Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Big news for 2020

This is a LONG post!

Are you interested in healthy, locally grown food that you can trust?
Would you like to be part of something new, at the heart of your community?

We're restarting the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project this year!

The aims of our CSA are:

  • To provide fresh, healthy organic (possibly biodynamic) vegetables at affordable prices for anyone who wants to be a part of the project.
  • To involve members in understanding the process of growing their food, and inform and educate both the members and the wider community.
  • Ultimately to provide training opportunities and part time jobs, specifically designed to be accessible to those with children at the local school and who lack access to childcare.
  • To provide those jobs under a constitution which guarantees fair pay ratios.
  • To provide education and demonstration of permaculture practices and promote regenerative agriculture.
  • To work with the school and preschool as and when they are ready, to provide farming and growing projects for the children.
  • To be available to other local agencies who offer social prescribing, or help those with mental and emotional issues where time spent outside in the garden might be useful.

This time we're launching via a pilot scheme, so that while still working off the farm, we can get a really good model of how this works ready for a big launch next year.

For this reason we need to select JUST SIX pilot members to take part this year, and help us launch next.

To become a pilot member:

  • You'll need to commit to the whole six month period we're aiming for this year.  In future years, we will attempt to go year round, but for the pilot year, we're just aiming for June - November. CSAs sometimes ask people to pay upfront, but because we want ours to be accessible, we are going to try to operate with monthly payments. But we do need people, especially in our pilot year, who've committed in their hearts to see it through.
  • You'll need to understand how CSA works. You're not buying a set amount of veg. You're sharing the risk with the grower. So what you get is a SHARE of the harvest. That means if there's a glut of something, you'll get a lot. If a crop falters or fails, you'll get very little of that item, or possibly none. The point of CSA is to give the grower a steady predictable income, so that they are able to concentrate on producing food.
  • You'll need to understand that as we set sail, we won't actually be certified organic (that's part of the year one plan) or registered as a Community Interest Company (so is that) but you will be part of our getting established.
  • We need ONE small shareholder, ONE large shareholder, and FOUR medium shareholders, because we need to practice getting the balance right.
  • Our test price points  for the pilot year will be £7.50 per week for small, £10 per week for medium and £12.50 for large.  We will aim to make an average box suitable for a couple of adults with one or two small children. The small would be for a couple, or a single person who is perhaps vegetarian, and the large for a family with more than two children, or with two older children/young adults. (having said that, no CSA on earth will pretend to produce enough to entirely feed one teenager, let alone two!) 
  • You will be helping us establish whether the prices and box sizes are right, or need adjusting.
  • The monthly (in advance) charge will be your weekly price x the number of collections/deliveries that month (usually 4 but occasionally 5)
  • On that subject, we would ideally like our pilot members to be able to collect from Bishops Cannings - but don't rule yourself out if you can't. We can deliver but prefer to have drop off points rather than deliver to individual addresses - you may be near another member and we may be able to work something out.
  • There will NOT be an obligation to volunteer on the plot, and in the current uncertain times, we wouldn't even begin to suggest it. But, if and when we all get back to normal, volunteering will be welcomed and encouraged at specific times.
  • Likewise, when we can, we'll hold some social gatherings on the plot.
  • There WILL be an undertaking to help promote the project, and an agreement that if there are problems, you will come to us first and discuss, rather than let off steam on social medial  For this to work, we need it to grow exponentially in launch year, so we only want pilot members who are enthusiastic about the CSA model and willing to help us through our pilot year, even if it means some hard conversations.
  • To this end, we'll probably ask you for feedback A LOT!
If you are interested, please email us at chestnutsfarm@gmail.com or PM us from  Facebook
We will set up an application process soon.

***Covid-19*** provided we remain well, there is no reason why the virus should stop this project launching, and I think it's showed us how much we need stuff like this.
We will be able to work on the plot in isolation, and if the situation remains the same in June when our first boxes become available (there may be bits and bobs before then) we will be able to arrange a time for people to pick up their share from the gate, without needing to come into contact. We all hope and pray that things will improve by then, but if they don't,  a regular supply of good fresh veg can only help matters. 

Monday, 13 January 2020

Oxford Real Farming Conference - Shut it, George - The Elders.

The tail end of last week, we spent two full days at the Oxford Real Farming Conference.
I've wanted to go for years, but have either not had the time or not had the money, or not booked tickets in time, or any combination of the above.
This year I got it all lined up in time, and off we duly went via Seacourt Park and Ride to the impressive Town Hall building, across which and with various forays into St Aldates Church, St Aldates Centre, and the Tavern, the conference runs. Like clockwork, as it turns out.

It did not disappoint, and the thought provoking, engaging, sometimes enlightening sessions we attended filled us with hope and optimism.

