Gold Hill Organic Farm & Shop

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Its another of those young ladies! This time its Laura Norman starring in ‘The Life in a Day of a Soil Association Apprentice’.

Poor Laura, I’d approached her at the Oxford Real Farming Conference about visiting her and making some images. Despite standing up and speaking so well from the conference floor, she had said ‘no’ as she was too shy and still learning. Quite unbeknown to me as to where she was working, I had then approached Gold Hill Organic Farm near Blandford in Dorset about a visit. Co-owner Sara Cross had responded very positively inviting me along when I was next down in the south west. Unfortunately that time co-incided with Sara being away, whilst husband Andrew was particularly camera shy…..so to whom did my visit get delegated? Well, one Laura Norman, who happened to be a residential apprentice at the farm. Have to say it is tribute to Laura’s wonderful energy and persona that she accepted the responsibility with real enthusiasm and was an informative delight to be with around the farm.

The Cross family who have been growing organically in North Dorset for over 25 years and have been organic from the start. Gold Hill was thus one of the very first farms in the south west to gain organic status from the Soil Association. The vegetable growing area covers about eight acres, made up of an acre of ‘minimum tillage’ raised beds for early and late season crops, eight poly tunnels, and six acres of ‘field scale’ vegetables where crops like sweetcorn, summer lettuces and leeks are grown. Andrew grew up at Gold Hill which was then operating as a dairy, helping with the daily milking at 4am. He wanted to take the farm on from his father but didn’t want to keep the cows…..that 4 am start every day? It was through a chance meeting with organic, ‘no dig’, grower Charles Dowding that he was inspired to turn the dairy farm into an organic vegetable farm. Sara joined him later when she came for a job at Gold Hill. Not only did she get the job, but she fell in love with her boss and has been growing vegetables since!

Laura was at Gold Hill part way through her Soil Association apprenticeship The Soil Association is the largest body responsible for organic certification in the UK. It was formed in 1946 with the aim of creating a better world – one where we farm responsibly, eat healthily and live in balance with the environment. Today its work is broadly-focused, accepting that there isn’t one solution to the problems facing our food culture, but in everything it does it champions organic principles and practice with the aim of enhancing the health and vitality of people, farm animals and nature. Its Future Growers scheme offers farm-based practical training for new growers on organic host farms across the UK with six month minimum traineeships and two year apprenticeships in fruit and vegetable production – all as paid on-farm employees. The Future Growers are also supported with seminars and visits organised through the Soil Association office in Bristol.

It was good to see and experience the working of an established organic vegetable farm, and one sufficiently financially sound as to be offering apprenticeship and training to new up coming growers. Such nodes in the alternative farming and growing network provide essential cornerstones for new young entrants to develop their own practice and widen the uptake of ‘proper’ food. The energy and enthusiasm for growing could be felt as a tangible force around the farm. Big thanks to all, but massive thanks to Laura!

For more on Gold Hill, see the farm and shop website.

For more on the Soil Association, see the Association’s website.

[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 , no

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