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.
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.
-Few cloves of garlic
-Stock (ours had chicken and preserved lemons in)
-Handful of tomatoes
-Courgette or two
-Tin of butter beans
-Oil for cooking
-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 🙂
So, we are into Spring 2019 already, and it has been very busy for me personally. I have 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.
The 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 in 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.
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!
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.
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.
George uses a flame weeder to burn the planting holes into the ground cover.
15kg of garlic 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
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.
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.