There’s nought Blue about Blueberries

One of the high spots of the year for me is the arrival of the first blueberries from Horsham.  The season may be short – eight weeks or so – but it is packed with six varieties of blueberries, each with their own special flavour and becoming sweeter as the summer progresses.

Our Horsham blueberries are grown on fertile clay soil in Lower Beeding by Bob Hewitt of Selehurst Gardens (better known to us as Blueberry Bob).  Over the years he has transformed a relatively small area into an extremely productive site and the weather this year has helped to improve this productivity.  Last year the long, early Summer temperatures took their toll on the blueberry plants and the season finished before August was out.

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I can recall my first tasting of a Blueberry Bob berry so vividly.  The sweet, flavoursome taste and amazing juiciness brought a huge grin to my face.  “This is heaven” I thought as I dived back into the punnet! Unsurprisingly, as we encourage people at our markets to taste the berries I have learnt that my reaction was not unique to me!  Collectively us “lovers of blueberries from Bob” could be deemed to be “people who know what they like”, but we think we fall into the category of having a “well-developed palette” as these blueberries are used by the Michelin 1 chef, Tom Kemble, at South Lodge in Lower Beeding.  I rest our case!

We have always been fascinated by these blueberries and why they can sell so well, at double the price, to those in London but are not generally appreciated in their home territory of Sussex. So we ran a taste test at Horsham Market a few years ago.  We bought some organic blueberries from Waitrose – variety Duke and from Poland. We had some Duke variety from Blueberry Bob on our stall at the same time.  The Waitrose blueberries were more expensive (a little aside, but important to us).  Customers and passers-by were invited to taste one of each and to provide a comparison. The facial expressions presented us with the best reactions.  The Polish blueberries were sharp and tasteless and usually generated a grimace. Blueberry Bob’s Duke blueberries mostly generated a satisfactory smile (and often a purchase – a double win!).

Whilst initially I was sold on these blueberries by their taste, I soon found out their health benefits – for young and old.  My grand-daughter was weaned on these blueberries and was declared the healthiest baby seen by the doctor for a long time at one of her early progress appointments.

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Blueberries are considered a superfood today but have been used for their medicinal properties for centuries.  American Indians used blueberry leaves as a tonic for colicky babies and in Europe the fruit itself was used to cure diarrhoea, dysentery and scurvy as well as circulatory problems and eye diseases. In particular, blueberries were used to treat diabetic retinopathy (an eye disease associated with diabetes) and some physicians still use it as part of treatments.

Top researchers, Béliveau and Gingras, were particularly interested in this traditional use of blueberries for diabetic retinopathies as the latter are caused by “uncontrolled angiogenesis” in blood vessels, a phenomenon which is instrumental in the growth of cancer tumours.  Their research suggests that molecules known as anthocyanidins (found abundantly in blueberries) can be responsible for the anti-angiogenic effects of these berries and slow the growth of tumours.  Angiogenesis is a process whereby the cancer tumours, which require food and oxygen to grow, trigger chemical signals to attract the cells of blood vessels located nearby.  These blood vessels react by clearing a path to the tumour by dissolving the surrounding tissue and forming a new blood vessel thus facilitating the flow of food and oxygen to the tumour.

Research has determined that benefits of blueberries include improvement of cognitive health (this has to be a subject of a future blog as it is quite technical, but associated with the antioxidant content acting as a “de-rusting agent”), prevents urinary tract infection occurring, helps anti-ageing and improves skin, heart and eyes through its mineral and vitamin content.

These guys are so under-estimated because we have them throughout the year.  But, the greatest benefit will be achieved from the farm fresh ones that are produced locally and are available on our website.

 

 

 

 

 

We’re Backing British Farming, and it’s Exciting!

Today is Back British Farming day!  Did you know that UK food self-sufficiency is now just 61% – down from 75% in 1991?  The campaign by countryside magazine highlights acres of reasons why British farming deserves your support, as well as offering you the chance to make a real difference.

The day coincides with the week that we took part in Go! Organic –  a London-based festival encouraging people to take part in organic living. We built and constructed a pop-up farm shop for the people of London, at which we showcased five of our key British growers.

