January is a particularly exciting time of year for us as we welcome a new influx of people on the FarmStart growing training programme hosted at Woodbank Community Food Hub. This year we have a number of people looking to follow on from the growers of years past, expanding the growing area and supplying Manchester Veg People as well as the quickly growing Veg Box People. Andrew (left), Nick C (centre), Nick G (right) and our fourth FarmStarter answer some questions to get to know them better...
What have you experienced that has lead to being involved in the FarmStart programme?
NICK G: I have 15 years experience on an allotment but I wanted to see if I could make the transition to growing commercially.
NICK C: I heard about FarmStart and the Kindling Trust when Helen came to do a talk at Ordsall Hall, where I was undertaking a RHS level 2 horticultural qualification. I felt really inspired by Helen's passion for sustainable food and thought Farmstart sounded like quite a unique opportunity to get involved in learning about and directly growing food sustainably.
The opportunity came just at the right time for me, having worked mostly in corporate environments since graduating from university, I was looking into ways I could start to try to be more genuinely of service to the environment and local communities and thought this sounded like a great opportunity in that respect. Besides that, I love working outdoors and growing, it’s so great to see plants you’ve grown from seeds eventually end up as nutritious and delicious food.
ANDREW: Before FarmStart I worked as a chef for years and then returned to university to study nutrition. Towards the end of the MSc I began reading and becoming interested in the food supply, climate change and organic produce. Wanting to understand more how food is produced and how it can affect the land and the climate as well as my foodie interest really drove me to want to find out more through FarmStart.
FARMSTARTER 4: I have been growing veg for about 12 years and wanting to become part of a wider supply and market network for naturally grown vegetables in south Manchester. My home has a large back garden and is part of a housing co-operative - cooperatives being part of my own approach towards sustaining our lives. I'd like to play a part in developing a co-owned veg growing co-operative, run by and for people and families needing more security, of food and income, in their lives.
What do you hope to learn over the year?
NICK G: The kind of thing that cannot be easily learnt from a book – the time taken to do tasks, the rhythms of growing.
NICK C: I’m particularly interested in seeing how to scale up from home growing to a commercial scale, how to grow in ways that are kind to our environment and to make sure we’re producing top quality veg that people will enjoy.
ANDREW: Everything I can about what is involved in farming, organic certification, marketing and business and if it is possible to expand and start a business, feed more people locally and how this might change the food supply in the UK.
FARMSTARTER 4: I am an older person, so am very keen to remain active and connected to a community - preferably with intergenerational activity, so Kindling's approach is right up my street.
How you think the FarmStart programme fits into the wider context of a sustainable food system?
NICK G: Kindling’s involvement in the food sovereignty movement was a major motivator to do the FarmStart programme. The fact that FarmStart is part of the MVP co-op is very important to me.
NICK C: From people I speak to and articles I have read, it seems there is an increasing number of people who are genuinely interested in buying and eating locally grown organic food. FarmStart offers an opportunity to get people started in growing and selling organic produce locally to supply this increasing demand.
ANDREW: I think FarmStart encourages and promotes the idea of local organic veg growing and supply as well as community interest and input into the food supply. There is land all around cities which could be used to farm produce to feed local populations as well as engage people in the food production and supply. FarmStart is helping to start this and hopefully this will spread.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge?
NICK G: Too early to say. Perhaps the physical challenge.
NICK C: From the bit of growing experience I have, I think there could be a lot of challenges, nature throws a lot at you! Especially looking at the scale of what we’re trying to achieve between us. I think the main thing I try to remember is to stay positive and keep looking to solutions despite whatever challenges may arise.
ANDREW: Initially adjusting to the hard physical work but later im not sure perhaps making decisions about where to take the next step and use the knowledge gained at FarmStart
Who has been your biggest inspiration so far and why?
NICK G: Probably Eliot Coleman – he has stuck to his principles and there are no get-rich-quick promises.
NICK C: I have been quite inspired by reading about the small scale farmer Curtis Stone. He set up a profitable SPIN farm (Small Plot Intensive) through growing veg in people’s gardens in exchange for veg. When I had thought about farming I had never considered it would be possible to turn unused lawn space like this into productive farmland and make a living off this. I think a big barrier to getting started farming can be the up front cost of land, so I really like this model of just making the most of what land we have available, as well as his very practical advice and positive outlook about farming.
ANDREW: Everyone has been great so far, Helen’s (FarmStart Co-ordinator) getting us out in the polytunnels and showing us the ropes and Rob (trainer) is really starting to get us thinking about the more scientific side such as soil and certification.
Visit our FarmStart page to learn more about the programme.