A new regime
Richard Plowright - 30 June 2010
As Laurie Lee wrote "she is of course just an ordinary miracle but is also the late wonder of my life." We have changed our business name to Plowright Organic and we have a new logo and website, all, I think inspired by new life. I only hope the changes also inspire new customers, which would be very handy indeed.
The old season was slow to come to an end and we were harvesting the remnants of our 2009 vegetables (leeks, cabbage and purple sprouting) much later into April than has been usual. Correspondingly the new season was late to start and has been very dry in our neck of the woods. The dry weather was accompanied initially by very cold conditions and more recently by hot. We seem to have missed out the warm and wet bit. In my March blog I wrote about the fear that the end of one dry spell might see a spell of continuous rain. Well that particular period of rain in March turned out to be the last for a long time. In fact we have not had any significant rain since.
So we swing from washout one year to drought the next and on balance I think I prefer the washout. We have a bore hole and can irrigate half an acre at a time but it is time consuming dragging pipes, drip tape and sprinklers around and once you have started, the equipment is always in the way. Leave your vacuum cleaner in the middle of your living room floor and you will see what I mean. This analogy works best if you leave the hoses and flex extended. I heard yesterday that it has been the driest half year in the last 80. Another record and it would be nice to think that 2010 weather will not set any other new records but I would not bet on it.
For the first time since I became a professional vegetable grower ten years ago we have been self sufficient in potatoes and onions; still eating the barn stored crops from 2009 when the earlies became ready in early June. There is something fundamentally satisfying about self sufficiency. It must be deep rooted in our psyche as it remains significant despite our lives of plenty. As we don’t have long term cold storage it must have been the cold winter which prolonged the life of our stored crops.
The new regime without my partner Remke has been quite tough. Odd really because I always accused her of not pulling her weight. She must have been doing something after all! We have attempted to plug the gap with temporary workers and we also had a second apprentice on trial but it has proved more difficult than I feared to replace her. I have had to work even longer hours (last week I did about 90 hours) to the detriment of everything else in my life. I keep saying to myself that soon it will be easier. I hope so.
The biggest challenge of all, however, is the market which appears to be continuing to shrink. Competition has always been intense in our area (there are at least three other vegbox schemes apart from ours) and recently it has increased from unlikely sources. The Soil Association, for one, have made preliminary steps to set up a community supported scheme in our area. Which is nice. I thought I might invite people in Bristol to set up their own organic farming charity (only joking). My friend John G, who I often refer to in these pages, is also poised to step into the fray. It is fairly obvious that there is no point in growing vegetables if you can’t sell them but to be a grower you do need to have a certain optimism and occasionally take a chance on growing a crop before the orders are confirmed.
I know growers who won’t plant anything without a market and those who hope they can find markets later. So, my parsnip experience last year exposed my frivolous, optimistic nature! Optimism is not something I am often accused of, but I do have my moments. We have spent more time and money on marketing this year than in any of our previous years, and there has been a reasonable response particularly in the farm shop and I wonder whether folk are expressing a desire to choose exactly what vegetables they want rather than have a seasonal vegbox.
Just to finish I should let you know that Somerset county council is looking at their farm assets with a clear intention to try to sell them. Like so many councils Somerset has a large financial deficit but to sell their farm assets rather than looking imaginatively at ways to make them work harder for the benefit of council tax payers, is very short sighted. We would be facing eviction in 2016 but that is not long in farming terms. Certainly our plans for a new twin span polytunnel would have to be reconsidered. Some of our neighbours are potentially facing notices to quit next year. After early meetings a decision will be delayed pending the outcome of a review. I only hope that the review is genuine and not a smoke screen as so many are.
My campaign to discourage people from growing there own vegetables does not seem to be building momentum. The tide is flowing the other way. "I am growing my own veg" is now the most common reason for cancelling the vegbox or downsizing. I think it is code for 'I am now shopping in the supermarket'.
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