We have signed our contract

contract cropWe 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 shedwe 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….

plants@glebelands
Charlotte from Glebelands is currently propagating our plants to sell. Being as good a plant raiser as her will be some challenge.

Defra consultations

LWA-Policy-Phase-3_PRINT-01-216x300It’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.

A good report with the issues at hand is ‘Making Food Sovereignty a Reality- Recommendations for Post-Brexit Agricultural Policy‘ by the Landworkers Alliance.

Supporters page

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:

Jane Lawson

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At the start of the crowdfund, I felt like I was stepping off a cliff into the abyss. I had absolutely no idea whether people would get behind us. 

Val Rawlinson
Caroline Downey
Katerina Pavlakis
Organic North Wholesalers
Sophie Hargreaves
Esther Morrison
Blaine Emmett
Nic Williams
Sarah Spanton
Bella Probyn
Paul Bower

37% there_crop
A fantastic start that really set us up for the campaign.

Owen Adams
Vanessa Hall
Lucy Dosser
Rob Fox-Bentley
Christopher Atkinson
Abby Rose
Rebecca Warren
Carol Perry
Monica Bolton
Duncan Scurfield
Vlad Schuler
Ursula Harries
Catherine Bruce
Rosie Grant
Catherine Makin
Christine Felton
Ruth Lomax
Sam Allen
Maggie
Lewis Coyne

50% there_crop
At the halfway mark after one week it begins to dawn on me that we might actually hit the target.

Lisa Swinn
Anne Strachan
Abigail Pound
Jane Leicester
Sarah Leech
Emma Patch
Matilda Johnson
Emma Rose
Janice Burns
Angela Carberry
Jane Collyer
Carla McCarthy
Biguana
Hazel Burke
Caleb Gordon
Martin Gittins
Graham Haughton
Nick Purcell
Rebecca Rose
David Ewing
Neal

60% there_crop
I started to sleep better at this point, as it dawned on me we were going to make the target.

Dee Sheehan
Cormac Lawler
Elizabeth Harding & Stuart Fear
Richard Hand
Sarah Hughes
David Govier
Amir Rowaichi
Orla Pavement
Nickala Torkington
Michelle Jackson
Tomas Remiarz
Jacquie Gray
Katie Emily
Karen Charters
Sarah Elderkin
Janet Bezzant
Emma Greenhalgh
Ruth Lomax
Helen Regan

70% there_crop
This part of the campaign felt like the mid-section slump, it was harder to keep going. Also, I felt the responsibility of not failing and losing all the pledges when we had got so close.

Adam and Mariel
Olivia Glasser
Rachel Goodall
Elizabeth Ottosson
Sam Tygier
Juliet Davis
Connor Haynes
Rachel Freeley
Hannah B
Community Pop Ups
Anth Gaskill
Kirstine Pearson
Lewis Coyne
Abigail Pound
Jane Leicester
Karin Frood
Bob McBob
Hayley-Jane Sims
Lucy Cooke
Nadia Batool
Helene Rudlin
Manolia Fuscia
Gill Wright

Me&George_crop
Change of image to try and add some interest at this late stage. We were so close, but yet so far. 

Ruth Rosselson
Emily Johnson
Barbara Iqbal
Ben Halligan
Giselle du Toit
Ruth Struth
Vanessa Jardi
Enterprise Stuff
Tilly Ashton
Angela Scott
Sarah Wakefield
Helen
Gemma Carter
Rob Fox-Bentley
Erica Brook
Pete Fillery
Angulimala
Megan Poole
Christiane Van Doorn
Sabeena Zeghum
Lisa Sangwin

crowdfund success_crop
We hit the target with 5 days left, which was an enormous sense of relief.

Ruth Lomax
Jade Montserrat
Amanda Santana
Juliet Davies
Grace Harrison
Minna Alanko
Bruno Girin
Julie Peet
Juliet Davis
Claire Mace
Sue Cragg
Patrick Cherry
Debbie Ellen
Paul Jones
Melanie Fryer
Stephen Morley
Veronica Ledwith
Melanie Sepiets
Clare Bonetree
Laura Iraine Green
Liz O’Neill
Roberto Siqueiros
Roger Bygott
Pete Abel

rabbit proof fence_crop
We even had time to go for a stretch target of an extra £1k for a rabbit fence.

Richard Sharland
Katy Brown
Sheila Bhati
Jessica Mock
Gemma North
Trish Lorimer
Kate Morrissey
Footprint Workers Co-operative
Jack Laycock
Will Lewis-Clarke
Kay Kennedy
Neil Mercer
Isobel F
Sinead Murphy
Jungla
Tom Wilkinson
Clare McCrory
Charles Dowding
Elizabeth Westaway
Gata
Clairefly
Patricia Spray
Martin Bradshaw
Rob Harrison
Mary Patel
Ruth Woodall
Cathie Pixie
Anne Harrison
Harriet Lucero

steering group_crop
Tomas, Lindsay, Debbie, Katy and Jess (aka Reddy Lane Market Garden steering group) celebrate the result with a bottle of bubbly.

A J Davies
Damian Cross
Janet Bolton
Michelle Obeid
Judith Berry
Darren Whalen
Roy Greenhalgh
Katherine Challen
Natural Choice
Jamie Lentin
Andrea Doyle
Rob Alderson
Alison Ahmed Barrett
John Lever
Sally Westaway
Amy Sykes
Lesley Swann
Sara Dunk
Richard Hunter
Elizabeth Semeonoff
Anna Drews
Ellie and Dan
Scott Clouder
Ben Emissah
Amalia Kostorrizou

new site image
Just when everything was going so well, the original site in Strines falls through, and we change sites to Cheshire. So far our crowd has stuck with us, and we have had lots of messages of support.

