You can’t get a more dramatic demonstration of passion and commitment to the one I saw at Moss Brook Growers near Manchester. Here Stuart, Rob and Carl lease land owned by the whole food supermarket, Unicorn. Based in Manchester, Unicorn is a co-operative of some 70 workers, all of whom receive the same pay, which has been an outstanding success in opening up a market for good local organic food. Among other things, the growth has enabled the co-operative to buy land locally with aim of increasing the security of supply amidst uncertainties like rising fuel prices, and to expanding the model of feeding an urban population in the most sustainable way. Its 21 acres of prime growing land at Glazebury, just under 14 miles from the shop.
The land was purchased by Unicorn in the autumn of 2008. For the first year and a half they managed the land themselves, turning a rough hay meadow into something more productive and started the process of converting the land to organic status, becoming fully organic in 2010. The same year, a 10 year tenancy was signed with Moss Brook Growers, a then new co-operative set up by two Unicorners – Stuart & Rob – plus mate Carl and who took on the challenge of establishing a brand new thriving vegetable farm.
Its a flat, low lying area in the midst of a bigger arable farming area. On a January morning it can though be an eerie looking place. Finding the three guys and several of their volunteer helpers for the day – all from Unicorn – in the bleak wintry vastness was a strange experience!
Some incredibly hard work first from Unicorn co-op members and especially the Moss Brook guys have though started to transform bare open pasture with, for example, a 200 sq metre timber barn to store machinery, pack produce and have a cup of tea, a borehole and irrigation system, a connection to the national grid with 60 solar panels generating power for the irrigation system and to sell back to the grid, hundreds of metres of native hedging planted to provide a rich habitat for birds and small mammals, a compost toilet for staff, volunteers and visitors, and, a rough track to move tractors and machinery around the farm!
Things have though not always run smoothly. In 2012 they were hit with one of the worst growing seasons in living memory, with the relentless rain causing devastation for even the most established farmers. They also suffered disruption to soil and drainage from an outside contractor.
Put it all together and the result is that they have struggled to develop a financially sound business whilst operating within the complexities of what is still, despite the efforts of Unicorn, a fragile, niche market. (Well before I got there!!), the decision had therefore been taken to not plant up for the 2015 season but to use the time to travel around the country to research better business models, particularly in terms of crop schema. A quite awe inspiringly bold decision. And, as if taking time out – unpaid of course – wasn’t enough, when I was there, alongside doing some of the last picking for the 2014/15 winter season, they were busy planting fruit trees – something which would not come to meaningful productivity for several years – around the edges of the fields. Boy, oh boy is that not passion and commitment or what!
For more see Moss Brook Growers
For more on Unicorn see Unicorn Co-op
[Double clicking on any of the images below will open up that image up in a slideshow format. You can then run the slide show using ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. Personally I prefer to go also to full screen having opened the slide show – F11 on my PC, don’t forget to get out of full screen is the same button , not ESC!]