Growers & makers

Cathy and Gordon Case

Cathy and her husband Gordon are members of our local co-operative, the South Devon Organic Producers. Their mild coastal farm, Lower Willings Farm, is settled over the peaks above the village of Bigbury-on-Sea; the veg enjoys a beautiful view of the water. Cathy and Gordon grow kohlrabi, cabbages, purple sprouting broccoli and more for our veg boxes – but most of all, we rely on their firm, nutty cauliflowers.

“We’re one of the biggest cauliflower growers for Riverford,” Cathy says, “And usually start picking in September and go right through to April. We pick five days a week because cauliflowers are very sensitive – so yesterday was too soon, today is just right, but tomorrow will be too late and they’ll be too big. As soon as the caulis are cut, the sheep go in and graze off the field.” In 2020, the Case family celebrated one hundred years of growing cauliflowers! It’s a notoriously tricky crop, and they always get allotment growers asking how they do it.

“The answer is, there’s a lot of knowledge and experience that goes into making it happen, and that comes with being in the business for such a long time,” says Cathy. “You learn when to make the right decision at the right time. Being close to the coast helps too, because it means we don’t get as many frosts; cauliflowers don’t like the cold.”

Mineral-rich South Devon soil also contributes to their outstanding veg, as well as growing organically: crops ripens slowly and naturally, never pushed on with artificial fertilisers.

But farming on the remote coastline, accessible only via winding country lanes, comes with its own challenges. “It’s a daily juggling act to get the right number of pickers and crates in the right fields,” Cathy says. “I get what I call ‘veg stress’, which is usually to do with having not enough or too many staff, or transport logistics. Being a 30-minute drive from the main road, we have to be efficient and make sure lorries are full.”

Despite the occasional bit of ‘veg stress’, they wouldn’t choose any other life. “If you’re good at multi-tasking it’s fine; you’ve just got to have a smile on your face and laugh off the next calamity!” says Cathy. “We love it; it’s a family business, and everyone plays their part. Dad is 74 now, and still around to help us out, even being tea boy for the pickers in the field.” As well as choosing to farm 100% organically (Lower Willings is Soil Association certified), Cathy hopes to make further sustainability innovations in the future. “I’m really keen to try some no-till techniques on the farm,” she says. No-till methods involve planting directly into undisturbed soil, rather than tilling or ploughing it. “This would really help us to look after the health of the soil; it’s better for the worms and the microbial life, and we’d burn less diesel too.”

You can hear from Cathy in our video on gender and farming for International Women’s Day:

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