We are a 1/2 acre organically certified market garden near Altrincham in Cheshire. We grow and source organic, local and seasonal veg; and sell it to local communities in our independent veg box scheme.
It 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!
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.
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.
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.
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….
It’s taken a while since the crowdfund, but we finally began work on the site set up this week. We laid a few hundred metres of heavy black plastics, which will act as weed suppressants, and kill off the perennial weeds. There is an endemic Couch grass problem in the site that we want to deal with this year, by having the couch trying to grow during Summer, and being unable to, this will weaken it enough to kill it.
We normally see House martins flying around in the sky, but they were very interested in the plastic. They were flying over it very close in larger numbers than usual, because they thought it was a body of water. There is plenty more plastic to lay next week, so it’s a good job George is having fun.
We have sent our application for the organic license to be transferred into our names, and are waiting for them to invoice us. It is good to find that the Soil Association have been forced to lower their fees for new entrants on small sites in line with the rest of Europe. It is still almost £500 though for one year. Everything will start with the certification process and audit once we pay them. Actually going through an audit process annually, keeping records and being inspected makes us different from community gardens and growers.
We are sowing courgettes, beans, kale and herbs to sell at Levenshulme Market now. As well as selling Charlotte from Glebelands lovely transplants too.
We complied with GDIP, and promptly lost over half our mailing list, made up of people who probably very much did want to keep up to date with us, but didn’t see that the email needed a response. If that applies to you, or you’d like to join the mailing list, please send us an email.
We are talking to the landowners about the planning application about the large polytunnel next week. And we have begun to get quotes and think about the rabbit fence. More on this in coming weeks….
We signed our contract with Tim and Janet from Abbey Leys organic farm last Tuesday, which felt very exciting. So, I have been moving forward with the next stages of the site build and the associated admin.
I began the slow process of adding the Treasurer of our steering group to the bank account. It is a milestone on the road to transitioning from a private company into the type of social enterprise that wants to use their profits and assets for the public good.
We have been continuing to improve the house, so that we can be more professional with the market stall (and hopefully more profitable with it). We built a large shed and have fitted it with two large commercial fridges.
I am putting it out there that we are looking for people who are interested in volunteering at the new site to fill out a survey. The link is here or people can have a chat to us at Levenshulme Market on Saturdays or email us. Having lots of surveys filled in will show their is lots of interest in what we are doing, and help us receive the grant to cover volunteer travel expenses, lunches and equipment including waterproof coats and wellies.
We have begun to put together a greenhouse in the garden, so that we can propagate plants for sale at the market as these have been very popular. And I have began to liaise with the planning department about our plans for the site, including the large polytunnel. And I have the forms from the Soil Association to transfer the organic license for this land to Reddy Lane. More on all of this as it unfolds….
It’s an exciting and challenging time for farming at the moment, with Brexit shaking up what was previously unshakable. Large landowners have for many years been collecting huge subsidies simply for owning land, rather than actively farming, but Brexit is changing this. Our reliance on imports, 30% of our food is imported, is looking shaky. And the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) produced a report called ‘Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit’ in February. Then it went around the country consulting with farmers and food producers round the country and invited them to submit their comments online. I went to one of the consultation events organised by Friends of the Earth on 16th April in Manchester.
I went to the Environmental Management Systems discussion in the morning, and tried to make the case for schemes which would include small growers in a way that is accessible for them. I learnt in the discussion that these DEFRA schemes are incredibly complex, and haven’t been taken up well due to the application process. Using an approach used by grant bodies was suggested, in which the amount of information required is relative to the amount of funding actually being offered. The organic system of accreditation and auditing was discussed as already existing to show good practice in managing land and producing food.
In the afternoon I went to Farming Resillience & Profitability, and this was a more challenging discussion due to some of the people sat at the table. Most farming is unprofitable, and supported by subsidies, so it was difficult for the men at the table to accept I was on the cusp of profitablity on half an acre of organic land. I tried to make the case about more support for new entrants into farming, and the need for ‘starter unit’ of a couple of acre farms to be available for people like me to get into farming. This wasn’t contested, but it just isn’t available, and I know how hard (almost impossible) I found it to find half an acre to rent at a reasonable price. Accessibility to land is for new entrants to get into farming is essential if the UK is to have a farming future.
