This year our new cohort of FarmStarters joined us at Woodbank Community Food Hub. We asked all five of them what inspired them to join the programme, and what they hope to achieve from it in the future.
Here is some of what they said:
Four months into the pandemic I lost my job and I was relieved. For a long time I hadn’t enjoyed sitting behind a desk 9 - 5 four days a week preparing accounts for companies. It was the perfect chance to take some time out and “find myself” (I know - eye roll!!) During this time I became aware of and horrified at the scale of environmental and social injustice, both at home and abroad, and even more horrified that I’d been blinkered for so long. I connected with like minded people and campaigned for green jobs, retrofitting of homes, and free buses as ways of addressing climate change and income inequality.
I came to Woodbank on a members day and loved what I saw and heard. Growing food locally reduces food miles, reduces carbon in the atmosphere, increases biodiversity. Growing organically and veganically is regenerative. Selling through a co-operative rather than direct to supermarkets is a great way to avoid losing profits to shareholders, ensuring a fair price for goods and a fair wage for staff. The FarmStart allows me to imagine a new career or a new way of life.
I work as a software developer and started having the idea of becoming an organic farmer a couple of years ago, but I didn’t know how to get into it. Then, last year I met Helen Woodcock outside Unicorn leafleting for investment in the new farm and she told me about the FarmStart program. One year on and here I am! Although I have come into the program without any growing experience, that has not been a problem. My plans after the course are then to get experience at market gardens or organic farms, voluntary if need be with an eye on landing a job, but more importantly somewhere I can keep learning and understanding both the natural world and how we can live in it in symbiosis.
The damage to nature has become so obvious now that corporations can no longer publicly ignore it. However, they still are able to thwart all attempts at change, lobbying our governments and spewing their propaganda. I have come to believe that our dependence on an increasingly complex system for our basic needs has stripped our political power and connection to nature, and so knowing how to grow our own food marks a crucial step towards extricating ourselves from our suicidal economy and society and regaining perspective and humility in a new world.
I’ve been a keen supporter of local food since getting involved in green student campaigning in the 90s, which included doing cycle deliveries of organic veg boxes, setting up school garden projects, volunteering with WWOOF and establishing (with others) a wholefood shop, run as a worker co-op in Derby (Sound Bites). In recent years my work has taken a different direction and I’ve been working as a community midwife, but I’ve continued to be interested in eating local, preferably organic produce (it feels like one of the most practical and effective things I can do on a personal level to mitigate climate change.)
Throughout, I’ve been an enthusiastic, but very amateur grower of fruit and vegetables, at times in an allotment, but currently in my front garden. Like many people I stepped up my growing during lockdown and increasingly I’ve been wondering whether I could scale up further and set up a little market garden. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to participate in FarmStart which will give me a much better idea of what growing at a bigger scale will entail, and work out whether this is the right step for me. We are just two weeks into the course now, we’ve had a mixture of theory and practical and I’ve been enjoying getting stuck in and muddy. Using the broad fork today was great fun but I’m expecting to be achy tomorrow. It has also been lovely getting to know the other trainees and learning from Helen D, who certainly knows her onions!
One of the reasons I wanted to participate in FarmStart was for my own benefit. A personal goal for some time has been to do physically demanding work, as well as spend more time outside and to learn about growing food in a market garden. My rough initial aim was to involve myself in moving towards a future producing food that will be consumed locally and benefit the immediate community. I have no fixed idea how that might look in practice for me, but as an enthusiastic consumer of locally grown food, I find great joy in the quality and diversity of crops produced by growers, especially those practicing organic and sustainable agriculture.
With almost no growing experience, FarmStart appealed as a perfect access point to lots of information and knowledgeable growers to learn from. I know there will be a lot of learning, listening and hard work, I could not be more enthusiastic about it! It will hopefully become clear as I gather more knowledge of growing and farming organically, where my skills and enthusiasm fit into a future helping to shorten supply chains and produce food with as little negative environmental impact as possible. I feel that the supply of locally, organically grown food has a multitude of benefits, beyond mitigating hunger and I am excited to be part of it.
I’ve been growing veganically for about 20 years in my garden, starting with a few sprouted supermarket potatoes and a couple of tomato plants. For the past 5 years or so I’ve been growing more and a wider range of foods in the garden in practice for eventually getting a small holding or piece of land. Currently all my growing is in beds and planters around the garden, my greenhouse and little orchard. I’ve been trying to work with nature, so I’ve added a pond and bug hotel. I now have dozens of little frogs so slugs and snails are far less of an issue than they were.
I live in the West Pennine Moors near Blackburn with my husband, son, and dog. Up until recently I had a stressful job working in radiation protection and nuclear safety. I’ve moved into a contracting role to free up more of my time to train and develop my growing skills to be able to grow at a commercial scale ready for our next move. The one big benefit of the Covid Pandemic was that there were a lot of training opportunities with courses and conferences being provided online. I’ve studied veganic horticulture, agroforestry techniques, soil regeneration methods amongst others. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to put some of this learning into practice here.
I’ve been following Kindling for a number of years, first hearing about them through the Vegan Organic Network. I took the commercial growers course in 2020 to gain more information on commercial aspects of growing including financial requirements and scaling up production. With my family I’ve volunteered with Kindling, in the community gardens and with the agroforestry project. I’m really looking forward to getting more involved in the growing of a whole range of foods and learning what it takes to do so at a market garden scale; developing new ideas and sharing knowledge with the other FarmStarters.