Biodynamic duo: Working on a biodynamic farm
Fern Verrow is a small-holding south-west of Hereford and south of Hay – about 11 miles from each – on the eastern side of the Black Mountains, with Wales just over the hillsides. It is an unspoilt area, sheep farming land that had never been sprayed or ploughed when it was purchased 20 years ago. We practise biodynamic farming, a form of agriculture based on the lectures of Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, in response to growing concerns about the diminishing fertility and vitality of crops and stock at the time. It is based on the principle that the farm is a self-contained organism, taking care of the health and vitality of soil, crops, stock and farmer, creating a virtuous cycle. It also uses lunar and planetary rhythms, biodynamic compost and spray preparations. Organic farming developed out of this approach.
We manage 15 acres with five dedicated to vegetables, one for fruit, some woodland and lots of permanent pasture. We grow a wide range of truly seasonal English garden vegetables, fruit and flowers. We also have standard farmyard animals – Hereford cattle, Dorset sheep, bees, poultry. No pigs at the moment, although we have done pigs in the past. Everything that we produce, from the flowers to the animals, is all for sale. Each animal has its own uses and strengths, and they all contribute to running the farm – they each bring fertility in their different ways. The only thing we buy is extra manure for the vegetables – we don’t produce enough for the type and quantities of veg that we grow.
Our time is spent farming, growing, looking after the animals – their wellbeing is paramount. We only grow what we like, and what grows here. Our favourite things tend to be whatever is appearing for the first time that year … The form and beauty of the plants themselves gives us as much of a kick as the taste does – there’s nothing we don’t like growing! Right now we’re looking forward to the squashes arriving in the autumn. We grow about 20 different varieties of lettuces, several kinds of onion, courgettes look amazing on our land… Everything behaves differently, much like in cooking – and cooking is a big part of life on the farm. It is a privilege to make a meal from scratch, with our own produce, at the end of the day. Each ingredient is a celebration.
The result of any one crop always varies, dependent on the weather. This year for instance the soft fruit was particularly good. We had quite a wet spring, and then 6 weeks of long sun-filled days, right at the ripening time of the fruit, so the strawberries were magnificent. The raspberries weren’t so good because the summer was too hot and dry for them, but our autumn raspberries have been wonderful.
We harvest the best of what we have every Friday to sell in London, and this is our one connection with outside the farm. The harvest is always a mixed bag. In the summer and autumn we have a lot – we call it the bounty – and then in the winter time there is less: sometimes we are scratching around for something to sell.
Our produce is always truly seasonal: we don’t have heated greenhouses to produce strawberries at Christmas … We believe that everything should be grown in its natural state, outside, in order to taste the best it possibly can. It can be quite difficult, in particular with regard to the weather, which is something we can’t control, but it teaches us to be patient – we work very hard to work with nature. In the long term that is what gives the best produce. We are always learning.
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