Based in Suffolk, only three or four miles from the sea, James Foskett’s farm is in what’s known as one of the “earliest parts of the country”. His land is second only to Cornwall in yielding the first fresh new potatoes of the year.
Potatoes is only one part of the job for James, who is a second-generation farmer after his father took on the farm in 1955. Back then, the land was deemed ‘Grade Four’ (i.e. poor quality) by the Agricultural Land Classification because of its lack of irrigation – but thanks to developments in technology, it’s now a thriving organic farm, with its coastal location providing handy protection from the frost. Along with the spuds, James grows a rainbow of ten different organic vegetables, including green beans and peas, tasty sweetcorn cobs, bunched carrots, onions, radishes, and a fair bit of parsley that goes off to be dried. Riverford, along with a few other customers, is the lucky beneficiary of much of this bounty – including James’s renowned organic sweetcorn, delivered in its very own leafy natural packaging rather than pointless plastic.
Like any organic grower, one of James’s big challenges is securing enough staff for all the picking and weeding that is done by hand, to keep the pests and weeds at bay without the help of any synthetic chemicals. “If you’re not on the button, you get beaten by the bugs and beasties, so the crop management really has to be top level,” he explains.
In total, Foskett Farms now has around 520 acres of organic land, not all of which is taken up by vegetables – there is an important rotation of grass and clover, as well as other cover crops, that help to repair and maintain soil fertility. James has a few handy tricks up his sleeve to help with weeds, a major headache for organic growers, including a flame weeder (also used by Riverford on our own farm in Devon) which is used to burn off weeds that germinate ahead of the main crop. Energy production is a crucial consideration for any sustainability-minded grower these days, and James’s farm is no different – he’s installed solar panels on ground mounts in some of his fields and uses all the energy generated to help power the farm’s cold stores.
With all the problem-solving around pests, hand-picking and planting, there’s certainly never a dull moment on the farm. As James says: “I like the buzz of organic farming. We’ve got a huge team of people here so the whole place buzzes, especially when the seasonal pickers are here.”