The event was a huge success, with people lining up to buy our produce! We were very proud to be able to shout about the growers  – Sunshine & Green, Cherry Gardens, Tablehurst Farm, Dynamic Organics and Sweet Apples Orchard. Daniel from Orchard Farm’s eggs also went down a storm.  We had several comments on the quality of our produce, with some people even asking if it was real – the ultimate compliment.

We pride ourselves on our growers and the quality of our produce and our British farmers who are working hard to enhance the British countryside, protect the environment, maintain habitats for native plants and animals and support wildlife species. Whether it’s helping birds get through the winter months by putting down seed, establishing woodlands and hedgerows to create habitat for animals or planting fields of pollen and nectar rich flower mixes to feed bees and butterflies, British farmers are taking action every day.

Our growers take real pride in the land that they grow on, and try to encourage and enhance wildlife every step of the way. For example, Jonathan at Cherry Gardens Farm collects fallen apples over the summer and stores them until the winter, when he puts them out for the birds that may be struggling with the frozen ground, and Blueberry Bob in Horsham practises biannual thinning and coppicing of  woodland on the farm, which has encouraged flora and shrubs such as bluebells, narcissi and snowdrops, buddleia and elder and has recently received a forestry commission grant for coppicing regeneration.

With the spirit of buying British in mind – it’s time to introduce our new line of BRITISH GROWN pulses and grains! We’ve started stocking Hodmedod’s, who specialise in British grown chick peas, spelt grain, lentils, and – for the first time – British grown Quinoa. We’re very excited to have them on board, and are hoping that you can revolutionise your cupboards and eat more of these protein-based little treasures, safe in the knowledge that they’ve come from a local grower with a transparent food chain.

Buying British has never been more important. With climate change, rising diet-related ill-health and widespread declines in our wildlife, the need to produce healthy food, cut food miles and protect our wildlife is getting more important. Choosing how we eat is a simple but powerful form of direct action:

 

1.BUY BRITISH

  • Buy British food with a transparent supply chain – so you know the journey that your food has taken to get to your table. This way you can ensure that your food is of the highest quality, and that the farmer who grew it has been cut a fair deal.

 

2. EAT WITH THE SEASONS

  • You can check out the Great British Larderto find out when British fruit and veg are at their best. It’s important to eat seasonal produce because that allows you to buy British all year round. This cuts food miles and guarantees that your food has come from a place of quality.


3. CARE FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE

  • British farmers are custodians of around 75% of the British countryside. It’s important that we too take responsibility for it too.  Whilst out enjoying the countryside, make sure you take your litter home, follow the countryside code, and if out with your four legged friends, keep them on a lead around livestock and pick up after them.


At Greener Greens we take pride in our growers. All of them are independent, certified organic or biodynamic, and take great pride in their produce. This shows in the quality of the produce in our boxes that we send out weekly. The farms that we collect from all take great steps to preserve and encourage their natural environments and habitats. If you shop with us, you can guarantee that you’re backing British farming.

Potatoes – Where on Earth do They Come From?

The boycotting of products is a very popular way for consumers to punish or protest against a person, company or place. There are countless lists of things that we shouldn’t be buying, each list punishing a different organisation or opposing a different cause.

One particular item on a particular list that I read recently was Israeli potatoes. Apparently our supermarkets in the UK sell them.  I find this to be a bit bewildering, since there are thousands of tonnes of potatoes sitting in stores on farms across the UK. Why on earth do we need to be buying potatoes from the other side of the planet?

I have recently started taking part in gleans. They involve going to farms at which the harvests have already taken place and ‘gleaning’ the remaining crops. These are then taken to charities and organisations that distribute the produce to those that need it. I personally have spent hours and hours sifting through huge crates of potatoes which have been rejected by supermarkets for being too small or the wrong shape. All of these potatoes are perfectly edible, they just don’t look the part.

The reason that there is a call for the boycott of Israeli potatoes is almost irrelevant when  you realise that there are plenty of potatoes right here, probably within mere miles of nearly every house in the UK. The reason we should be boycotting the potatoes grown in Israel is because of the excessive food miles and the lack of support for our local farms, which depend so heavily on their communities supporting the local economy.

