Sarah and Ash each run one of two geographically-separate market garden sites high in the Pennine Hills above the Calderdale market towns of Todmorden and Hebden Bridge. This is really growing on the wild windswept slopes of the Pennines!
Ash opts for a site at a mere 800 feet above sea level, and bordered by trees, so she can grow ‘tender’ things like salad leaves. Sarah is bold and works over 1100 feet up on the moors, ‘specialising’ in ground veg which the wind can’t reach! The two ladies join forces in supplying the surrounding towns with local organic fruit and veg as Sagar Lane Market Gardens.
Innovative growing is needed on both sites as they seek to build soil health using permaculture principles whilst also experimenting in response to their unique conditions. Sarah, for example, has found in her unique situation that spreading a layer of hay – freely available up in Calderdale – and planting directly into it, works wonders in terms of land fertility and crop protection. They are located in ‘interesting’ places 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! However, when needs must and you want to be a grower, the price of land can force you to take up these sort of sites. The fact that they are now established and producing enough food from which to make a living speaks volumes for their determination to be a growers
Like a small number of other growers I visited they are 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 their practices for themselves, as in, for example, pesticide sprays not being used in any form – even those allowed by organic standards. Instead pests dealt with largely by hand, using companion planting, and encouraging songbirds which eat caterpillars, ladybirds which eat aphids etc..
The two ladies linked up in terms of selling their produce under the joint umbrella of Sagar Land Market Gardens given the relatively small size of the plots and the difficulties in growing there,. They breed ’em tough in West Yorkshire!!
For more on Sagar Lane Market Gardens, double click on the link. Also there is an earlier report on Feeding Body and Soul from when I met Ash – click here. 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 featured in Unlikley Heroes, my book which documents my visits to alternative farmers and growers. To buy, see the book page
[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!]