James Kightley - 27 May 2011
Where to start? Well, hello! This is exciting, I've never blogged before and following in Kate's distinguished ex magazine publishing footsteps it's fair to say I'm slightly nervous. Expect spelling and grammar errors, inaccuracies, and the odd shaggy dog story, but I promise to try my best to stay on topic. I hope this blog is going to try and serve a few purposes, firstly as a bit of a record of the passing seasons, jobs on the farms and what's got me excited this particular month. Secondly as a resource for potential Apprentices to see what they might be letting themselves in for and thirdly as an outlet for my ever evolving thoughts about about sustainable food production, organic, and the dilemas that face apprentices, businesses and the consumer when it comes to food.
You'll see from my biog above that my path into farming has been far from conventional (in any sense of that word) and I feel really priviliged that the Apprenticeship scheme has given me the opportunity to find a way in. The long and short of it is that having worked for the Soil Association for the last 5 years in various management roles and having met so many inspiring businesses along the way I realised that if I was going to walk the walk as well as talk the talk then I needed to know about organic from the ground up. I'm also much happier outdoors and having spent the best part of those five years, in an office or a car I knew that I wanted to reconnect with fresh air and experience the elements (I appreciate its very easy to say this after weeks of wall to wall sunshine) and see if I'm made of the right stuff to be a farmer.
So it all started five weeks ago, I think uniquely for the Apprenticeship scheme I'm working across two farms. I live and work on Merricks Farm, a 30 acre horticultural holding, and also work at Glebe Farm Pitney, a 150 acre mixed farm with pigs, sheep, cattle and laying hens. Both farms sell through their own farm shops as well as to local shops and restaurants and both are within a short distance of Langport in the heart of Somerset. That (and their organic approach) is about where the similarity ends, and having just spent the weekend looking round Helen Browning's farm and Abbey Home Farm near Cirencester for the Apprenticeship weekend I think it's fair to say that no two organic farms are the same, and if you choose to be an Apprentice your experience will be as different as the farms are.
Five weeks have flown by and things are really starting to grow now, the onions I helped plant in my first weeks are well established and looking good (touch wood) the lettuces leaves are being picked for salad bags, the first tiny courgettes and early carrots have been eaten at Glebe and exciting green things like pea shoots are starting to supplement the over wintered and early veg at Merricks. Not too many seedlings have fallen victim to my clumsy first attempts at hoeing and I'm starting to be able to think about doing things quickly rather than just doing things which, when everything is growing quickly, is probably about time. It's been a great time to start working in the countryside and especially with the recent spell of sunny weather (I do occasionally catch myself hoping for rain or the odd cloud to make working in the tunnel a bit more bearable) it's been amazing to see everything burst into life - the hawthorn hedges and apple blossom were particularly stunning. The wildlife is also flourishing with plenty of pesky rabbits and deer but also the pleasing the noise of woodpeckers, cukoos and the sight of buzzards soaring on thermals overhead which really is good for the soul.
So what's my feeling after 5 weeks on the job? Well Simon and Jane at Merricks and Phil, Rob and Lizzie at Glebe have given me a very warm welcome, they've been hugely generous with their support and very patient with me while I work out one end of the hoe from the other. There's a really inclusive approach (no delegating or email ping pong here - if the cows need putting out or rows of pea seedlings need weeding then everyone gets involved) it's very physical, but very rewarding work. My back and hamstrings ache from the many weeding contortions, I have calluses on my hands from hoeing and mud under my fingernails which never seems to go, but the sleeps are deep and peaceful and there is a great sense of achievement at the end of every day, stinging nettles don't seem to hurt as much either and early starts are starting to lose their sting too. If you were a fly on the polytunnel wall, you might, just maybe, find me standing in, hands dirty, sweating profusely, stretching out my tired back, but with a big smile on my face. If you're thinking about being an Apprentice, my advice is do it!