At the moment, Sainsbury’s are selling Maris Piper potatoes as well as ‘everyday’ organic potatoes from Israel, whilst Waitrose and even Asda are selling potatoes grown in the UK at similar or cheaper prices, proving that importing the produce is wholly unnecessary. To really support UK producers though, it’s worth buying from your local independent businesses and growers to ensure that the money you’re spending ends up in the right hands.

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Herbs – The Spice of Life

The use of herbs dates back to early humans. Early civilisations wrapped meat in the leaves of bushes, accidentally discovering that this enhanced the taste of the meat, as did certain nuts, seeds, berries – and even bark. Our chief supplier of herbs & spices – Steenbergs Organics are passionate about them. And so they should be! Spices not only take your meals to the next level, they’re also brilliant for your body.

Arab traders were the first to introduce spices into Europe. Realizing that they controlled a commodity in great demand, the traders kept their sources of supply secret and made up fantastic tales of the dangers involved in obtaining spices.  Today, spices are used in almost everything we eat, and costs are relatively low. It is hard to imagine that these fragrant bits of leaves, seeds, and bark were once so coveted and costly. For centuries wars were waged, new lands discovered, and the earth circled, all in the quest of spices. However, many of the spices have properties as well as their culinary uses. For example, research has shown that turmeric is full of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and horseradish contains substances known as phytochemicals, which possess properties that mimic the ability of antioxidants which give a boost to the immune system in our bodies. Herbs and Spices have antibacterial and antiviral properties and many are high in B-vitamins and trace minerals.  Most herbs and spices also contain more disease-fighting antioxidants than fruits and vegetables.

 

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Spices are the buds, bark, roots, berries and aromatic seeds that are harvested for use in flavouring cooking. Herbs are the fragrant leaves of plants. Even the tiny filaments of saffron are referred to as a spice. (Saffron is the stigma which is hand plucked from a small mauve crocus native to Kashmir – hence its expense.) Most spices are grown in the tropical regions of the world, with some thriving in the cool misty highlands. Many of the seed spices come from more temperate areas, such as coriander seed, which is grown in Northern India, Africa and Eastern Europe.

The majority of spices are still harvested in the way they have been for centuries, by hand! Most of the developments in the spice industry have been with respect to growing and post-harvest treatment such as grading and cleaning.

Below are a few of our key herbs and the health-benefitting properties that they have:

 

Cinnamon

Cinnamon has the highest antioxidant value of any spice. It has been shown to reduce inflammation and lower blood sugar and blood pressure. Cinnamon has also been used to alleviate nausea. It provides manganese, iron and calcium. It can help extend the life of foods, along with nutmeg and orange.

Whilst cinnamon is most commonly used in baking and we tend to overdose on it at Christmas time, it can also be used in savoury dishes. Try adding it to a white sauce in a lasagna, pumpkin soup or even curry.

 

Basil

Basil is brilliant in everything from salads to soups. It has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties and can help prevent arthritis. It has been used in digestive disorders and is being studied for its anti-cancer properties. Though commonly used in Italian cooking, Basil is a versatile herb that can be added to practically anything.

 

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Paprika

Recently, it’s been found that paprika not only helps your body fight inflammation and disease in general, but it may even have specific targeting to prevent and fight autoimmune conditions and certain cancers. Paprika also boosts your daily intake of vitamin E. Each tablespoon provides 2 milligrams of vitamin E, or 13 percent of the recommended daily intake. Vitamin E helps control blood clot formation and promotes healthy blood vessel function, and also serves as an antioxidant. Paprika is also an excellent source of iron.

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Turmeric

Turmeric is a common ingredient in Indian foods, and a great addition to soups. It contains Curcumin, a cancer-fighting compound. It is best known for its ability to reduce inflammation and improve joints. If you are struggling with inflammation, you can grate a small amount and eat it raw. You’ll notice the effects fairly quickly. Try adding turmeric to your daily cooking – only a small amount will make a big difference!

 

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Garlic

In our opinions, garlic is a cupboard essential. Fresh cloves are always best, but powdered, minced and granulated forms provide excellent flavour. Studies show that just 2 fresh cloves a week provide anti-cancer benefits.

 

Dill

Dill has antibacterial properties but is most known for its stomach settling ability (ever wonder why pregnant women crave pickles?). It contains a variety of nutrients but loses most when heated to high temperatures. For this reason, it is best used in uncooked recipes or in foods cooked at low temperatures. It is a great addition to any type of fish, to dips and dressings, to omelettes or to poultry dishes.

