Sacrewell Farm is Riverford’s home in the East. We’ve been farming there since 2007; it was the first ‘sister’ farm to our original Devon HQ, Wash Farm. Sacrewell’s fields keep our boxes well stocked with all sorts of different crops across the year – around 30 in total.
“The climate around here is much drier than Devon,” says Nigel Venni, who runs the show at Sacrewell Farm. Peterborough only gets around 22 inches of rain a year, compared to an average of 40 inches for Riverford’s growers in the South West. “That means we grow slightly different things. Shallow-rooted crops like onions and leeks tend to do well, whereas swedes like a wetter climate.”
Despite being such a common ingredient (we’re hard-pushed to name a meal that doesn’t start with the dicing of an onion), onions are one of the most expensive and difficult crops to grow organically. They establish slowly, and are very vulnerable to weeds and mildew. Even supposing they survive their difficult childhoods, the next challenge is getting them harvested and dried, with the set skins and sealed necks that will protect them from disease in store. When we were growing them in soggy Devon, we had some disastrous years – in ’98, the whole crop had to go on the compost heap. Sacrewell has been our oniony saviour; last year, the team harvested an astonishing 224 tonnes of them!
The site has a long agricultural history. Excavations have uncovered clear evidence of a Roman settlement at Sacrewell, with two villas, a corn drier, millstones, pottery and coins. The land seems to have been farmed continuously since that time – until eventually, in the early 20th century, passing to a radical early adopted of intensive farming methods. These methods were brilliant for replenishing diminished food stocks in the wake of World War Two’s scarcity and rationing, but the soil pays a price. The land was farmed intensively between 1930 and 2007, when we got our muddy organic hands on it.
“The farm was in a bit of a state when we took it over,” Nigel says, “but the soil is now in much better condition. It’s very rewarding to see the change.”
The team have worked hard to get “the good insects” established at Sacrewell; they act as natural predators to pest insects, eating them off the crops in exchange for a safe home in our green borders and artificial pesticide-free fields. We also encourage all sorts of other wildlife. Ospreys can often be found fishing at the reservoir, which is stocked with trout; there are also badger sets, and kestrel, owl and bat boxes… “It all helps us work in tandem with nature, rather than working against it,” the team say.
If you’re ever in the area, we’d love you to join us for a visit at Sacrewell Farm, to see (and taste!) our growing veg for yourself. You can book your place on a field walk and picnic here.