FarmStarter Profile - Simon Duffy

Simon and Emily FarmStart

FarmStarter Profile - Simon Duffy

I currently have a quarter acre plot on the site and this is my second year on the project. Last year we were Test Croppers which meant we were learning the ropes on how to take on the challenge of what for me was a very, very large piece of land. I share the land with my partner Emily and we get help from my teenage daughters ,the Land Army and occasionally friends. I’m from Derry in Ireland originally but I’ve lived in England and mostly Manchester for more than twenty  years. I heard about the project from an article in the local paper. Then I went to see the site and filled in all the forms. I decided that I really wanted to do it and roped my partner Emily into splitting the money to do it. I’m always into new things like this anyway.

Kindling provided courses over the year to learn the many skills I would need like crop rotation, planning, green manures, book keeping and other useful things. We’ve also had an established grower looking at our crops and giving advice. Visits to farms and wholesalers and talks from people with more experience who can mentor you also helped. Things have really progressed on the site from when I first started and it really seems to be coming together and getting better all the time. They are a great bunch of people with a really positive attitude. It’s a great thing to be a part of.                              

I’ve had a small allotment plot for years but mainly just grown stuff to eat myself with the occasional glut that I gave to friends. I learnt a bit from that about growing things but this was another world for me. I’ve wanted to do something like this since I was young and kind of forgot about it until I was older and got the allotment. You might not think a quarter of an acre is large but it is when you aren’t used to it. The farm may near a motorway and planes fly over during the day but it’s actually in a lovely part of Cheshire, not far from Dunham Massey Park on the crest of a hill. You can easily blank out the background noise which isn’t much really anyway, it’s pretty quiet.

At first we kind of just treated it like an allotment, growing onions then parsnips, cabbages, carrots and fennel in small areas. By the end of the first year we had also added spinach, courgettes, beans and leeks into the mix. The soil on the farm is amazing compared to the sticky clay of my allotment and I was surprised when by autumn time we had actual crops. There might not have been a lot but it turned out that we had grown about two hundred kilos of vegetables. This might not seem like a lot but if you think of it in bagged supermarket carrots that is two hundred bags of carrots ! That’s a lot for a small first time grower and considering we only managed to clear and grow on about a quarter of the land it was really positive start.                                                                                                                     

The project has changed how I look at food when I go shopping. I’m a vegetarian and bought a lot of vegetables anyway and I did try and buy from the UK when I could but it makes my blood boil now when I see onions from Australia or carrots from Spain when I know these things can be grown here and be fresher, organic and have a lower carbon footprint. This is what drives me now; to try and produce organic food for the local market that doesn’t have such a bad impact on the environment. The first time we actually sold some of our veg to a Manchester Co op was a proud moment. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat organic food myself all the time and I eat junk food like everyone else sometimes but the more I do this the less I will. When we sit in the field doing some weeding I think,  “Do people even know where their food comes from or even care ?” I’d like to think we are making some sort of small impact.  Sure we have our upsets with slugs, couch grass, weather and bad timing but that’s part of the learning process.

This year we intend to add Salsify and Scorzonera to our crop list and expand the amount we grow. It’s a constant learning process and a source of a deeper fulfilment to me and Emily personally as we get a lot out of it on an almost spiritual level, the connection with the land when you live in the city really chills you out and gives you time to think or just not think and zone out. It’s hard work and I’m not sure where we will end up going. Ideally we would like at least a small-holding but I really would like to be a full time grower sometime in the future if we can get some land and more wheelhoes.

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