Cayenne

Cayenne has many health benefits and can improve the absorption of other nutrients in foods. It has been shown to increase circulation and reduce the risk of heart problems. It  is also a great addition to many foods. In small amounts, it can be added to practically any dish, meat, vegetable or sauce. As tolerance to the spicy flavor increases, the amount added can be increased also.

 

Mint

Mint has traditionally been used to calm digestive troubles and to reduce nausea. Many people enjoy a tea made from peppermint or spearmint leaves, and the volatile oils in both have been used in breath fresheners, toothpastes and chewing gum. Externally, the oil or tea can be used to repel mosquitos.

 

Oregano

Oregano is a common ingredient in Italian and Greek cuisine. Oregano (and it’s milder cousin, Marjoram) are antiviral, antibacterial, anticancer and antibiotic. It is extremely high in antioxidants and has demonstrated antimicrobial properties against food-borne pathogens like Listeria. Its oil and leaves are used medicinally in treatment of cough, fever, congestion, body ache and illness. Combined with basil, garlic, marjoram, thyme and rosemary, it creates a potent antiviral, anti bacterial, antimicrobial and cancer fighting seasoning blend. It can also be sprinkled on any kind of savory foods. A couple of teaspoons added to a soup will help recovery from illness.

 

Cumin

The second most used herb in the world after black pepper, cumin provides a distinct and pleasant taste. Cumin has antimicrobial properties and has been used to reduce flatulence. It is a wonderful addition to curry powder or to flavor Mexican or Middle Eastern dishes.

 

Curry Powder

Curry powder can have a wide variety of ingredients, but often contains turmeric, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, mustard powder, cayenne, ginger, garlic, nutmeg, fenugreek and a wide variety of peppers. With all these ingredients it has an amazing range of beneficial properties. Curry is an acquired taste, but can be added to meats, stir frys, soups and stews.

 

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Rosemary

If you’ve had rosemary it was likely on a lamb dish, but its uses are much more varied. It has a high concentration of the antioxidant carnosol and research shows it may have benefits in cancer treatment and healthy digestion and use of cholesterol. It has a pine/lemony scent and it can be used in soap making due to its smell and ability to fight aging by rejuvenating the small blood vessels under the skin. If you aren’t ready to jump into soap-making just yet… try it on meat dishes, in soups or with vegetables. Water boiled with Rosemary can be used as an antiseptic.

 

Thyme

Thyme contains thymol, a potent antioxidant (and also the potent ingredient in Listerine mouthwash). Water boiled with thyme can be used in homemade spray cleaners and or can be added to bathwater for treatment of wounds. Thyme water can be swished around the mouth for gum infections or for the healing of wounds from teeth removal. Thyme tea can also be taken internally during illness to speed recovery. In foods, it is often used in French cooking (an ingredient in Herbs de Provence) and Italian. Add to any baked dishes at the beginning of cooking, as it slowly releases its benefits.

Once you have a basic understanding of the various spice flavours and how they complement different foods, you can use your own creativity and taste instincts to experiment with a whole range of combinations. Being adventurous with spices can make cooking fun! To see our full Steenbergs range, visit our website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our New Grower: Sunshine and Green

Yesterday we went to visit Greg at Peacocks Farm in Wickhambrook. He is the latest small, independent farmer to supply us at Organics for All and we’re really quite excited about it.

Sunshine and Green grow a wide range of vegetables and fruit using totally Organic techniques, (as Greg says – “in a nut shell means that we feed the soil, rather then the plant”).  Soil health is the most important thing, because if the soil is healthy, then so are the crops. This means they can be strong and defend themselves from disease and pests.

 

We visited the poly tunnels and saw the gorgeous salad leaves, beetroot and leafies being grown and were immediately sold to the whole ethos of Sunshine and Greens. Greg uses a ‘no-dig’ method of organic farming – where the land is covered in sheeting for a few months before crops are planted, to kill any weeds. Tilling the soil releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as well as exposes a very delicate ecosystem to the air which dries it out.  The soil loses a lot of its nutrients as well as some of its organic matter, and as a consequence, does not retain water as well. The delicate soil structure is destroyed, compaction of soil occurs, leading to hardpan formation, and reduced water infiltration in the soil, and more surface runoff, which increases soil erosion.

