Sunday, September 27, 2009

Haygrove Brit Tour - Day 1

Well, here we are in England! Being that I haven’t written in over a month (embarrassing!), you have no idea why we’re here! We decided to come on a trip with the Haygrove company – the one that helped us to build our ½ acre structure at our farm – which is based here in England, with the intention to learn a lot and stay on the cutting edge of what we’re doing. We haven’t been to England for 12 years (our honeymoon), and were eager to see it again – especially as part of a guided tour! When we were here last, we had a very difficult time getting around due to the “too-young-to-rent-a-car” clause, and spent a considerable amount of time figuring out the trains and bus systems. We looked forward to arriving and being catered to! We had a whole day in London to ourselves, before heading out to Kent, so we of course found a farmers’ market being held on the South Bank of the Thames – the Borough Market. Two words: foodie paradise!
What a neat space; no doubt there were some produce distributors present, but there seemed to be a genuine interest in keeping it as local and producer-based as possible. There were tons of local cheeses, meats, fruit & veg (as they say here) as well as international foods. We chose to tackle a chorizo/pequillo sandwich for lunch at the Spanish stand – clearly the most popular food stand at the market, with the longest line (cementing for me the notion that Spain is on the cutting edge of all areas of food!). Delicious! I was able to snag some dry Spanish peppers for seeds at this stand as well – a seed searcher never rests! We spent the rest of the day cruising around
on double-decker buses taking in the sights and trying to stay awake to make sleeping later on much more effective. I fell asleep on the riverboat cruise, but right after that it was time to head to Victoria station to catch our train to Kent. General observation of London – there is tons of food (really heavy food) to eat always at your fingertips! Yet, there are no fat or obese people that we saw. Could it be that the whole eating culture of London – always having food available, means you can grab a bite when you have the vaguest notion of being hungry, thereby staving off hunger, thereby staving off binge behavior – you never get so hungry that you have to gorge
when you finally get near food - thereby staving off crankiness, thereby creating this general air of politeness, and general good cheer. Everyone we met was trim, in good spirits and eating something. I’m still working on this assessment – perhaps it will change as we go along…

We made our way to the village of Bobbing, in Sittingbourne, Kent. Too exhausted to figure out another eating option, we ate at the restaurant situated next door to our hotel, it was called the Bobbing Apple. We were amazed at how similar this restaurant was to something like a TGI Fridays! We ate as locally as we could and ordered the fish & chips. One thing is for sure – the Brits know how to fry a piece of fish! A splash of malt vinegar on the chips (fries), et voila! The perfect post-travel-been-up-for-over-24-hours-dinner! Gotta say, it sure hit the spot! Eager to get to bed to be able to wake up and meet the rest of the tour group, we hit the sack…

We awoke and decided to go for a run and explore our surroundings. There was a really nice footpath that we could catch right outside our hotel, thankfully, and while I ran my morning 5k, Spencer took his morning constitutional. It was perfect weather and we passed by several farms, some wild damson plum trees (plucked a few and downed those), wild raspberries (past ripe), and a beautiful apple orchard surrounded by a barbed-wire fence (blast!). Gorgeous morning – off to continental breakfast, a pot of Earl Grey tea, toast with black currant jam, and some organic yogurt – English cooked breakfast not an option this morning, will hope for it tomorrow (must have baked beans with my stewed tomato and eggs!)!

While waiting around for the Haygrove reps to come take us to Leeds Castle (the only agenda item that day), we met the other growers on this tour and quickly realized at what a completely different scale we are farming than all of them! Two guys from Florida, growing blueberries on 600 acres (!) and shipping globally (!), two guys from Michigan looking to grow cherry trees under cover, but already growing other things on 200 acres (!). One other guy from Oregon that already has about 100 irons in the fire also looking to put cherry trees under cover. All of these guys use an immigrant/migrant labor force, have an incredible overhead in massive amounts of equipment (berry pint filling machines!) I must say, I’m mighty proud to be able to tell all these guys that we are making a living on 2, count ‘em, TWO acres, with two people plus a little harvest help. Their jaws drop, and all of them resolve to get smaller one day. The smaller, concrete scale is so much easier to swallow. What a great day we had chatting with these guys whose favorite topic happens to be our favorite topic, too! Let’s just say there’s never a break in conversation, really – we’re all so interested in the different models of farming and different trends in consumer habits – it provides endless hours of discussion time! Oh yeah, and the Leeds Castle was quite nice, too and the weather couldn't have been more perfect! Tomorrow we get to see some Haygrove operations here – we’ll post pictures as soon as we have them!


Dave Chirico said...

Great to hear from you on your trip!
I hope you have a blast. If you get a chance take some good photos of the elevated strawberry growing operation at Wither's farm (I think). I'm interested in the nuts and bolts of how they make that work.

Have fun,
Dave Chirico
West Liberty Farm

Lembcke Family said...

WOW! what a difference of culture. American people are stuck with the TV it hinders them to explore their world... and that the food you can get is fast food (the farmers market here) on the go. Pretty sad. HAVE A BLAST THERE!!

jericho farmer said...

Thanks for the great posts and pics on your trip!

I need to try and make a chicken cushion! sounds delicious.

Jericho Settlers Farm

Robin McDermott said...

Hi Maura and Spencer! I love reading about your trip to England! My favorite part so far is the difference in scale between your farm and the others in your group. Bigger is not always better, but in the US we are taught (in business schools, through societal pressure) that if you don't aspire to grow your business (more products, more employees, bigger infrastructure, etc) you are not a legitimate business. You guys are proving that is not right! I guarantee you that the other folks on your tour are no happier than you, are probably under a lot more stress because of loans to support their operations, labor hassles, and it is likely that they are not making that much more money than you guys are. So, they do feed a lot more people and we need that too, but I admire what you guys have been able to do very successfully on a human scale. Keep up the great work!

Robin McDermott