Between August 11th and 15th a group of 23 organic growers and advisers from Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Sweden visited organic vegetable growers in the South of England. The visit was organised by the Swedish Board of Agriculture, in conjunction with Garden Organic and the Organic Research Centre. The tour was led by Phil Sumption.
The focus of the tour was on extending the season, with a particular interest in protected cropping in polytunnels and greenhouses, but also on innovative marketing and diversified production. The group started the tour in Oxford where they visited the South Oxford Farmers & Community Market and also saw Cultivate Oxford’s Veg Van. This was followed by lunch at the Vaults & Garden Cafe and a look around some of the city centre supermarkets, where they struggled to find organic produce.
Day two was taken up mainly by an inspiring visit to Tolhurst Organic Produce to see agroecological principles in action. Highlights were Tolly’s use of green manures, the composting of woodchips for use in growing media and to introduce woodland fungi into the fields, and his approach to weed and pest control. His encouragement of biodiversity was evident in the teeming insect life, including many different butterfly species on the mixed legume leys. On leaving Hardwick, the group traveled to the True Food Community Cooperative in Reading to see an innovative way of bringing organic food to the community. Read Anna Louise Batchelor’s blog on the visit here
On day three the group visited two contrasting farms in Gloucestershire which looked on paper to be quite similar, as both are large mixed organic farms with market gardens and award-winning farm shops. The first visit was to Daylesford Organic Farm, where the visit focused on the polytunnel production and the fabulous farm shop. The organic farm and shop at Daylesford are part of a much bigger operation that encompasses an estate in Staffordshire and shops in London (including Selfridge’s food hall) and Tokyo! In contrast, Abbey Home Farm is a family operation, but no less impressive in its own way. The market garden and farm shop/cafe are run together as a business, separate from the farm.
Day four saw the group travel, from the overnight stop in Bournemouth, to the Isle of Wight and the UK’s largest grower of organic tomatoes Wight Salads, a very professional and large scale operation with it’s own state of the art composting facility to provide fertility.
The final day’s visit was to Hankham Organics a diversified box scheme operating out of a 0.7ha glasshouse, with 1ha of outdoor cropping. Theirs is an unheated glasshouse, concentrating on extending the season by growing a wide range of crops early and late in the year.
To see photos of the trip go to our Flickr page
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