October 2020: Creating a Greener World.
As Autumn rolls around again at Heron’s Green Farm we’ve had an enjoyable few weeks watching our organic pigs reach maturity. What started out as more or less a hobby, with only a couple of sows, has grown into a full blown pasture fed pork project.
Pigs are a hardy but lovable animal that enjoy nothing more than a scratch and a roll in their mud bath. At the farm we’re now pleased to boast a mix of traditional breeds including pedigree Saddlebacks, rare breed Large Blacks and Tamworths which all grow slower and live longer than commercial pigs. These attributes are a perfect compliment to our organic farm and just like our cowherd, the pigs spend most of their year outdoors where they can root and forage.
By managing our own livestock in this way, it means that when we sell our pork to our customers at MeatBox we can confidently say exactly what goes into each product. Our pigs eat a homegrown diet with no soya and feed from our own crops that we grow each year and put into a round bale forage mix. If you’d like to try any of our pasture fed pork, we’re busy making Christmas Hams & Bacon which will be available to order very soon.
I’ve also recently joined the Greener World certification scheme which will complement the farm’s Organic and Pasture For Life statuses as we continue to develop our regenerative approach. This new scheme, which was started in America and is now taking root in the UK, is designed to help farmers stick to a code of conduct rooted in sustainable practises and land stewardship. My goal is to utilise our farmland to its maximum potential without over producing. The overall aim being to restore our environment by enriching the soil and at the same time create sustainably produced food to the feed our part of the nation.
As Brexit and new international trade deals loom ahead of us, I’m feeling very protective of our farming rights, which is why I want to ensure that our shared values of high welfare production and regenerative agriculture are maintained. Last week the House of Lords voted in favour of a new amendment to the Agriculture Bill which would strengthen the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. This would allow them to go further to protect British food standards as new trade deals come to the table. As the bill now goes back to the House of Commons to be debated, it’s so important that we keep pressure on MPs to protect British Farms & our home-grown food industry.
August 2020 Newsletter.
For several years my vision for the farm has been to make it Regenerative. That may sound like a nothing buzz word, but in reality I believe it’s an essential style of farming that strives to put back into the land what we take out of it. Ultimately the goal is to create a sustainable ecosystem by using the soil to reduce the effects of climate change.
As I watch the rhythms of summer play out across the farm; witnessing our pigs forage through the hedges and the swallows dart around the cows, dipping in to grab insects, it makes me proud to see our farm as a living, breathing part of the Somerset countryside. This hasn’t always been the case though, as previous generations of my family, along with many others in the 80s & 90s didn’t see things in quite the same way. Big agriculture, along with supermarket power meant that for years the British countryside wasn’t farmed sustainably. This ultimately meant that the soil - the life blood of this fragile ecosystem - lost its nutrient rich qualities.
Since changing our own approach to farming, more than a decade and a half ago, regenerating the soil has been at the forefront. Healthy sustainable soil creates healthy crops full of nutrients, which then feed our animals who roam freely, dropping their nutrient rich waste back into the land. This cycle is the first step in Carbon Sequestration which ultimately means that carbon is being stored in the land rather than in the atmosphere, which mitigates the effects of global warming.
So basically, the quality of our soil is very, very important!!
As the nation starts to move on from Covid-19 I’m still regularly asked how it effected the farm and our other ventures. As many know, we were unable to go ahead with Valley Fest this year, which is our prime opportunity to show-off the farm whilst enjoying a countryside knees-up. Next year’s event is already deep in the plan stages however with headliners Travis, Goldfrapp & Deacon Blue just announced.
At the butchers we launched our online delivery service which enabled us to keep going through lockdown until we could get the shops open again and on the farm, things continued as normal. The grass still needed to be cut for winter silage, the piglets were still born and the cows continue to grow.
What has changed is that we saw a spike in the purchase of local produce from ourselves and neighbours, such as The Community Farm and their organic veg scheme. This was fantastic, as shopping local is an incredibly easy way to support regenerative farming techniques, as it reduces the milage on food and supports local suppliers.
Unfortunately what you tend to get in the supermarket is still produced through mass farming methods where the soil is a secondary concern. So the best way to encourage sustainability, promote change and support carbon neutral farming is through your pocket.
Our daily choices have never mattered more, as farmers or consumers, so make it your mission to play a role in shaping the future.
P.s. If you’d like to know more about Valley Fest 2021, or to buy a ticket, click here.
June 2020 Newsletter.
I want to use this month’s newsletter to speak to you about an issues that’s really close to my heart. A couple of weeks ago the government rushed through a new Agricultural Bill after MPs failed to support an amendment which would have banned low standard food imports from entering the UK. The amendment would have guaranteed that all imported food post-brexit match up to the UK’s high standards for the environment, for food safety & for animal welfare. The consequences of this are that overall it will reduce the quality of food that is sold in the UK and will put pressure on produces like myself to either lower production standards or face significant finical hardship - which is a hell of a choice for those of us who put high welfare production at the forefront of our values.
As an organic farmer I believe that the only way to protect our planet and to give our children a chance at a sustainable future is to farm with a regenerative approach. It has taken nearly four decades to try and put right the wrongs of the past and to lessen the reliance on industrial scale agricultural systems. So for the government to now turn around and allow low standards of food to be imported just seems simply wrong to me. I don’t often push a political agenda, but if you’re reading this you’re probably someone who also cares about this issue. Therefore, I humbly ask that you click on the link below and sign the NFU petition before the UK begins to negotiate trade deals with countries who will be able to import food to a standard that was previously illegal here. https://www.campaigns.nfuonline.com/page/56262/petition/1
It’s made me sad and angry to think that all the hard work our sector has done over the years to promote local & sustainable food could be undercut by big business. Which is why continuing to use your local suppliers & small producers as the lockdown is lessened, has never been more important.