 

Judging by the quality of the leafies we saw growing yesterday, the soil is very much enjoying this method, as is Gregg. He’s clearly very proud of the produce that he is growing at the moment, and if you take a look you can see why:

 

At the moment,  Sunshine and Green are able to supply freshly harvested fruit and vegetables to the surrounding towns, villages, pubs and shops. It is important to Greg that his market stays local so that he can retain the quality standards of the produce and ensure it is delivered fresh as fresh be can with shortest distances travelled from field to kitchen.

Like us at Organics for All, Sunshine and Green are passionate about their wildlife. The farm already plays hosts to some iconic birds, like buzzards and barn owls, and over the coming years they will be expanding the range of habitats for wildlife. They plan to plant areas of trees and hedging that will provide home and food for animals, as well as growing wild flowers and native meadow land. For every project undertaken on the farm, they’re always mindful of what impact it will have on the wild inhabitants of the farm.

 

We’re very excited to be working with Sunshine and Green and genuinely can’t wait to see what happens next  – because of growers like Sunshine and Green the future of food production in Suffolk is looking pretty great!

This week we have gorgeous mixed leaves from Sunshine & Green. Be sure to add them as an extra to your box.

 

 

Gleaner Greens: The Day I Went Gleaning

Last Saturday I spent the day gleaning on a lovely farm in Kent.

It was a last minute thing – a post came up on my social media from Feedback calling for volunteers for the next day. Feedback is an environmental organisation that campaigns to end food waste at every level of the food system. They fight for change – from local communities to governments and global organisations. Their aim is to change society’s attitude toward wasting food. As we at Greener Greens do, Feedback understand that food waste is a symptom of our broken food system.  By scaling back farming intensity and by eliminating the significant inputs that go into crop growing we can drastically reduce the amount of food that we waste.

The purpose of the glean on Saturday was to rescue as much as possible of the 1000’s of potatoes, purple sprouting broccoli and spring greens which could not make it to the market and would otherwise have been wasted.  These particular greens were potentially going to waste because of the recent weather speeding up the growth cycle. The farm would not have been able to harvest and sell them in time before they flowered and spoilt. The potatoes were going to waste because they were cosmetic outgrades- too big or too small for commercial market.

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We started by picking purple sprouting broccoli from a field that was due to be ploughed over the following day.  This particular field had already been harvested by the farm, but there was plenty left for us.

We then did a stint with some potatoes dividing them into sacks.  The best bit for me though was being given a bushcraft knife and the task of cutting the remaining spring green cabbages from the fields. I saw a red-legged pheasant for the first time too!

 

 

The veg will be passed on to various organisations, including The Felix Project, UK Harvest as well as various other local organisations, where they will be put to good use: feeding people who need them the most. Many projects such as homeless hostels, breakfast clubs, womens’ refuge centres, and services for the elderly will be flooded with delicious food.

Do have a look at Feedback  and the work that they do. They’re a brilliant organisation who have the same core values as we do.  They do have organised gleans that you can help with too – see their website for more information and to sign up. I’d recommend it – it was a brilliant thing to do, and I got to spend the day on a farm!

 

 

Our Growers: Michael Hall School

The 2 ½ acre walled garden at Michael Hall School unites many activities.  Within the garden, they grow about a hundred varieties of vegetables, herbs, flowers, and top fruit, all to Demeter standards – the largest certification organisation for biodynamic agriculture. Compost is important to biodynamic gardening and Michael Hall maintain a variety of compost heaps around the garden.  They have two old fashioned wooden greenhouses, three polytunnels, and the original Victorian propagation houses.  They’ve also just recently installed a new flow form which is used to improve the irrigation water for the seedlings, and to make nettle, comfrey and compost teas.

Because Michael Hall School, as well as supplying us with some of our wonderful produce, is also a Steiner school, part of the garden is entirely set aside for gardening teaching. There is a gardening classroom, the children’s propagation house, a bread baking oven, and tools for garden and woodland crafts.   Children have their garden beds there and it is where their gardening lessons take place.  In winter, they roam beyond the garden into the rest of the Michael Hall estate to learn about woodland management. What a fabulous way of learning!