The afternoon of the second day may not have been the greatest time for a session on environmental land management schemes - the ongoing discussion about what happens to subsidy and support post Brexit - and though the content and discussion were both very useful, I did struggle to stay awake! Other than that there were sessions of which I wished there could have been very much more - notably Lauriston Farm's presentation on integrating raised beds for market gardening into a mixed, biodynamic, system. I felt Andre Kleinjan was slightly chucked in at the deep end, having expected to be presenting with his wife and business partner, both of whom for different reasons were unable to be there. I could have listened to him for another hour or two, and I'm sure he would have hit his stride!

Another top session closed out the first day for us - Exploring Rural Enterprise and Regenerative Entrepreneurship - which also gave us a chance to tighten up our business plan for the forthcoming year.

We did not attend the Sustainable and Healthy Diets session featuring George Monbiot, but in some ways I wish we had. From all I heard, it was a good discussion, but of course George instantly took to social media to claim he had been booed to the rafters - I was in the next room and I can absolutely guarantee that's not true.  He came to a farming conference to urge the end of farming, to insist that we should all live on factory produced foods? I heard he got a fair hearing, but he was never going to be favourite, was he? 

Factory produced food, of whatever kind, will put our very means of survival in the hands of corporate giants, big pharma, and not only that, it will deplete all our food of actual nutrition. The soil is what gives us health. Nutrient dense food needs to be grown and reared on healthy soil. Soylent Green is not the way forward. George Monbiot is a skilled and sure footed self promoter. He does what he does to make a name for himself, and pad out his bank balance.  Think carefully before you drink the artificial, lab created Kool Aid.

We came away inspired and refreshed. I did at one point make my voice heard about the oft repeated cry that all we can do now to get regenerative agriculture into the mainstream is seek out and assist young new entrants, that the average age of a UK Farmer is over 60 ... well OK, but 60 isn't old, is it?

Our population is ageing, our health is (or was, but lets not get into that just now) improving, we are living longer and some of us better, so the average age of EVERYTHING is greater. 

Whilst I agree that young new entrants are wonderful, and to be encouraged, I do rather object to being written off at 60! I farmed the land with my bare hands, running a market garden while my kids grew up, and I home-schooled them alongside the plot. I was 40+ then, so to hear some talk, already over the hill. 

I've taken a bit of a break in a way, for the last five or six years, due to family circumstances and stuff that had to be done, but I fully intend to be back, and I'm full of ideas!  So let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, eh? The wisdom and experience of elders is a valuable asset.  If we were talking about indigenous elders in another culture, we'd be all about respect for their traditions, their wisdom, and what they could teach us. So don't let's just chuck out what we old 'uns have learned in a rush to hark to the young. 

Let's hand over the baton the right way.

Our Young New Entrants

Friday, 15 November 2019

The rain it keeps on raining

By and large, we're flood free round here, but unfortunately, our little rectangle of land, does sit in the valley bottom and our water catchment is: Three arable farms, the A361, and the North Wessex Downs (to the tune of  'The Twelve Days of Christmas'?!)

When the lovely lady from Natural England came out to look at our water courses, we discovered that the bubbling spring we'd been so fond of was in fact a Victorian road drain, chucking the water off the main road down under our hay field and in theory off the side half way up.  Just as well we hadn't bottled it and sold it.

Despite all of this, over the last decade or two, we've improved things considerably. We have dug two ditches which in theory are more swale-like in summer but more off-contour-ditch-like in winter, meaning that with minor adjustments we can talk them into holding water up for us, or chucking it off into the bourne at the side.

We have a third off-contour ditch which is definitely a ditch.

We have practiced regenerative grazing as far as possible, and the soil has improved, as well as the diversity in the sward (hark at me!) and whereas the whole of the bottom half of the field used to be a swamp for six months of the year, we now only lose a bit of it after Christmas.

This year though : THE RAIN!

As I write, there are 250 flood warnings in operation. The rainfall has been of the record breaking kind, and now it's snowing in the hills, and as we all know, snow melts.

So it's entirely possible our failure to get the turkeys was inspired, because we rely on access being good until after Christmas to keep them all in good shape. It was just a glorious bodge up, whereby the left hand not only didn't know what the right hand was doing, it was I think unaware there was a right hand, but it may have been for the best.

We had a clutch of ewe lambs in for a few days as they didn't look best but everyone appears to be coping now.  We will have to look out for feet, both ovine and caprine as nobody's feet fair well in this weather (except ducks, and we don't have any ducks at the minute. Another oversight!)

All my best intentions seem to be disappearing into muddy puddles.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

It's true!

Twice a year. I promise I keep deciding to pick up blogging again. And I do. And then I drop it again.

The ewes are away now, hopefully all in lamb (we don't scan, we pray) and due from the week after Christmas. This stupidly early date is all to do with getting lambs ready to show. Arran is back in the bottom paddock, with a handful of this year's ram lambs, who really do have to go. Except Denzel, who has earned a ticket to stay and show next year as a shearling.

