Last year I asked my friend, Liberty Nimmo, to talk us through how she bid a fond farewell to London and set herself on a journey to learn about farming. It was a joy to have those pieces on the site, So I asked her if she would consider giving us a monthly update on the trials, tribulations and triumphs she faces on the farm. She kindly capitulated, and here is our first instalment.
I have rather mixed feelings about February this year. It is the time that light gently but confidently returns to the mornings and lengthens in the evenings. It’s also true that the Earth warms a smidgen, and I rejoice in the chirps of the morning birds whilst my body clock shifts to an earlier awakening. Aconites, snowdrops, and daffs all bravely poke their heads up; we know the drill, and it is wonderful, hopeful, and very welcome.
And so to the mixed feelings. In Medieval times, February, or Solmōnaþ, the Sol meaning ‘mud’ or ‘dirt’ – the muddy month – was just that. This February, however, boots have remained mud free with warm, dry, bright, high-sky days. We have not received the rainfall we should have, and fields, reservoirs and ponds are alarmingly empty. I hope Climate Change doesn’t have another year of drought in store for us and our beloved vegetables, crops and wildlife.
Nevertheless, I eagerly await St. Valentines Day – not so much for the red rose from a mystery tall, dark and handsome stranger (rest assured fellas, this is always welcome) but because it’s the day to get the seed packets out in earnest and begin sowing. With gusto, seed trays are carefully prepared. Not entirely dissimilar from Mary Poppins, I dole out teaspoons of our homemade soil biology amendments into watering cans to give everyone the best possible start. I then spend the next two weeks checking for signs of germination in a compulsive and completely obsessive way. When it finally happens after what feels like an eternity of waiting, the joy of seeing the gentle unfurling of a seedling and the emergence of life is not to be underestimated.
For the remainder of our vegetable crops planted in late Summer and early Autumn, we are now well and truly into the ‘hungry gap’ – that period where growth still feels halted and change not yet afoot. Many of our Winter crops have now been harvested, and variety no longer feels the spice of life. Yet, this is seasonal eating, seasonal produce, locally grown in harmony with the environment. It has a much nicer ring to it than the lack of tomatoes on the supermarket shelves. Suffice it to say, I have now exhausted nearly all imaginable cabbage recipes.
Elsewhere on the farm, the barn has been converted into the Lindo Wing in preparation for the cows due to calve, hedging plants, fruit and nut trees have been planted, the newt ponds have been checked up on, the ewes are all happily in lamb, and a kestrel and barn owl have been spotted co-habiting in our newly built (with wood from the farm), green tool shed. Whatever next.
This month we hosted an away day for a team of Agricultural Lawyers to discuss the How and Why of Regenerative farming. Our hope to develop and build upon a local and resilient food system continues as Clive has purchased a seed cleaner which means he can clean his seed before selling it directly to a local baker for milling and baking. This will cut down on food miles, and selling his product directly means he can command the best possible price rather than losing nearly 90% of the value to Middlemen and Supermarkets. Having taken the risk of growing the crop in such hostile drought conditions last summer, this feels a welcome reward, and it will be marvellous to sell the homegrown, heritage wheat as bread in our pop-up shop on Saturdays soon.
The Handy family have been farming a 330-acre mixed farm at Hampen for over 220 years. Clive and Lydia’s aim for Lower Hampen Farm is to provide an environment where nature is allowed to flourish, and their holistic, regenerative approach aims to build soil health to benefit livestock, plants and wildlife whilst creating a circular, financially viable system.
Liberty Nimmo joined Clive and Lydia, and in 2022, together, they created ‘The Three Turnips’ market garden and pop-up shop. The veg box scheme provides the local community with a year-round supply of seasonal, nutrient-dense vegetables grown in a Regenerative way using no-dig principles. The Saturday pop-up shop has become a hub for selling all produce from the farm, including seasonal homegrown vegetables and fruit, certified Pasture Fed meat, heritage wheat flour and bread, charcoal, honey, wool, jams and preserves.