BABOG Meeting: Root Connections, Tues 27th Jan 2020

The first Bath & Bristol Organic Growers Group meeting of 2020 saw 10 of us hardy souls brave the sleety weather and visit the inspirational Root Connections in Stratton on the Fosse, warmly hosted by manager Sue.

View to the orhcardAfter introductions in the welcoming farmhouse kitchen, Sue gave us an overview of the project set-up: a joint venture by farm tenants Addicott Partners, Mendip District Council and Elim Connect Centre (a street-level access programme acting as the primary referral point for rough sleeping in Mendip). The project is in its second year and now includes over an acre of hand-worked market garden crops, a polytunnel with propagating space plus two more small frames currently under construction for this growing season, an established orchard planted by the current tenant’s father and the fruit of which is available for the project to sell, and outbuildings to pack veg boxes and woodworking space.

The project employs a full-time gardener and part-time manager, but the purpose of it is to complement the Dairy House hostel on site, offering space and therapeutic work to residents. The project also has a range of volunteers throughout the year, from 6 to 26 depending on the season and jobs, who work alongside the residents and both groups get a lot from the companionship and camaraderie.

Root Connections sells around 70 vegboxes per week to a range out pick-up points, with some plans to do direct deliveries; holds several market stalls and sells via other outlets. As well as the veg and cut flowers, they also make value-added products from the orchard or gluts from the garden.

They are currently a Community Interest Company (CIC), and we all had an interesting dicussion over the best structure for such a project when it comes to finding funding. The project itself will surely continue to grow over the coming years, and continue to help many vulnerable people, as well as producing good local food for the whole community.

New Year, New Season

As I sit here on my laptop, I am revelling in luxury: I have been able to think about the farm for a full 45 minutes uninterrupted & guilt-free. The Small Person is having a lovely morning at preschool; my amazing assistant Jonny is picking salad and leeks, and I have pencilled most of this morning for looking at seed orders and crop plans. Bliss!

Allowing yourself the space to plan seems like a profligate use of time when there is always so much to be done, and although I know that wrenching the mental time and space to think about the long view/bigger picture now will always lead to a better growing season/more organisation/more efficiency later, when you’re in fire-fighting mode it’s very difficult to stop or realise when the immediate emergency is over – there will always be things to do.

I feel like I haven’t got time to write this, but seriously it only takes a few minutes, and will help organise my thoughts better too. After a day at the inspiring Oxford Real Farming Conference yesterday, sessions such as Ben Hartmen’s Lean Farm session (right), urging us to take on the idea in many cultural of eliminating waste (‘Muda’ in Japanese culture) in order to be more productive and win back time from the farm (as well as being happier in the work there), really helps bring things you know already into focus: sometimes it takes an external suggestion, picture or model to help you prioritise things that will really help.

The tribute to Martin Wolfe at the end of the day was also lovely, to feel enveloped in the warm world of agroforestry, pioneering crop development, and optimism about all the great people really passionate about good food that’s good for biodiversity and climate change.

So I’m going to try and be more efficient in utilising space (including radishes in my crop plans for the first time in a few years); move more tools closer to where they’ll be most used; and last year I decided that not being certified organic was a kind of waste, in that it’ll save me so much time explaining my system, so I decided to go into conversion with the Soil Association! More than that, I have always meant to be certified, but costs and then practicalities of plots moving around (you certify the land not the business, so I would have had to put new land into conversion all over again anyway), has stopped me until now. However following the political turmoil in the last few years, and since hopefully now my plots will be the same for a long time, I have decided it’s time to pin my colours to the mast and get certified.

I’ll try to include the journey of certification here, as I know many smaller growers are put off by the idea of more paperwork, inspections etc – here we all go into the great unknown!

Brassica Weeding Afternoon Monday 19th August

Come along and join the kaley fun next Monday 2-5pm, as we rescue our lovely green and red curly kale, red Russian kale, cavolo nero and purple kohl rabi from the naughtly redshank, fat hen and other weeds that have gone bonkers in the rain! Free coffee and cake included for volunteers, just let us know if you want to come!