of the posts.

We began one of the more physical tasks for the new market garden this week. Starting at 6am, we put 60 posts in for the new fence. This is 4 very large ones for the corners, and an extra one where the gate will be. 8 of the next size down, which will provide the tension points for the wiring. And then 48 smaller ones which will stop the netting falling over. There is an endemic rabbit problem at the site, so we are taking precautions.

Next week we are putting 128m of wire netting up, and we are trying a new method of putting it up. We are folding it down into an L-shape at the bottom, so the rabbits stand on it, and try to dig through the wire. This is our attempt to avoid having to dig it into the ground using a mini- digger. Highly experienced grower Iain Tolhurst from Tolhurst Organics advised us to try this way, so we will see if it works….

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George takes 5 minutes as a neighbour and his tractor bucket helps us out for some of the posts.