The aim of Michael Hall School is to combine beauty in the garden with growing an abundance of good biodynamic vegetables for the school canteen, the garden shop and the local community.

We’d like to thank Laurie, the gardner responsible for providing us with beautiful produce that we can then pass on to you. At the moment, we have perpetual spinach, rainbow chard and lettuces from them. You can buy them online and have them delivered to you for free here.

 

Let’s Have a Community Christmas this Year!

This year, Greener Greens have teamed up with several local organisations and charities to help others this Christmas. We have put together an “unwrapped” present scheme that benefits others in your community. Unwrapped gifts are a way of giving two gifts in one – you can buy a gift for a cause you really believe in on behalf of one of your friends or family.

We have developed our Greener Greens Unwrapped gifts over several years. We work with local Children’s Centres and charities to bring fresh organic veg, fruit and one or two sweeter goodies to local families and individuals who could benefit from help at Christmas.

Our team supply the produce at cost, fill the bags and pass the bags to the charity or Childrens’ Centre for distribution. The family bag contains 8kg of veggies and fruit. The small bag, which is aimed at senior citizens or a couple, contains 5kg. You pay for the bag, let the team know who you are buying it on behalf of and Greener Greens send your friend or relative a card letting them know what you have bought.

This year in particular, we are focusing on providing food to VARB – (Voluntary Action Reigate & Banstead). VARB devote themselves to building connections between charities and businesses and working together for the benefit of local people. This year, they are holding a ‘Festive Feast’ lunch on Christmas Day for those who either spend Christmas Day alone, or families who can’t afford a Christmas lunch.   We at Greener Greens are selling a bag which serves seven people for £12.50 – all of which will go straight to VARB and to those who need it most this Christmas.

After the success of our Family Bag scheme at Broadfield Children’s Centre in Crawley last year, we will be doing the same again this year but have widened it to the Early Help Service too. This year, West Sussex County Council are working on distributing bags that we are making up to the families that need the most help this Christmas. It is a very exciting thing to be part of – helping vulnerable and in need people to enjoy Christmas is possibly the best present you could give to anyone.

We are also close to creating a contact who will be able to distribute our Senior Citizens bags too – these contain 5kg of fresh fruit and vegetables to make sure that the elderly who are spending Christmas alone or as a couple are getting the healthy food that they need.

So this year, if you can afford to help spread the joy of giving this Christmas, then please consider buying one of our bags to help ensure that others can enjoy their Christmas too. In addition to giving a local family a head start at Christmas, you are helping to support our independent growers.  Below is a list of our bags – please get in touch with us if you are interested in buying a bag for someone this Christmas!

VARB Festive Feast Bag £12.50

Family Bag £11

Senior Citizen Bag £8

If you would like to get involved or find out more about VARB, or if you know anyone that may benefit from this year’s Festive Feast, please contact lisa@varb.org.uk or call 01737 762 115.

Our Growers: Tablehurst Farm

Chris has been volunteering and working with Tablehurst farm for twenty years. We’ve spoken to him about how the farm has developed since he first fell in love with it back in 1997.  If you’re ever near Forest Row in Sussex, be sure to stop by and visit their farm shop. (I KNOW that I shouldn’t tell you about it, but the farm is just so beautiful!)

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When did you get involved with Tablehurst Farm? What was your role then and how has that role developed?

In 1997 (approx.) I attended an open day at Tablehurst with my wife and two toddlers, and fell in love with the farm. What struck me was that this big event felt more like a gift to the community than an attempt to extract money (despite the fact that there was a cost to enter). It made it stand apart from other rural fairs and the like, and after that, I just stayed. I have been a member of the Co-op committee which owns the farm; chair of the Co-op committee for four years; a volunteer member of the Tablehurst management team for a couple of years; one of the organisers of a later open day, frequent participant in volunteer work days, walks, talks and a study group about biodynamic farming; newsletter editor for about ten years; and a customer throughout! I became a volunteer non-executive director of Tablehurst at the beginning of 2016, and then took a job at the farm in February of this year.

 

How would you describe Biodynamic in your own words, being around it all the time?