At MeatBox we continue to seek out new high-welfare farmers to work with as our demand increases and we are so lucky to live in an area where so many share these values. This month I’d like to highlight the beautiful pasture fed lamb we are getting from Andy Wier at Fernhill Farm. His stewardship of the land with so many animals is truly remarkable and it produces a product with an incredible flavour.
Also this month, we’ve been working closely with the team at Dig the Valley; a new(ish) resource for suppliers in and around the Chew Valley. You can visit them here.
May 2020 Newsletter.
The last 7 weeks have given me the time to take stock of the world around me; to pause and reflect on those small elements of family life that I usually take for granted.
Our family’s tasks over the past few weeks have all involved food and its origins. The children and I have been busy in our vegetable plot, planting a raised bed for the first time and working the manure from our animals into the soil. I wanted to teach them about the natural food cycle; where the sun and rain feed the crops, which are eaten by our animals as they graze in our grassland. Their waste then enriches the soil with their nutrients, which we add to our compost to aid the growth of our harvest crops. It’s our scaled down way of explaining to them why we produce food with a mixed farm approach, using crops and animals to enhance our soil sustainability.
I’ve always believed that our fate as a civilisation is tied to the land and it’s health, with the soil being our single greatest asset. The next generation need to understand that building a healthy soil is an important method of generating life and minimising the effects of carbon on climate change. That’s why the simple act of teaching my kids how to grow their very first plant is also the first step in teaching them about food cycles and putting back into the soil what you get out of it.
As we start to get our first glimpses of summer sun, our other highlight at the farm is the arrival of 16 new piglets. It’s been a joy to watch the excitement on my youngest’s face as she watches them grow up so quickly. We’ve also planted 40 acres of crops and have even enjoyed the rain that we’ve had, which is helping with germination.
At the butchers we have been working tirelessly to make deliveries both locally and nationwide. I’ve even found myself doing a regular delivery route; a job that has given me a new found respect for the all those out there trying to find an address without phone service! It’s been humbling to drive to so many houses across the region and meet customers new & old.
Ever the optimist, I am hoping that we’ll be able to welcome you back to the farm as soon as possible, reopening our doors for weddings, events and even a festival. Eventually we will be on the otherwise of these times of uncertainty and I’m so excited for a future where our community continues to help each other in building a more resilient landscape of food, farming and sustainable eating.
April 2020 Newsletter.
As I sat down to write this newsletter, I realised that the last one I wrote was in 2016. It shocked me how long it’s been, but as the world seems to be turning upside down, I’ve managed to carve out a little bit of free time for such things and it’s made me realise how important communication still is. One lesson I think we’re all learning, amidst a pandemic, is how precious our relationships with people are and how important it is to call, write or even video chat, just to touch base when we can. The other take-away that I’m noticing, is the sheer positivity & productivity that flourishes in the South West countryside, as it’s become a thriving, tweeting hive of connectivity. Personally, my job has not stopped; the livestock still need to be feed, the crops still need to be planted and the meat boxes still need to be delivered.
The glorious weather, that timed so perfectly with the lockdown, was a blessing for us farmers. After a long wet autumn and winter we are finally able to get out and work longer, as the mornings and evenings get lighter. In recent weeks we’ve managed to get our winter crop forage mix into the ground, let the pigs back out into the woodland and finally let our new cows and calves out to pasture. I think one of my favourite moments of the year is seeing them let out after winter. The calves realising their freedom for the first time and gambolling towards the fields where they will spend the next few years grazing on the lush green, green grass of home.
This time of year always comes with extra challenges, as all stock fencing needs to be checked and replaced if necessary. Along with the checking of water toughs to ensure that they are leak proof and clear of algae. This spring also sees the knock-on effects of a poor 2019 growing season, which meant our silage quality was not what we had hoped for. Then the corvid-19 pandemic created an unexpected demand at the butchers, which has meant both ourselves and our other local farmers are working round the clock to keep up.
Our delivery service has tripled in recent weeks for wholesale and retail customers across Bristol, the Valley & beyond. This came as a huge relief for us, as it’s meant we could keep the shops open and our staff employed. The increase in mail orders also meant it was time to fast-track the launch of our new website and I worked day and night with our developers to get it up and running. Since then, we’ve also opened a new shop on Worle High Street. A project that was in the works since Christmas, but again, plans had to be changed due to the current state of things. Right now we’re working hard to streamline all three shops and have combined our ordering platforms into one place: www.meatboxshop.com.
Our other partners are being challenged by the pandemic as well and The Community Farm has seen a huge spike in customer requests. It’s wonderful to see folk turning to local and sustainable projects at the moment but again the sudden increase in customers has meant they’ve had to develop new supply chains and working strategies for their volunteers, especially as spring is their peak planting season. As of Friday 17th April, they’ve re-opened their website and are allowing weekly registration slots for new customers, which is brilliant to see.
Valley Fest, our summer festival, is still on track to happen at the very end of July, as the event sits outside all current lockdown projections. We’re keeping our fingers & toes firmly crossed and the team continue to work hard in the background to bring you a proper summer knees up.
Go well, stay safe and stay connected,