The first time I visited Chagford Community Market Garden was a dark dank day with the mist rolling around the lower slopes of Dartmoor as the team gathered the last of the season’s leeks. In stark contrast the weather for my second visit could not have been better as a bright sun beamed out of a blue early autumn sky. One of those days when you were blessed to be alive.
Chagford Community Market Garden – or Chagfood for short – is run by Ed Hamer and partners Chinnie and Yssy (Ed’s wife). They have been working the land together at Rushford Mill Farm since 2010. Their 5 acres or so is used to produce organic vegetables, herbs, and flowers, many of which are not widely available elsewhere. They try to follow ecologically-sensitive methods and this includes using only people and horses to produce the required mechanical power for the farm – indeed Ed is well known in Land Worker Alliance circles for his fine skills in working with horses (see my Farm Hack post). Today though was a picking day with Ed and team supplemented by trainees and volunteers in picking the late summer crops for the 100 or so veg boxes they supply each along along with shop orders around the locality. It’s a crop-share enterprise, and volunteering on the farm can – so I am reliably told by the volunteers – reduce the price paid for local organic vegetables to less than that for factory-farmed imported produce in the local supermarket.
As such Chagfood is one of the growing number of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) schemes across the UK that directly connect consumers and the farmers who produce their food. In such a model of farming, customers commit to support a farm financially for an entire season by paying for their produce either up front or by monthly direct debit. Its this pre-payment that from the farmer’s point of view allows them to farm in a more low-input ecological way. In return the members have a direct connection to the people and the fields producing their food and the opportunity to get involved with how their food is produced.
At Chagfood, members are offered a ‘share’ of the harvest over the entire growing season for a set price. This means that in a good year when the crops grow particularly well members share in a bountiful harvest. It also means that in bad year when there are crop losses the same members accept a slightly smaller/lower quality share of the harvest. Either way it gives a direct connection for members of the public to whatever is ‘in season’ and on the your doorstep every week of the year as well as how the weather and climate affects the farming output. Put simply its about consumers & farmers sharing the rewards and the risks of farming between them.
As on my first visit, I felt privileged to be part of the banter and kinship of a great team for a few hours, leaving little doubt that such camaraderie is as much part of the package as fresh, organic veg at a reasonable price….even if the clouds did come over by the time I needed to move on to my next visit. Old School Farm at Dartington. Watch this space!
NOTE: Ed is also renown these days for having had an reasonably receptive conversation with Michael Gove when he presented the Environment Secretary with a copy of the Land Workers Alliance policy proposals for Post-Brexit farming! Of late Gove is certainly talking about the UK land having only 40 years worth of harvests left in it using current factory farming techniques. Well done Ed, masterful communicating!!!
[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]