Karen & Alec Vallance - The Herbary
Karen and Alec Vallance have worked with fresh produce for more than 20 years. They arrived in Norfolk in 1993 and for 10 years Alec ran the production of 10,000 acres for a big produce company.
In 1997 they bought their own nursery of just two acres. A few years ago, when Alec left his job, they didn’t want to move again so the only way to stay in Norfolk was to make a go of the nursery – and they have done just that.
“We started with two acres and we have got 150 acres now. We specialise in baby salad leaf production and we started veg last year with red cabbage. This year we’re growing caulis, broccoli, romanesco, sweetcorn and red cabbage,” says Karen, on the day the cauliflowers went into the soil. “We’re absolutely delighted with our caulis today!”
Karen and Alec have recently expanded their organic acreage, taking 12 more acres out of conversion.
“Baby leaf is very susceptible to bacterial infection. To build the fertility of the soil we’re using grass and clover, building a ley system of green manure crops. We haven't done it before and it’s very experimental for us, but we’re now fairly confident our system is working well,” says Karen.
They’ve always been pesticide, herbicide and fungicide free – going organic for them meant not using chemical fertiliser any more on their organic leaves.
"It was a natural progression for us. There are challenges with the feed – you can’t quantify what fertility levels you’re going to get. You can be a bit more confident about the end result when you’re using fertiliser."
Supplying Riverford has been one of the rewards of making the change. “Alec and I have lived the supermarket life since we started in produce many moons ago. Riverford - they’re a breath of fresh air.”