Growers & makers

Antony & Mary Coker

The Cokers run Home Park Farm where Antony and Mary farm organic vegetables and sheep in a traditional mixed system.

The Coker family has a long history in South Devon. They have owned Home Park Farm (just a few miles from Riverford’s own Devon home) since 1897, and the family can be traced in the area as far back as 1550. The current Coker is Antony, who – together with his wife Mary – converted all 100 acres of Home Park to organic; having a long history doesn’t mean you can’t be cutting edge. Antony operates a solar-powered weeding robot - we want one!

Home Park Farm has south-facing slopes (“They’re steady,” says Antony affectionately), where Antony and Mary farm vegetables and sheep in a traditional mixed system. They went organic in the 1980s, in the early days of the movement. Ethically, the decision to convert was a simple one; in Antony’s view, farmers have gone too far down the chemical road, and it’s time to start turning back. His genuine passion for working in harmony with nature is clear; “Organic farming comes from the heart,” he says.

In 1997, Antony became a founder member of the South Devon Organic Producers co-operative (SDOP). Like all the best projects, the co-op was dreamed up in a conversation down the pub. Riverford’s Guy Singh-Watson was struggling to grow enough veg to fill his increasingly popular organic veg boxes. He realised that a co-operative would allow small organic farmers across Devon to share knowledge, equipment and a pool of skilled staff – and that Riverford could be their main customer. Over 20 years since Guy founded it, the SDOP has gone from strength to strength, becoming the largest organic grower co-op in the UK. It’s enabled a host of family farms to not just survive, but thrive, and facilitated the conversion of hundreds of acres of land to organic. Antony has remained a vital member from the very start.

Organic courgettes from Antony's farm
Home Park Farm's fields are full of flavoursome courgettes, sugar snap peas, leeks, cabbages, runner beans, French beans and broccoli.

Antony and Mary’s fields have medium loam soil – which is ideal for growing vegetables. A brief soil lesson: loam is a mix of sand, clay and silt. Large sand particles provide good aeration and drainage, small particles make clay denser and rich in nutrients, and happy-medium silt helps the other two mix and bind together. The result is a nutrient-rich, beautifully crumbly and loose soil that holds moisture well without becoming water-logged. On the edge of Dartmoor, between 350 and 550 feet above sea level, Home Park Farm’s fields get plenty of rain, too: 60-80 inches per year, compared to a national average of 45 inches. South-facing for sunlight… All in all, it’s a happy situation for a farmer.

“I wouldn’t grow anything I don’t like to eat myself,” says Antony. That means fields full of flavoursome courgettes, sugar snap peas, leeks, cabbages, runner beans, French beans and Calabrese broccoli, as well as a flock of 200 merrily roaming sheep to provide tender organic lamb for our meat boxes.

One of the main reasons Antony believes the Riverford box scheme became such a success is the short route the produce takes from the farms to your doors – and that it introduces people to food they may not otherwise eat, creating a more varied and healthier diet. We couldn’t have done it without Antony, helping keep our boxes bountiful year-round for decades.

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