MANY towns no longer have an independent green-grocer (Shaftesbury, Bridport, Wimborne and Glastonbury are among the lucky ones) but if you have a Somerset or Dorset farmers market locally you will be able to get some of the freshest, most delicious and locally grown vegetables around.
A couple of years ago Somerset Farmers Market organisers were concerned about the future of vegetable growing in the area. Severe unpredictable weather increased the likelihood of crop failures and many local growers felt enough was enough – deciding there surely were easier ways of making a living!
Providing a year-round supply of vegetables for the market is a big deal and for a while there were only a handful of growers in the area who were able to maintain a consistent level of production and a lot of market venues to cover.
Just as things though were looking quite bleak, there was a welcome horticultural renaissance with several new and existing vegetable growers emerging from their polytunnels to sell at the farmers’ markets.
Biodynamic Moonacre Farm, aquaponic specialists Bioaqua and organic Barleywood Kitchen Garden joined the markets adding to the variety available and enthusiastically engaging with customers keen to find out about their growing methods and taste their produce.
The most recent recruit is Radford Mill Farm (www.radfordmillfarm.com), based near Timsbury, who have joined the markets at Keynsham and Yeovil.
Radford Mill Farm, which recently hosted a Frack-Free Festival, protesting at fracking plans for the region and celebrating local music and food, is involved in hosting and training Soil Association apprentices who will help to supply the workforce to guarantee the future of local fruit and vegetable growing. The 110 acre farm has been managed organically by Richard Fox since 1976.
Much of the farm is grassland and leased out for grazing or haymaking while the market garden enterprise focuses on about five acres of land including an orchard, soft fruit fields and six large polytunnels. This arrangement enables a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and salads to be produced year round including their own apple juice from their hand built and operated wooden press.
Radford Mill Farm’s willow withy beds are home to 3,000 willow trees of nine varieties which are used for biofuel, hedging, purifying water and weaving. Encouraging biodiversity is important at the farm and each year native hardwood trees are propagated and planted out, while the Mill itself is being renovated to generate electricity. Until now the farm has been primarily supplying its own farm shop in Picton Street, Bristol. The impetus to become more involved locally has come from the current Soil Association apprentice Lou Coombes who is keen to build a local customer base at the markets and via the vegetable delivery scheme.
Lou’s apprenticeship will last two years and involves a variety of input including of course a great deal of hands on horticulture on the farm where she learns a great deal from her assigned mentor. In addition, Lou has learning materials supplied for self-study to master the theory behind the practice, study days and a number of opportunities to visit and learn from other organic farms in the area.
If you’d like to find out more about the apprenticeship scheme visit www.soilassociation.org/futuregrowers
• Somerset Farmers Market vegetable growers are: Portbridge Farm (Axbridge, Burnham, Wells and Frome Independent markets); Moonacre Farm (Midsomer Norton and Frome Cheese & Grain); Bower Hinton Farm (Crewkerne – and also Levels Best markets at Montacute); Bioaqua Farm (Glastonbury, Keynsham, Frome Independent – and Levels Best); V P Collins of Bromham (Frome Cheese & Grain); Radford Mill Farm (Keynsham and Yeovil); Six Brothers Organic of Baltonsborough (starting in June at Glastonbury.
• Have a look at Somerset Farmers’ Markets’ new website at www.somersetfarmersmarkets. It has been updated to include more information about the organisation, each of the markets and the 100-plus producer members.