Chris Wakefield has overseen the growing at Riverford on Upper Norton Farm for over ten years. “All planting and harvesting is done by hand, on hands and knees,” Chris says. “Last year, we cut and bagged over 140,000 bags of herbs, 1,300kg of chillies and 20,000 Butterhead lettuces. Small scale in the scheme of things, but from just a handful of people it feels like quite an achievement!”
Since taking over the site, Chris and his teammates have worked hard to improve the soil as much as possible. Only a spade’s depth down is quite solid chalk, mixed with what Chris calls ‘Hampshire diamonds’, also known as flint. The land is free draining, which works well for herbs that originate in the Mediterranean.
Like all of Riverford, Upper Norton is 100% organic. “Around the farm and between the polytunnels, we encourage areas of nettle and other wildlife to attract wildlife and beneficial insects. And it works; we get plenty of ladybirds and hoverflies that help control aphid populations,” Chris says.
“We regularly have school visits to see all the wonderful aromatic and flavoursome herbs we grow. I say, ‘Weeds aren’t bad plants – they’re just plants in the wrong place.’”