Iain Tolhurst has to be one of the legends of the sustainable, small-scale farming scene. Producing fruit and veg now for over forty years, Tolhurst Organics is not only organic but certified ‘Stock Free’ – and indeed was the first farm in the world to achieve the ‘Stockfree Organic’ status attributed by the Vegan Organic Network. Through such a accolades, Iain is much sought after for his advice on market garden design and practices.
Tolhurst Organics is located on 20 acres of land on the Hardwick Estate just outside the village of Whitchurch-on-Thames in south Oxfordshire. The 900 acre forestry and farming estate is itself organically managed and run by owner, Sir Julian Rose who inherited the family property to become a full-time farmer and convert the entire estate to organic farming methods. He had started this process when he became“caretaker” of the Hardwick Estate in 1966, making him one of the pioneers of this ecological land management system. The process was completed in the early eighties, and included that the woodlands are sustainably managed.
Hardwick is a most appropriate home for Tolhurst Organics which occupies 7 acres in two fields and 2 acres in the 500-year-old walled garden. The site are surrounded by a diverse range of habitats – river meadow, chalk downland, arable fields, pastoral fields with beech and oak woodland. Iain runs the business in partnership with his business associate and co-founder, Lin, and his wife, Tamara. Lin is the plant grower, raising over 100,000 plants every year in the Victorian glasshouse, whilst Tamara ensures the business is on sound administrative and marketing footing, leaving Iain to design all cropping plans, get the seeds, break than mend the machinery, and fight with the weather! The partnership team is supported by a small group of employees, trainees, apprentices and volunteers led by Chris, the farm manager.
The “Stockfree Organic” symbol means that the land has had no grazing animals and no animal inputs to any part of the farm for at least 10 years. Achieved in 2004 it means that all the vital replenishing manure so tailless to any good soil is produced on the farm in the form of organic green manure crops. Iain worked closely with the Vegan Organic Network to develop the standards which actively promote local food production and by removing animal inputs present fewer pathways for microbiological pathogens, in addition to eliminating the need for animal enclosure or slaughter.
Biodiversity is also a vital ingredient to the farm. The team aim to preserve the unique habitat on which they work by appropriate innovative farming methods. Tolhurst Organics have planted the only new farm hedges in the parish for over 100 years, within which are mixed indigenous species of trees and shrubs. Within the 17 acres of field there are over 1800 metres of hedgerow. Other innovations include giving up small areas of land to create pockets of wildlife. This includes being one of the first farms to introduce ‘beetle banks’, strips of land through a field and alongside the crops which are uncultivated and left to nature. The creation of a diverse and dynamic habitat within the fields is all part of a ‘systems approach’ to managing potential pest problems.
Tolhurst Organics produce and distribute around 120 tonnes of vegetables every year direct from the farm. The limited use of fossil fuels is in the form of fuel for small tractors, delivery vehicles and other machinery, whilst electricity usage is estimated to be about the same as the average household. The result of all this is that the total carbon footprint for the business comes to around 8 tonnes, the same as an average house in the UK. Genuinely award winning performance!
Click here to buy the book Unlikely Heroes – the documentary photobook about the current agrarian renaissance in England and Wales, and featuring Tolhurst Organics Partnership.
[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!]