FarmStart Abbey Leys is Kindling’s original (and the UK’s first-ever!) farm business incubator, launched in 2013. It's situated on Abbey Leys organic farm, just 15 miles to the south-west of Manchester near Knutsford, on flat, fertile certified organic land.
A three-strong team from Salford make up this year’s new Abbey Leys FarmStart contingent. Brother and sister Sam and Jo plus friend Ashley came to FarmStart with a mix of growing experience between them, including home growing, working on a potato farm and long-term wwoofing in New Zealand.
Jo tells us how it’s going….
“We've just harvested our first vegetables! We sold our first broad beans to Abbey Leys farm and we’ve got plenty more so that should be steady picking every week for a while. Everything else is coming on nicely. We need to get all the weeds sorted where there isn't anything planted and we need to sow the carrots and plant out the rest of the leeks.
We understand even more now than before the importance of looking after the soil and the massive effects growing non-organically has on the environment and wildlife. It’s fascinating learning about the clever, natural ways of protecting crops that make so much more sense than using chemicals. The soil is amazing at Abbey Leys, you can just see the difference in the quality.
We all have full time jobs, Sam has Flexi time and can squeeze some afternoons here and there as well as coming at least once a weekend with Ashley. I work about 4 days a week in a bar so I manage to get down two or three days in the week when I'm off or working in the evening. I try to come at the weekend when we can all get lots done together but it’s a bit difficult with bar work! We all would love to come together more as we motivate each other and can do big jobs, and its always satisfying when at the end of the day we've got some massive tasks out the way. We've managed to bring a couple of friends and family down at the weekend too which has been really helpful. All in all I’d say collectively were putting in about 20-30 hours a week on average.
The scale is the main difference to what we’ve done before. We’re growing enough to actually sell to wholesalers which is exciting. Scaling up brings new tasks with it and Alex has helped so much with any questions such as how to use a rotivator! You also have to think about the quality of the product as it has to be sold so that is quite scary because people won’t buy damaged and discoloured veg!
The advice is endless and all useful…Lindsey and her dad (long-time FarmStarters) have been amazing. They're always at the farm and are always happy to help. Alex has a well of knowledge in his head which we are all in awe of! We follow other farmers on instagram that put up daily posts which is really interesting and we read blogs, magazines and articles such as Modern Farmer which are great. Can’t forget our parents too!
In terms of what we’re enjoying, it’s the two sides to it…on one side we are learning about every part of a setting up an organic market garden/farm from the soil nutrition to setting up a market stall. And on the other, we get to be outside on in the fresh air getting our hands dirty and actually growing vegetables! We’re just chuffed with all of it! It doesn't seem real, the amount that’s actually growing. The kale has turned in to a forest and the beans are climbing the poles! We love going and seeing it grow every week
The hardest part is finding the time we can all go together, and feeling like we’re never quite on top of it all. But when we got a job done, like weeding all the parsnips and beetroots (thanks to Kindling’s Land Army) it’s the most satisfying feeling! I think we knew it would be hard and take up a lot of our time. We all wish we could be there more, but just because we enjoy it so much. I think it would work better if we all did four days a week, but we're definitely managing it!
If you'd like to visit FarmStart and meet some of the growers, join us on a guided walk which stops at FarmStart and ends at the farm with strawberries, tea and cake! Saturday 23rd July 2016. Details here...