Blog: Twenty five years of organic at Child Okeford...from the Jurassic larder
Fans of The Archers will know that going organic is not an easy option for farmers. It is a hard life, with constant threats from the weather and bugs that cannot be treated or eliminated with effective chemicals and pesticides. Profit margins are tight and consumers and retailers are fickle.
In difficult economic times, shoppers look for the cheaper option, for more for their money, for the BOGOF and the special offer – not for products which are described as premium (and priced accordingly) by the supermarkets.
And even when supermarkets decide to do organic, they may either import the products from countries where farmworkers are paid far less than in Britain, or they push the British organic producer to the edge with their demands on price. Most savvy shoppers now know that those 'Buy one get one free' or 'special introductory offer' deals are not loss-leaders for the supermarkets, but harsh discounts forced on the producer.
But what is organic farming and why would a young couple have set out on this difficult path back in 1988?
I went to the Soil Association website: Our definition of organic farming recognises the direct connection between our health and how the food we eat is produced. Artificial fertilisers are banned and farmers develop fertile soil by rotating crops and using compost, manure and clover.
Strict regulations, known as ‘standards’, define what organic farmers can and cannot do – and place a strong emphasis on the protection of wildlife and the environment. Taking its name from the organic matter that farmers use as an alternative to synthetic fertilisers, organic farmers take a holistic, principled approach that respects and harnesses the power of natural processes to build positive health across the ecology of the farm.
Organic farming methods offer the best, currently available, practical model for addressing climate-friendly food production. This is because it is less dependent on oil-based fertilisers and pesticides and confers resilience in the face of climatic extremes. It also stores higher levels of carbon in the soil, and as a result if organic farming was common practice in the UK, we could offset at least 23% of agriculture's current greenhouse emissions.”
Organic farmers feel particularly strongly about the introduction of genetically modified crops for feel of contamination and cross-pollination - under Soil Association rules, GM crops and ingredients are banned.
The West Country has some of the UK’s best-known organic farmers – led by Guy Watson of Riverford Organic, whose own Wash Farm near Totnes is surrounded by other organic farmers also supplying the successful Riverford business, and conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner, who has an organic farm just south of Shaftesbury, as well as conducting his matchless Monteverdi Choir and his two orchestras. John Eliot’s father Rolf Gardiner and uncle, composer Balfour Gardiner, were pioneers of organic farming before the Second World War.
Less high profile, but just as dedicated are Andrew and Sara Cross of Gold Hill Organic Farm at Child Okeford, in the Blackmore Vale. They have a mixed organic farm and a farm shop which can truly claim that most of the produce has travelled 'food yards not food miles'.
Andrew and Sara are this year celebrating their silver jubilee as organic farmers – although “celebrating” is not the right word for this dedicated family. The anniversary largely passed without comment or acknowledgement, because they were so busy reintroducing their organic veg box scheme, redesigning and relaunching their website, improving their lovely farmyard cafe ... and growing organic vegetables.
But when they let slip a few weeks ago, that 2013 was their 25th anniversary year, it was obviously something that deserved to be celebrated – so this week’s blog is a tribute to Andrew, Sara and all at Gold Hill Organic Farm.
Their son Richard, who is 21, tells a little of their story ...
Twenty five years at Goldhill Organic Farm
Hello all! My name is Richard Cross and I am in fact younger than the farm itself. It has a full four years on me and is a testament to my parents’ dedication and commitment to organic farming. It is their hard work which has brought the farm to where it is today.
In the early years Sara wouldn’t even use a tractor – that’s how strong was their belief in the quality you can achieve working the land with your own hands.
Even now, our tractor, the old reliable little red Zetor, is only used sparingly to plough and transport its loads. Each and every window and door now missing tells its own story. Only the front windshield remains, after years of “interesting” driving round the narrow yards by my grandfather and a multitude of agricultural students.
But still it carries on strong, which in a way is a beautiful piece of imagery a writer could easily use to connote the farm as a whole. But I won’t. That’s far too clichéd.
Rather I think the story of the farm should be told by those people who have experienced it over the years. The customers who remember having to ring a cow bell to get one of my parents out of the fields and into the shop, 20 odd years ago. The student who came at 18 and has since visited often, each time progressing along their life, from student flat, to single flat, to husband, to children.
And as the world changes around it, so has the farm. We’ve had cafés and artists, galleries and glass blowers, framers and furniture.
But always my parents’ message has been the same: to produce good quality, organic food and bring a sense of community to Goldhill.
A warm welcome
Whenever you visit Goldhill Organic Farm, you get a smile, a wave and a warm welcome – it may be Andrew on his way to or from the fields and polytunnels, sometimes stopping to give a plug for the next gig by his rock band, The Average Wage Band, Sara dashing to and fro between shop and cafe, Jane, mid serving a customer or tweeting the latest news from the farm, Andrew’s father David, who always has time for a chat, Kelly Ross whose Art Stable is one of the region’s best galleries, gluten-free baker Christine, James the cheese-maker, Emsie the glass-blower, Rachel the artist ... or just another customer swapping news and enjoying the view.
The cafe is one of my favourite places for a relaxing coffee and cake or to meet friends for some of Sara’s fabulous soup (made with Goldhill veg, of course) or Christine’s delicious savoury tarts.
The farm shop sells the farm’s produce and other local organic products, and the cafe showcases fine local crafts and has a selection of instantly recognisable Hinchcliffe and Barber blue and white ceramics.
There are occasional special events, farm walks, Apple Day, etc – watch out for these on the website (below).
Good news from Andrew
Don’t expect compliments or chitchat from an organic farmer - their focus is on their farm, their growing and their animals. Sara tells a typical story about her husband:
'This morning Andrew looked less grumpy and said "Do you want the good news?" Now not too sure what constitutes good news for most husbands and wives, but for me I knew it had to be vegetable related.
'It was: "The green manures are just coming up. By next week there will be a sheen of red when the rye gets going. We planted it just at the right time."'
'That is Andrew after 25 years of growing organic veg. He is still excited and thinks it’s good news when things grow.'
Congratulations to Andrew and Sara, Richard, Jane and all at Goldhill Organic Farm - here’s to the next 25 years!
Goldhill Organic Farmshop and Cafe is open Wednesday-Saturday 10am-4pm, Sunday 10am-2pm. For more information on products, veg box deliveries, etc, visit the website www.goldhillorganicfarm.com