Friday, 31 December 2010
This is the third Christmas since we restarted the farm in late 2008. There were many reasons to start farming again here, not least our own abhorrence of the food on offer in the supermarkets - from chemically castrated pork to adding water to meat. We set out to create a farm to produce food directly for people who felt the same. This year we have produced over 100 varieties of vegetables and every type of meat from traditional breeds of animals kept as we feel they should be. We had a bumper wild cherry harvest, superb strawberries and this year we can look forward to raspberries, gooseberries and blueberries. The first honey was produced by Euan the beekeeper and we now distribute over 100 farm boxes every week.
As well as producing real food, it is important to us to farm in a way that enhances the beauty of the countryside and the conservation of wildlife. Just this afternoon I spotted two snipe, it's only the second time I have seen them here. In the spring a group of ornithologists spotted over 30 different species in a morning. For five years in a row now the grey partridges have successfully bred and the local wildfowl population is booming. The mallard did especially well this year.
The idea of an ecological approach to farming is to have intimate diversity of all species. This starts with a healthy soil and vibrant insect population. A positive sign of this in the summer was the number of butterflies and moths spotted. Also we hosted two bat walks this year, the farm is alive with bats at night. All of this is down to not using insecticides; hedges, beetle banks, new woodlands, wildflower mixes, pollen and wild bird seed strips, but most of all, its actually down to you dear reader. You make the difference when you buy food from farms that do these things. The truth is that everyone farms every time they eat. It's our customers who make the difference to the birds and us. Thank you.
We were on Radio 4's Farming today programme earlier in the year. Adam Henson the CountryFile presenter came out and I shared some of the nightmares of starting a farm like this during a major recession and taking on trying to do so much at once. There continue to be challenges every day. Some of the hardest things this year have been: Two major break-ins. Theft of a rotivator, pressure washer, meat, tools and scrap metal Buying butchery equipment from someone who turned out not to even own it. The worst winter for 30 years last year, and an even worse one so far this year!
It has been seriously hard work, especially for my partner Emma without whom none of this would be possible and who has worked tirelessly with hardly a day off all year. Our thanks go to William and Grace who have had very busy parents and who will be helping feed and water the animals on Christmas Day. One day I hope they understand why dad sold the Mercedes to buy cows!
Its a very difficult life from a business point of view, but it is very healthy and enjoyable work. There is much less of me, partly I think due to eating food we grow, partly from physical work on the farm and no doubt stressing over the overdraft too! Despite the nightmares, for me what is happening here and the farm coming together is thirty years of dreaming coming to life.
Rural Care, run brilliantly by Ann, was recognised with an invitation to Highgrove and lunch with other care farmers and Prince Charles in May. We are a registered education centre and provide care and learning experiences for adults with learning difficulties. Here is what some of them say:
“I work here! I like coming here. We cleaned out the chickens and they looked so happy with their new straw” - June
“Weeding - I love weeding!” - Janice
“The orphaned lamb sits on my lap and I have to feed it milk with a bottle. The lamb thinks I am his dad” - Ronald
Ann and Dan were also the first people to be married in "Squitmore" in September, a brilliant day and I hope we can host many anniversary parties.
Group visitors to the farm have included the local wildlife trust, transition groups as well as rotary, local builders Willmott Dixon and East Herts Council. We are lucky to have a very talented events team led by Faye. She has fixed it for Glaxo to build beehives, organised small conferences, WI talks, Welly Wanging, Mad Hatters Childrens Parties and Campfire events with music under the stars.
Rozelle has brought a new professionalism to our Farm Store and Adrian has chef'd over 20,000 meals. Becky, Agata and Sam have grown and developed the weekly farm box service.... and now I am beginning to worry about mentioning everyone (thanks dad for looking after the pigs!) So if you are reading this and have / are helping out - from butchery to Kate, Richard and the growing team, to tree planters and volunteers as well as our seasonal interns, from the youngest Charity to the young for their age or not (mother-in-law if we were married!) oops, now am tongue twisted.... thank you.
Thank you for your part in recreating Church Farm as a place for wildlife, beauty, diversity, community and people.
Happy Christmas and all the best for 2011.