the big idea
When organic vegetables really got going in the nineties my first response was to form a co-operative of local farmers to keep up with demand. As our box scheme took off in the early noughties it became apparent that there was far more demand than we could sensibly supply from our Devon farms, so I started looking for farming partners in the traditional horticultural areas willing to work with other local growers to supply their region. This proved to be much harder than I had anticipated; traditional farmers would rather invest in land and tractors and the old school organic die-hards were a little suspicious of my motives. The idea seemed to appeal more to entrepreneurial, money-minded farmers whose motives I tend to be a little suspicious of. Doing these sorts of deals is like dogs meeting on the beach; a lot of bottom sniffing has to be done! We wanted partners who shared our values and knew about growing organic vegetables. They had to be in it for the long-term and be motivated by looking after their staff and the environment as much as by making money from growing wonderful vegetables.
First, in 2005, came River Nene at Sacrewell Farm on the edge of the Fens. Sacrewell is a trust devoted to educating the public about what farmers do and why. 35 acres are run as a farm attraction providing tours to schools and the general public. We have taken a twenty year tenancy on the remaining 500 acres. The land has been converted using grass clover leys and will be in full production next year. We have built a dedicated, state of the art pack house to grade, store and pack fruit and vegetables from Sacrewell and a group of local farms for delivery in the East Midlands and East Anglia. See www.rivernene.co.uk for more details.
Next, in 2007 came River Swale on Peter Richardson