The going is getting tough in the field with heavy morning mists, cold, rain, biting wind and the occasional frost. With the descent into winter the days in the field are getting shorter, so the team have to plan their time wisely as before you know it, it’s dark! Despite the cold weather November is a bountiful month for UK veg, with a variety of versatile winter greens and hearty roots to fill the veg bags.
Saying that, in the second half of November we’ve bought in veg more than we usually would at this time of year, and that’s due tothe affect of this summer's drought and the hottest temperatures since 1976. The UK really relies on it's rainfall to grow crops, and we especially suffered at Farnham Community Farm as we didn't have an irrigation system set up. This meant to get water to our crops we had to ferry watering cans back and forth, and water by hand. Some days we'd get nothing but watering done. The effect is felt now as it's our slower growing crops, that stay in the ground for longer, that were hit worst. Just as the seedlings were trying to make roots and establish themselves in the soil, the rains stopped. It was difficult for the ground to soak up any water we applied, as it burned off in the searing temperatures.
To add to the hurdle of the drought, our pedestrian tractor had been stolen at the beginning of April. The replacement we were borrowing broke down in early June, just as we were prepping ground for a huge amount of planting. Without mechanical means to prep ground, the already dry soil became very difficult and slow to work, and we missed a lot of plantings.
Some crops we haven't been able to grow successfully at all this season; brussel sprouts, calabrese, swede. Others, like the squash, grew much smaller and were less prolific, so they didn't spread out over as many weeks as we'd have liked. However, we did have a great success with quick growing varieties such as sweetcorn, courgettes, cucumbers and tomatoes, that loved the extra sunlight and were extra delicious.
What we do buy in is always organically certified, and nearly always grown in the UK (except the 1-2 weeks in the year when there is hardly anything available from the UK... it's called the hungry gap for a reason!) It's positive that we get to support other organic growers, without the use of supermarkets. Some parts of the UK have soil perfect for growing potatoes, carrots and cabbages, so you get the best the UK has to offer. Where we had to choose what crops to sacrifice this year, we opted to grow the leafy, more delicate varieties ourselves, and buy in veg that transports well, such as roots and cabbages.
If we are hit with another hot dry summer again, which is likely, we are now more prepared and more resilient. The main phase of our irrigation system is installed, and by summer we should be able to automatically water crops at the turn of a switch, leaving the team to get on with prepping soil and planting out. The water pressure has been greatly improved, and we're no longer restricted to what hours of the day we can water. Our new tractor and extra attachment means we can prep beds in a fraction of the time. Another plus of next year will be that propagation will be at West farm, not at another site. This means the team will be able to keep a closer eye on the early stages of crop production, and save time by not travelling from one side of Farnham to the other.
Back to November’s recap; we welcomed the month with a gloriously sunny Social Saturday on the 3rd. The highlight of the get-together was a bonfire, started with some traditional bushcraft fire-lighting skills. Apart from adding to the warmth and mood the fire provided some food in the form of roasted chestnuts and toasted marshmallows – the consolation of cold months! With home-made smoky beans and jacket potatoes, steaming soup, sausages, cake and biscuits our wonderful volunteers made sure we had plenty of food to keep us warm inside out.
The shares have been both leafy and rooty this month, making for varied and colourful meals. There is a wealth of recipes out there for these versatile ingredients.
We loved the crunchy heads of purple-red radicchio, and its cousin escarole, with an altogether looser and frizzier appearance. These are both very versatile and do well in more than salads. They lend themselves well to winter cuisine, when you want something warm and comforting, as you can roast, grill and griddle them.
For lovers of more oriental flavours in this month’s shares we’ve had coriander and pak-choi, which bring to mind South-East Asian stir fries and soups, but actually grow well here in our climate. It’s very easy to forget the final touch of a scattering of herbs, or throwing in a handful of leaves at the end of cooking, but these seemingly insignificant additions to your meal bring a boost of vitamin A and C (essential to immunity) and calcium.
It seems new things grow as well in winter as they do in spring. Farnham EcoHub is a new online platform for sharing information about local initiatives that contribute to the wellbeing of the planet. It is for anyone interested in sustainable, eco-friendly and environmental matters focusing on our local community. Farnham EcoHub has evolved out of the annual Farnham Sustainability Fayre organised by Farnham Community Farm which showcases many worthwhile local initiatives.
This new not-for-profit Forum is designed to create connections, to spread news and ideas and to discuss issues. Join the Facebook group here.
Also new in November was the opening of zero-waste shop Keep, above plant-based cafe Okomoko, on Downing Street in central Farnham. Keep is run by FCF members Sarah and Annabel; the two met at our Sustainability Fair this summer. At Keep you can buy whole foods, household products and personal care all packaging free. They also sell lovely handmade eco-friendly homewares and gifts. Visit their Facebook page here.
On our part we have been successful in reducing our plastic usage by offering our leaves (such as spinach and salad) loose, rather than pre-packed into plastic bags. Instead, our eco-minded members bring their own containers and weigh their leaves on collection.
As of this month the rescue hens at Orchard Farm Animal Sanctuary are no longer producing enough eggs, and so we are taking a pause from the Open Food Network. Like the rest of nature the ladies are taking a well-earned winter break. In case you are wondering how the commercial farms overcome this natural process, they simply put their hens under artificial light for 12 to 16 hours a day and trick their reproductive systems to keep laying. This unfortunately means that the body does not have the opportunity to recover from the laying season and it has long-term health implications for the hens.
Looking ahead to December, we are hosting this month’s fundraising tea & cake stall at the Farnham Farmers’ Market on Sunday 23rd December. If you would like to bake something for the stall, make a chutney or jam, or help out on the day, please drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are looking forward to getting started on another season, and gradually improving Farnham Community Farm in every aspect; from our infrastructure, to our outreach work, to our produce.