Four growing enthusiasts with a whole range of growing experiences are coming together this year on the FarmStart programme to learn on the land at Woodbank park in Stockport. Here Helen, Michelle, Nicola and Georgina share their stories on how they got there, inspirations, and their biggest challenges.
"I work as a veg buyer at Unicorn Grocery Co-op, and have been buying produce grown by FarmStarters for the past couple of years. I have always been so impressed with the quality of the veg, especially considering it’s grown by people who are new to commercial farming.
I often caught myself gazing out the window wondering if I could do it, and the idea kept growing until one day I decided that I could. I realized that its people like me, with a passion for organic growing and strong belief in food ethics that need to just go for it and become part of the shift towards small-scale, sustainable farming in the UK. To have this training take place on a site only 20 minutes cycle away from my home just seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn what it takes by doing the job alongside those in the know.
I have been growing organic fruit and veg on an allotment plot for the past eight years; before that I was growing in containers in any spare bits of the garden or yard where-ever I was living. I have developed a deep respect for the soil and consider myself an advocate of no-dig methods, permaculture and biodynamic principles.
My mother was a great inspiration; I didn’t realize until after she died how much I absorbed from her. She loved gardens and was always bringing something fascinating home from her walks to teach me about the natural world. It’s a love of nature which led me to appreciate the organic way of growing food. My biggest challenge will probably be balancing the course with my work schedule. Both are quite physically demanding so I’m wary about burning out. I know it will be worth it when I am harvesting my own crops one day, and selling them in my store the next."
"I grew up in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire and 4 years ago I decided to move to Ireland to live a self-sufficient life with my 3 children. I had an acre of land and no previous growing experience and when I was faced with the task for growing food for my family, there was never any question about doing it Organically. My passion for growing food started there; I got a polytunnel and started clearing the land and putting it into fruit and vegetable production. I then decided to attend an Organic Horticulture and Sustainable Living course in order to further my knowledge and gain some practical experience. I first heard about FarmStart at a grower’s conference in Ireland and I thought it was an amazing and progressive project to have available in Manchester. Now that I am back in the UK it seemed like the natural next step for me to take and the perfect opportunity for me to get back into growing Organic food and to also be surrounded by like-minded people.
My biggest inspiration is my 22-year-old son, Jordan. He was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour at 3 years of age and underwent a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Although successful in preventing the tumour from spreading, Jordan was consequently left with learning difficulties, kyphosis and mobility issues. However, despite everything he has been through and the challenges he faces daily, he never complains. He is upbeat, has a great sense of humour and never lets his disabilities prevent him from doing anything. He has taught me what true strength is and reminds me that despite any struggles I may have, there are so many positive things to focus on.
My biggest challenge this year will be juggling being a single parent whilst doing the course. This will be particularly difficult during school holidays and the long summer days when the growing season is in full swing. I hope I can find a balance that works for myself and my family as I would like to make the most of the opportunity I have been given. I’m most looking forward to working outside with nature again and working with other people who share the same passion as me. I can’t wait to get stuck in and have that direct relationship with food production."
"The importance of food sovereignty and the right for everyone to have access to nutritious food grown in healthy soil was a big part of why I wanted to change careers into organic veg production. I’d heard Chris speak at the future growers conference in Ireland and was so impressed with all the different facets of the Kindling Trust- I’d always figured in time I’d connect with other small growers dedicated to the same thing but felt I could make a more powerful impact by being part of this collective that was challenging the current food system. The real clincher for me was their future plans for the agroforestry farm.
My family have always been keen growers and my parents had a small commercial flower farm in Australia. I spent a year in Ireland attending An tIonad Glas, a fantastic organic college aiming to teach people to grow to organic standards with subjects covering the standards themselves, soil science, pest & diseases, plant science, and practical growing of fruit and veg, cultivations and weed management etc.
My parents are my biggest inspiration for just having a go at something if you think it’ll make you happy. Through their lives they’ve tackled some pretty awesome challenges -they built their own yacht to sail around the world! They also left successful careers to work a small holding. I got a sense of how the workload changed over the seasons and an insight into the difficulties of growing in the harsh Australian conditions with all the floods and droughts with many other learning curves along the way.
My biggest challenge is definitely the physical aspect. I’ve not been very active over the last couple of years so I’m a bit unfit. I’ll need to build the stamina to do the demanding work without straining anything.
I’m looking forward to loads of knowledge share and inspiration from fellow students and other growers we get to meet, as well as gaining technical skill and maybe the confidence to be a little more active in campaigning for a just and ecologically sustainable society."