Jen Elford
May and George Whalen
Martyn Baldwin
Richard Morris
Lisa Quigley
Ruth Lomax
Beth Creedon
Jean Martin
Elly Pattullo
Valley Organics Co-op
Vicky Hart
Rosie Maguire
Gary Nip
Lou Coombes
Michaela Parnell
Neil Kindsnorth
Dmintransition
George McNamara
Kalsang Shoba
Andrea Dello Siesto
Julian Dearlove
Corin Bell
Marc Dunbill
Sarah Newall
Flourish Together
Kim Whalen
Abbey Rose
Rebecca Warren
Monica Bolton

Together we raised £7839 for growing more organic veg to supply Manchester. Watch this space as our new farm unfolds….

 

Strines falling through

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 new site imageof 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.

Please email if you have any concerns.

Thank you crowdfund backers

steering group_crop

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.

We hit our crowdfund target

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.

rabbit proof fence_crop
An unkempt but functional rabbit proof fence

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.

In 2015 I lost thousands of pounds worth of crops to rabbit damage. See this blog entry from back then. I would like to avoid that again in the future.

So, please pledge if you can on the crowdfunding site as there are lots of great prizes still available.

It’s going ahead

The new site in Strines is going ahead! After a long Winter of negotiating we are soil tresting cropthrilled 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
Leeks 182kg
Kale 113kg
Cucumbers 107kg
French beans 79kg
Tomatoes 69kg
Squash 50kg
Onions 41kg
Garlic 36kg
Salad 35kg

Top 10 crops for income
Salad £656
Kale £522
Beetroot £423
French beans £418
Leeks £387
Garlic £281
Purple sprouting broccoli £203
Broad beans £188
Shallots £153

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.

 

Potential site in Strines

20171130_112520.jpg

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.

20171130_114757.jpg
Digging the 1m hole.

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.

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Lindsay contemplating it all.

Last push for land

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,
aspect,
exposure,
water availability and pressure,
possible electricity connections,
planning permission restraints for polytunnels,
negotiations on rent,
soil type, depth and drainage,
vehicle access,
lease types,
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.

land image
We are trying to find out who owns this land in Romiley.

Big issue article

The Big Issue in the North published an article by me about market gardening and the land search. The link to the article on their site is here. The text is reproduced below.

My journey to running my own market garden was meandering but ultimately motivated by my desire for a food system that nurtures the health of our bodies and the land. I was the food writer at Ethical Consumer magazine for four formative years, before setting off into the world to learn those practical useful skills that were so necessary to a more sustainable life.

It was a ten year journey taking in living and working in Morocco, Spain and Ireland, studying horticulture for two of these years and visiting around 20 organic growing projects before an opportunity in Cheshire came up. I’ve been farming a half-acre organically certified site at Reddy Lane near Altrincham for five years, along with George, my dad.

During the growing season, George and I farm three days a week. The other two days I sell the veg we produce at Levenshulme Market and in our veg boxes. People can pick up their veg boxes or arrange a delivery.

My days farming with George are my favourites. We love watching and listening to the birds. There are friendly robins and pied wagtails, who come to look for worms in the soil we have disturbed. Once a fledgling tree sparrow flew out of the hedge and got caught in my hair for a couple of seconds. We see buzzards circling up high daily, and occasionally have seen them perched on the water tanks.

You get a real sense of a person when you spend the entire day weeding with them. The repetitive work is calming and encourages the mind to drift. I used to spend my weeks desperate to get into the countryside to get some space from the city and time alone, but now I just go to work. I love the autonomy – to work when I want to work and to just make a decision and act on it.

I have been trading at Levenshulme Market for four years now, and I really love being a trader there. There have been times like three years in, when we lost our crops due to rabbits, everyone else growing at the site left and I had just been diagnosed with endometriosis, when it would have been easy to stop. But I had built up the stall and got to know my customers. Their delight in the veg we have grown really kept me going.

Many people are drawn to the stall or the box scheme due to ethics, but they stay for the taste. Crops which have grown at their own pace and been harvested when they are mature taste better. They are a protest against the homogenisation of our food.

For Reddy Lane, selling our crops direct at the market and via the veg boxes is the only way to make my livelihood as a small-scale organic grower possible. I feel that the direct relationship increases people’s understanding of the real cost of our food. We need small-scale independent growers, as most farmers in the UK are on the cusp of retirement, without succession plans for their farms.

It’s a critical time for Reddy Lane Market Garden – we need to find a new site for the next growing season

I would like to see more support for people producing food in a sustainable way, as opposed to the current system of subsidies that pays landowners for owning land rather than using it to produce food. The recently published People’s Food Policy manifesto challenges the current approach to food policy making, as it articulates the kind of food system we need and puts value on the people who produce our food.

It’s a critical time for Reddy Lane Market Garden as we have been given notice to quit our land and need to find a new site for the next growing season. I am spending the next few weeks trying to connect with as many landowners, farmers, organisations and local authorities as possible, to see if there is a suitable piece of land out there for us.

Our criteria is on our website reddylanemarketgarden.com where I blog about farming, I tweet at @reddylane about the farm and the land search as it happens. I can be contacted on 07875 242608 and contact@reddylane.com with leads for land. The more I farm, the more I want to farm, and I really believe I can create a viable farming business.