A few miles downstream along the Calder Valley from Nick Green’s Incredible Farm is another plot in a remarkable location. The land here is worked by a determined young lady called Ash, and is one of two operations which together constitute Sagar Lane Market Gardens.
Ash’s land is in fact up on the Peninne hillside alongside Hebden Bridge (the Bohemian capital of Yorkshire?) at 800 feet above sea level, just beyond the hamlet of Horsehold. It’s an ‘interesting’ place climate-wise at the best of times – thin soil, north facing, high rainfall, windy, short season. You name it and if its inclement its got it! Ash is here because at the time she was looking for land it was available at a price that was in keeping with the level of income that can be derived from sustainable local food production. The fact that she is now established here and producing enough food from which to make a living speaks volumes, as with many of the people I visited on my travels, for her determination to be a grower.
Like a small number of other growers I visited Ash is also, by choice, not registered organic with the Soil Association, preferring to see her practices as ‘beyond organic’ and arguing that many practices which are permitted within organic standards would harm the site and its wider environment. Instead, people are invited to come and visit and judge her practices for themselves, as in, for example, pesticide sprays not being used in any form – even those allowed by organic standards – but rather pests dealt with largely by hand, using companion planting, and encouraging songbirds which eat caterpillars, ladybirds which eat aphids etc..
Despite it location, the site does have the protection of a belt of trees around the perimeter, these not only significantly protect from the wind and allow a polytunnel to survive on site. Amazingly the tress are the work of others who have in turn sought to build a business here prior to Ash’s appearance. One such person is Oli Rodker, now of the Ecological Land Cooperative, an organisation set up to address the lack of affordable sites for ecological land based livelihoods in England by acquiring land and renting it out at prices that are of the same order as incomes that can be derived from rural livelihoods. It’s a tough ask, but one in which ELC is having some success from it small office on the south coast – but has not yet extended to buying in the north of England yet!
So, it is that Ash produces some amazing crops through innovative land management of her upland domain, and can only dream of what she could do with some lovely fertile loam. Before we all get too hung up about the difficulties, lets just think for a moment of the positives and the determination and commitment which lies behind, and drives, Ash’s business. Inspirational is word which shouldn’t be used lightly but which seems entirely appropriate here.
Given the relatively small size of the plot and the difficulties in growing there, Ash has linked up with Sarah, another small-scale grower working close by, in terms of them selling their produce under the joint umbrella of Sagar Land Market Gardens. Sara’s story must wait for another day….but she grows on plot another 200 plus feet higher up than Ash! They breed them tough in West Yorkshire!!
For more on Sagar Lane Market Gardens, double click on the link. For more on Ecological Land Coop, double click on the link. For more general reading on land ownership in Britain, see articles in New Statesman and the Guardian, or, if you get hold of a copy, ‘Who Owns Britain‘ by Kevin Cahill.
You will also find Ash – and Sarah – on the walls of Dean Clough Mills Galleries in Halifax as part of the Unlikely Heroes exhibition on show there from 11th February to 23rd April 2017. Opening private view is 12 noon to 2:00 pm on the 11th Feb. Do come along if you can. All welcome. Plus both are featured in the book of the same name which documents my visits to alternative farmers and growers in hard copy. It is currently available at a pre-launch discount, see the book webpage.
[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!]