Thank you all 231 people who supported our crowdfund, we were absolutely thrilled with the result. Lots of people pledged anonymously, but some of our non anonymous lovely supporters are:
Organic North Wholesalers
Elizabeth Harding & Stuart Fear
Adam and Mariel
Community Pop Ups
Giselle du Toit
Christiane Van Doorn
Laura Iraine Green
Footprint Workers Co-operative
A J Davies
Alison Ahmed Barrett
Ellie and Dan
May and George Whalen
Valley Organics Co-op
Andrea Dello Siesto
Together we raised £7839 for growing more organic veg to supply Manchester. Watch this space as our new farm unfolds….
Since meeting the landowners in December, and deciding to go forward with a legal process to rent the site in Strines, there have been numerous delays. There have been difficult negotiations over access and particularly access for volunteers. Planning permission for change of use, and the polytunnels and storage as it is in greenbelt has also not been forthcoming, despite being submitted on 31st January.
It has not been easy but we have had to face facts that this site is just not going to work as we originally understood that it would. This has been upsetting and frustrating. But for us it is important that groups of volunteers can work on the site alongside us. It is also important that we can grow undercover in polytunnels. Therefore we have had to make the difficult decision not to go forward with the growing site in Strines.
We have approached landowners we know in Cheshire, and have agreed to rent ½ acre of land from them. They are the landowners in Cheshire who owned the land we were renting previously, though it was not them who gave us our notice, but an organisation we were sub-letting from. Renting directly from the landowners gives us security that we did not have before. It is excellent growing soil, it is already organically certified, there is trust between the two parties, and access for volunteers has always been fine. It is so close to where we were growing before that we can see our old site, and the main gate access is still from Reddy Lane, so it’s probably a good job we didn’t change our name!
We have the approximate date of 1st May for seeing the proposed farm business tenancy from the landowners solicitors. Based on previous experience though I am taking a relaxed approach to this deadline.
I have directly emailed everyone who has left a comment saying they were supporting because they were local to Strines and offered a refund. If there are other supporters who only wanted to support because the site was in Strines, but did not explicitly say this, please email me directly on lindsay[at]reddylane.com. I hope that everyone who has pledged their support with our crowdfunder is ok with this. It has been unexpected and disappointing, but you need to be really resilient to be an organic grower. It isn’t the first and it won’t be the last spanner in the works! In the long-term though it is probably better than investing the funding in the site when you are at odds with the landowners from the start.
Thank you everyone who has backed our crowdfund, which was successfully funded and then some.
After crowdfunder have deducted their fees, we should receive £7302, though it hasn’t arrived yet. It takes 10 working days to arrive. Once it had arrived, we will set about administering the prizes. There are over 133, so please do bear with us.
We are still negotiating about access to the land and volunteers, though somewhat optimistically hope that the site will be set up enough to start running the volunteer sessions by August.
I would like to thank Flourish who believed I could find a new site, and mentored me through the crowdfund process. They support women to create the change they want to see in their local communities. I cannot recommend them enough if you have an idea you want to see happen. They are currently crowdfunding to run the program of seed funding, training and mentoring for another group of women next year. If you have an idea and want to make it happen, attending one of their ‘lunches with’ events and sounding them out is well worth it. It is a £15 prize for a pledge on their crowdfund page.
Yes, yes, yes, yes! We did it! With 5 days to spare! Wow! Thank you so much to everyone who has pledged and shared the campaign. It has been a real rollercoaster.
Stretch target We have set a stretch target of another £1k, which will cover the costs of a rabbit proof fence. We set the target at £7k, as it was an all-or-nothing crowdfunder, so it had to be achievable. But the original costing did not have a rabbit proof fence, and we now think we need one.
Rabbits are notorious diggers and bouncers, which is all very cute, but not when they are eating all your crops. The extra £1k would cover 1/2 acre of four feet high fencing, and the costs of hiring a mini digger and driver to bury a foot of the fence.