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’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.
The new site in Strines is going ahead! After a long Winter of negotiating we are thrilled that we are close to exchanging contracts to rent the site in Strines. We consider ourselves very lucky to have met landowners that get what we are trying to do. As it would have been so disappointing if all the business and experience we have built up over the last five years came to nothing.
Afterall, last year we grew (and sold!) 1700kg of organic veg.
Top 10 crops for yields Beetroot 240kg
French beans 79kg
Top 10 crops for income Salad £656
French beans £418
Purple sprouting broccoli £203
Broad beans £188
I have spent the Winter trying to work out how we are going to afford all the new equipment and initial start-up costs to set up the new site. And I’m quite excited to say we are going to try and crowdfund for some of it. More details on this will follow soon.
We have been to see a site in Strines that we are interested in. It is half an acre, and has the Goyt River as its Southern boundary. It is 5 miles from where Lindsay lives, and even closer to George. It is 9.8 miles from Levenshulme Market.
There is a sketch of the Strines site here, and we have been doing soil and site tests to determine its potential as a growing site. This includes looking at the current vegetation, which is buttercup, with some rushes and docks. This suggests its wet, though fertile. We are concerned about the line of Poplar and Alder trees down the centre of the site, and have negotiated to remove them. There is Willow to the West, which we will also cut back.
The soil tests include a finger test, where you roll the soil into a ball, and see how sticky it is. I think we have a clay loam. The drainage test, where you dig a hole 1m deep, cover with a tarp, and then go back the next day. Ideally there will be no water, and indeed there was no water. Jam jar tests where you fill the jar with soil and water, and see what it looks like when it settles. Looks like clay. The soil percolation test, where you dig a hole and saturate with water, then go back the next day and fill again, and see how long it takes to drain away. I am still to go back and check the results of this test.
We are trying to get information from the planning department on costs and timeframes for planning permisson for a polytunnel, and a license for pumping water.
It is not a perfect site by a long stretch, but it has lots of things going for it, and we are negotiating with the landowners. Fingers crossed.
The land search is ending in mid-November, so if you have spotted some land you think might be suitable or you have a contact that may be worth pursuing, please get in touch. The link to our home video about the search is here, and the criteria for land is here. It is very location specific (within Stockport, East Cheshire & High Peak). So far, we are in contact with seven landowners with potential land that they are considering letting out, but I would like to be in touch with more.
During the last six weeks, I have written letters and spoken to countless farmers, cold called organisations and emailed them on the off-chance of land. I have pushed it out on social media, and been surprised that two of the seven landowners came forward that way. I still have more of this to do, but the end is in sight, and the to-do list has gotten shorter. I still have two events coming up to attend about farm tenancies organised by the farming community, so we will see what that brings up too.
Lots of people have inquired whether I had land yet, and its great that people are interested. But I would liken the next stage of the process to buying a house, you need to view it, and then a series of checks need to be made. It is a very slow but necessary process.
The sorts of things we will be checking are:
the lands size,
water availability and pressure,
possible electricity connections,
planning permission restraints for polytunnels,
negotiations on rent,
soil type, depth and drainage,
and plans for the land in the future.
I feel much more optimistic that we will find something than when we started, and thanks for all the support and interest, it has kept me plodding through my to do list. Please do send me any suggestions to follow up, it could be just exactly what we’re looking for.