We've eleven ewes to lamb, and frankly, not enough space. So this is a question we'll have to keep asking ourselves.

We eventually picked up two goats from a dispersing herd to keep Mable company Pickle and Pumpkin - and they've been temporarily fenced on a patch of the field that was head high in brambles and junk. As they clear the brambles, we clear the junk. Or at least, that's the theory.

The 'allotment' garden did OK, all things considered, but I do need to spend a lot more time on it next year, as we try to crank up Chalky Flora and grow a lot more flowers. 

Autumn is in mid flight and we are having one of the wettest ever. There are floods all over the West Country, and weather warnings still in place. Our land, which usually becomes squelchy after Christmas, is already beginning to sag.

Mabel, with Pickle and Pumpkin, reclaiming the badlands.

Monday, 10 June 2019

twice a year, whether I need to or not

And that's posting on here, not actually Queen Victoria's apocryphal bathing schedule. Or was it Queen Elizabeth I? Or neither of them?
Anyway. I digress.
Please bear with me patiently as I try to link things to thangs and make this all make sense. I've just spent half a (very wet) day off setting up the record of my Permaculture Diploma, which is now linked as a blog on the right.
I'm also going to do the same with my plant business Chalky Flora. I've basically struggled for months with trying to design a site where they all fit together properly, and finally decided I can't be bothered, it's the doing that matters.
If you truly want to know what there is my Diploma Portfolio or how I'm getting on producing Dye Plants or Pollinator Plants, I'm sure you're more than capable of going over and having a look.

In other news, our purebred lambs, Denzil and Delilah, each won their class at the Royal Bath and West Show, to our great delight, although as Three Counties looms and the classes are actually for Oxford Downs rather than 'Any Other Breed - Shortwool' we are not feeling over confident.

We've moved house so we are now all squidged into a very tiny modern mid terrace (though still close to our land) and the move and the myriad challenges attached have held us up enormously this season. There does always seem to be some good reason, doesn't there?

Monday, 10 December 2018

Smallholding Plans for 2019

It's still under wraps for now, but it looks like some dramatic changes might be happening to how and where we live, which will involve a lot of upheaval.
We're trying to stay grounded by making plans for the smallholding, all ready to get started next year.
Our ten acre plot is home to several enterprises and activities. Some have fallen by the wayside over the last few years, so by way of an introduction and catch up, here's a round up of what we hope to be doing next year:

  • Oxford Down Sheep. Our long term family project and passion. We're due to lamb in February, and we hope to show and grow the flock this year.
  • Chickens. We're currently down to 5 hens and a cockerel, but we're hoping to build up a bit this year and have some surplus eggs and hopefully a few choice chicks for sale as well.
  • Vegetables. We're probably not going commercial with the veg this year, but I would like to do a way better job of feeding ourselves, and having a few spare for family and friends. Next year we'd like to get back to community supported growing.
  • Flowers.  We started with cut flowers last year and to be honest it didn't go quite as planned. It looks like Year Two is actually going to be Year One/Take Two.
  • Bees. Neil's taken a break from bees for a few years, but he's back at bee club and we're seriously hoping to get a hive or two up and running this year.
  • Fibre. Spinning our own Oxford fleece is really in its infancy and just for my own pleasure at the moment, but one day we hope it will go places.
  • Plants. It's my intention to grow plants for sale which link into our other enterprises, and encourage folk to grow their own cut flowers, dye plants, and plants for pollinators.
  • Goats. We're down to two, so not doing much, but young Mabel, our orphaned baby girl, may well provide entertainment in the intervals.
  • Showing up. All this will find its way onto some sort of more exciting platform than me typing away here. Possibly a You Tube channel. Gulp.
As the shortest day is still over a week away, we may possibly have got ahead of ourselves, but I hope you've enjoyed a peek into our plans, and now lets see if we can keep up, and keep updating.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Green Scythe Fair

Our annual trip to the Somerset Levels and the Green Scythe Fair.

Fabulous day, the weather sunny bright and very HOT mostly, after we'd been forecast rain.

Scything is addictive, compulsive, meditative - all this as well as being a clean, green, healthy way to cut grass, make hay, and control weeds.

We are of course a two scythe family.

Haymaking by hand is a long drawn out process, and you need to be able to respond to the weather, which can be a problem when you both have full time jobs. For now our hay is mostly cut and baled by a contractor, but we're working towards the day it will be hand made.

It was lovely to see old friends and also watch and learn from the best mowers in the land.

Next Saturday is the Fleece Sale at the Dyers' Spinners' and Weavers' Guild I belong to and we hope to sell a few Oxford fleeces.

In other news, the garden is coming along well, and I am, better late than never, cracking on with cut flowers.