Andy Hayllor and Guy Singh-Watson have been neighbours in the rolling hills of South Devon for years. When Guy was struggling to grow enough veg to fill his increasingly popular Riverford veg boxes singlehandedly, Andy was high on the list to lend a hand. He became a founder member of our South Devon Organic Producers co-operative in 1997, and has supplied Riverford with brilliant organic veg, chicken and beef ever since.
“I run two farms, with help from my nephew and son,” says Andy. “The weather is our biggest problem. In a wet year, it’s a nightmare. In a good year, it’s a pleasure.” Soil can be badly damaged if it’s driven over or worked on when it’s very wet; luckily, organic farmers have developed lots of methods (such as crop rotations and green fertilisers) to restore and protect soil health without using artificial fertilisers.
A firm believer in the principles behind organic farming, Andy believes that converting his 600 acres of organic land was well worth the extra investment in staff, stores, sheds and new machinery.
“When we were farming conventionally, we were producing milk and getting paid 16p a litre for it – it just wasn’t worth all the effort, time and money we put into it. Then the veg came along, and we grabbed the possibility of growing as much as possible.”
He’s done just that, and now produces an impressive line up of vegetables, including potatoes, broad beans, carrots, peas, cauliflowers and black kale (or cavolo nero). He’s also a keen experimenter in the fields:
“My thinking is you can’t stand still, or you’ll get left behind,” says Andy. “People’s tastes change all the time, and we need to grow new crops to reflect that. We have such a different population base now to what we used to… If we can grow things like pak choi in our climate instead of importing them, then we should try and do that. And I like trialling new crops – it keeps the job interesting!”
As well as growing a rainbow of flavoursome veg, Andy raises a herd of organic beef cattle, and is one of our biggest suppliers of table chickens. Organic farms offer the highest animal welfare standards of any farming system, according to Compassion in World Farming – and visiting one of Andy’s small flocks, you can really see how much freedom and care they enjoy. Their nights are spent safe in airy barns with plenty of clean straw, and by night they roam and graze freely in a spacious pasture of organic grass and clover.
“They can do whatever they like,” Andy says, lifting a plump white hen into his arms and examining her feet while she looks on in bemusement. “Get a dust bath, when the weather’s right… Attack the clovers… You’ll see them sometimes when they’ve found a worm, running around as if they’ve won the lottery. They think it’s absolutely fabulous.”
Short of raising them in your garden yourself, it would be hard to better Andy’s hens for welfare and flavour. That has to make for a happier meal on your plate.