One of the wonderful things about winter is the planning sessions by the fire, in anticipation of spring. Getting snowed in (by UK standards, anyway) motivated us to sit down and plan what we would be growing in 2018 as our first season, and calculate our seed order. This involved calculations of seed density for bed length, succession plantings needed to provide product consistently, days to maturity, direct seeding vs. transplants, and of course, cost and number of different varieties.
As a new "micro-farm" starting up, we've had to invest in some essentials to get set up. As promised, in an effort to showcase our process for future UK farmers seeking to start their own small farms, here are some of the key materials that we've felt we've had to invest in for year one, and the cold, hard numbers behind them.
It was only after we bought our farm in Bishop's Castle that we were informed that the town was once home to Sir Albert Howard - a pioneer of the organic movement in the early 1900s. A botanist, and a keen observer of soil ecology, composting and nutrient cycles, Howard believed that the emerging trend toward chemical amendments to soils for intensive agriculture was the wrong way to go about growing. He wrote many publications, including "An Agricultural Testament" (1943).
Years of reading about the flaws in the food system have made me aware of certain food-related things in day to day life. In London, I was acutely aware of the number of chicken shops in my borough, all of them filled with students in uniform, with more opening all the time. As a food bank volunteer, I became aware of how the numbers of people coming in increased when benefits changes were passed. As a Canadian who moved to the UK, I have been shocked by the amount of packaging on food items in this country.
Sustainability is a central theme in my academic research. This is a vague word that can be used (and misused) because of its flexibility. Pamela Mason and Tim Lang recently addressed the concept in their book 'Sustainable Diets' (2017), and took it beyond the typical "social, environmental, economic" pieces, and added elements of social justice, governance, and (GASP!) taste, satisfaction and cultural ties - not such wild ideas when it comes to food, right?!
It’s been 17 years since I lived on a farm.
I grew up on two farms… the first was 12 acres with forests, ponds, a river and lots of animals. I have memories of wandering into the woods by myself (or with whatever curious horse or adventurous cat felt like tagging along) as a child of under ten, and discovering. Plants, animals, and my own senses. Before I knew how to conceptualise them in such terms, I learned of lifecycles, seasonality, ecosystems, soil structures. Nature became a source of innumerable observations that wove themselves together in the mind of a child, to the point that they lost the status of having been learned, but were simply innate knowledge.
I research food: More specifically, I research how people - citizens and councils -make local-level food policy, and what people think sustainability means when it comes to locally produced food. Previously, I did research on rooftop urban agriculture. ...
...But starting a farm means a different kind of research.