Tablehurst Farm strives to meet biodynamic standards in all of our farming and gardening. A biodynamic farm is viewed as a single, self-supporting organism. We seek to create and nurture a diverse farm ecosystem, to build long term soil fertility, to use our own manure and compost, to grow all our own animal feeds, and to minimise external inputs to the farm. Special preparations made from fermented manure, minerals and herbs are used to help restore and harmonize the vital life forces of the farm. In the long term, we hope to work towards self-sufficiency in energy supply as well.

Biodynamic farms recognise that a sustainable farm organism cannot be created and maintained without a strong focus on the social aspect as well as the agriculture. It is for this reason that biodynamic farms have been at the forefront of the community supported agriculture movement, which is of such central importance to both our farms. We aim to create healthy communities of workers on the farms, and to engage with the wider community of visitors, supporters, shareholders and customers who make a connection with the farms. For the same reason, we work hard to explain what we are doing, and why we are doing it, to as many people as possible.

 

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Do you see any evidence that customers and visitors’ attitudes have changed towards organic, locally grown food? 

Up to a point. Over the last five to ten years, we have seen huge growth in demand, but that has now levelled off, and in a way, we never meet anyone who isn’t committed to organic food, because they don’t come to Tablehurst! It is therefore quite hard for us to assess this.  My impression is that interest in organics has wandered up and down a bit – most people don’t actually know what it is anyway – but that interest in provenance and local supply is really strengthening.

 

I know that community is really important to you, what is the community at Tablehurst like?

We’ve been a community farm for over 20 years, so yes, quite important! The first community we attend to is the team who live and/orwork on the farm. We have several farming families living on site (and three now raising young children here) and we offer a free communal lunch to all staff every day to bring everyone together. We have three care home residents who live on site and work on the farm, in the garden and in our kitchens during the day. They are an integral part of Tablehurst. Connection with the wider community is a constant focus for us, and in fact it’s something I’m particularly focused on building in my new role. We had our Harvest Celebration last weekend which was focused on community engagement, and particularly in creating opportunities for people to connect with the farm by volunteering their time and/or by becoming shareholders in our Co-op. We also want to substantially extend our engagement with children and schools.

 

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We’re hearing a lot about how people should buy local to support their local farmers and farmland. Your local community must be really important to you – could you survive without their custom, and is it an equal relationship in that you both help each other?

We have customers who travel from London and the south coast to shop at Tablehurst, but our customer base is very predominantly local, and we couldn’t possibly survive without our local customers. We are constantly working to build community through mutually beneficial events and activities such as our lambing days, open days, farm walks and barn dances. We do have to charge for some events, but even then they aren’t particularly profit-focused, and quite a number of events at Tablehurst are free. We also offer open access to the farm at all times and encourage people to wander around and see what they can learn.

We recently set aside some land for community allotments, which are now all being actively cultivated. We have a kids club at Tablehurst where (mostly home-schooled) local children spend a regular day on the farm doing supervised practical work. We have also supported other local farmers and growers and have been instrumental in the birth of two other biodynamic farms in our local area.

 

How have the values of organic and animal welfare on Tablehurst farm developed over that time, and have their been any dramatic changes over the way your produce is grown over that time?  

Our farming is constantly changing and developing, but the biodynamic ideal has always been the central goal, so animal welfare was, and remains, a top priority. A particular challenge of biodynamic farming is the aim that the farm should be self-sustaining, with as few external inputs as possible. This means that we should, ideally, be growing all our own animal feed. We don’t manage this yet, but are right now involved in some important experiments to dramatically alter the balance. An even more important theme, because it is fundamental to all farming, is caring for the soil so as to create a living, balanced, healthy soil with high humus content. This is a very complex subject, but one that David, our farm director is (rightly) obsessed with. Soil humus sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, so increasing humus levels not only creates a healthy, fertile growing medium, it also combats climate change. Vegetable growing at Tablehurst has come and gone, then come again over the years, but now I think it is definitely with us to stay, and we hope to continue growing a wide range of vegetable for the foreseeable future.

tablehurst-video-web

You can find out more about Tablehurst on their video below, or by visiting their website.

This week our produce from them includes beautiful Oakleaf lettuces, kale, Red Kuri squash (perfect for soup), spaghetti squash and a variety of gorgeous red peppers.