November’s grower profile:
Ian & Alison Samuel write…
This month we heard from Ian and Alison, founder members of the South Devon Organic Producers co-operative, who supply us with organic beef and a range of seasonal veg. Guy will be back with his normal newsletter next week.
On the farm at the moment, we have several thousand red cabbages in store that were picked a couple of weeks ago and will be trimmed back ready for the Christmas orders to ensure they don’t get too large. We usually do half and half to make sure we have the spread of availability, so the rest of the cabbages are still in the field ready to pick at the ideal size. At the moment we’re just finishing off picking the leeks, and it’s a good crop despite the difficulties of this summer.
The gang in the field today are all local students. We try to employ locally but you do have to be flexible as some of them only want to do a month, for example. Veg work is hard, so often it’s the outdoorsy people who stick it out; this year we’ve had a few surfers who have done well! We also have a gleaning team who come in from Totnes who will take the oversize cabbages or kale for their soup kitchens, so there isn’t much waste.
We’re not typical farmers as neither of us actually came from an agriculture background – we bought the farm in 1997 and soon after went along to a meeting when Guy was looking for new growers for Riverford. So much of agriculture today is about producing a commodity, so it’s nice to produce good quality vegetables and beef that people actually want. As producers, we like that customers can connect the end product back to us, compared to when you go into a supermarket and most of the food is faceless. Organic is also a way of doing things simply without relying on big multinational conglomerates to supply chemicals. It feels you’re in control of your own destiny.
We’re also very interested in the environment, and since taking on the farm we’ve planted a few copses and kept our hedges high. Last year we recorded 12 out of the 18 species of British bats, and we’ve had university students doing surveys on birds and small mammals. You think how much diversity is on this small farm, and then think you could fit the whole thing inside one field somewhere like Cambridgeshire. It makes us proud to be doing what we do.