Too much veg! How wonderful :-)

Well folks, I’ve not blogged in ages, and although I wanted to keep it up, having a gazillion veggies to tend kind of gets in the way. Here, I have a blog post that I wasn’t expecting to write, but am also quite pleased to be writing it. It means we’ve been doing something right – actually a little too right.

The season has been going so well – even though we lost a lot of early crops due to pest damage. Our members are incredibly happy with their massive veg boxes, and herein lies the problem! They’ve been too massive. Hear me out.

Firstly, let me express my gratitude to our wonderful members. These first adopters onto our vegbox scheme are incredibly special to us – they supported us from the very moment we sent the email around with payment details to get the ball rolling, and just a few weeks later – the veg deliveries started. I feel so warm and grateful about our members, that when I check out the going rate for vegetables grown to organic principles, see what’s ready to be picked, put together a little spreadsheet to work out the amounts I’d like to put into the boxes to come up past the £10 and £15 cost of the boxes – I’ve been putting waaaaaay too much veg in, and underestimating the value, quite significantly. Often over 300-400g of mixed salad leaves, bunches of kale and chard close to half a kilo – and when this is all added up, it is always significantly above the cost of the box. By a long way. The issue for our members, is that it’s being reported as being overwhelming. Many are close to having to throw some away!

I regret nothing! You deserve to be spoiled with this wonderful veg – you wonderful people!

However, I also did some maths, which put things into a different perspective.

Most of the work in the garden is done by me (Dan) and Sophie, although we occasionally have a wwoofers or two (these are volunteers not dogs, from WWOOF.org). They have been (and continue to be) wonderful people, helping us in exchange for learning skills and having some time to explore Cornwall, and this week, we had 4 people harvesting, weighing and packing. The person-time (or man hours) we put into just this last step before it reaches the door (the harvest), if we were to attribute minimum wage for this time, accounted for 120% of the total payments made for these 9 boxes. While I have to admit that I work a little quicker than these first timers (it’s week 6 for me after all), and we are not actually paying ourselves a wage yet – it hit me hard – that we have to make this business financially sustainable, or we just won’t last long, and won’t be able to keep the veg coming, which means our social aims also don’t get met and nobody gets fed. Either we’ll go under when we get to the point of paying ourselves a small wage, we’ll burn out and go under due to not being able to cope, we will have to become 10x more efficient (which just isn’t possible), or we need to spread the veg further, to feed more families.

I’ve done some work on other farms of our type, and while I know I can always improve techniques and speeds of certain tasks, there’s only so much optimising to be done before reaching a limit. And I think we have found it.

It is now clear – and after hearing it from a third of our members this week(!), we are going to have to bring the amounts of veggies in the boxes down to a more reasonable amount, perhaps by (as has been suggested) around 1/3. It saddens me in some ways (because I love to treat our members well), but I know it is the right thing to do. We never started this journey expecting to earn much (or nothing in the first year as it happens), but if we can’t even earn minimum wage for the harvest days, it really doesn’t hold out much hope for all the rest of the work that leads to the harvest. And believe me, there is a LOT of work. I’ve been so happy to be doing this sacred work, and will continue to do so, but we have to make it sustainable, so that in the longer term, we can feed more people.

So all of this work has proven to me why good quality food grown in this way costs what it does. It’s because it takes a lot of time, resources and work, and many land workers are working for less than minimum wage. They (we) do it for the love of it. There may be some labour-saving tools out there, but these just save a little here and a little there. Wherever we can make things more efficient, we do. Now for us to be able to afford to grow food for our community, we have to charge what it is worth. This would be obvious to most business people, but I have never thought of myself as creating a business. Time to face facts.

Thanks for reading. And if you want to join us, please get in touch. You’ll get a good amount of veg for a reasonable price, that is worth every penny.

Spring Has Sprung!

Hello folks. Isn’t it lovely when winter finally fades, and the leaves come out and wave? The birds are singing, sun is shining, and it’s time for our green fingers to un-glove, and get to work. It’s just magical, planting a seed and watching it grow. We are incredibly lucky to be able to do this for our local community, and grateful for all your support.

If you’re wanting to become a member, you’ll be as pleased as us to see our seedlings coming along nicely, being nurtured for the last few months in the greenhouse, before they end up at their final destination, delivered to your door each week (if you’re in Redruth and sign up of course) – and I can’t wait to see the pics of your culinary creations. We will have a member’s Facebook group to share this stuff.

So what have we been up to? All sorts. There was a lot of tree planting in Jan-Feb, one of us had covid in the last month, and then we were busy on an environmental campaign for a couple of weeks, so it has been hectic. It feels great to be back in Cornwall!

This week we delivered lots of veg from the beds planted last year, to a local CIC (Community Interest Company) called Food Troops – which helps struggling families with food in Redruth. This felt great, and the right thing to do, and we will continue to support local struggling people on behalf of our members. If you’re struggling to put food on the table, please send us an email and we will help if we can.

What’s left to do? So much! The polytunnel trench needs some more work, and we are hoping to put a skin on in the next few weeks, and then fill it with tomatoes, aubergene, peppers, and all sorts of heat-loving plants.

So far, if you’re curious, we have planted (from the top of my head) aubergene, many different speciality carrots, 2 varieties of cucumbers, lots of chicory, green and brown (used for dhal) peas, several different beans, a few types of beetroot, turnips, spinach, chard, 4 types of kale, kohl rabi (if you haven’t tried this, you’re in for a treat), endive, so many colours and flavours of lettuce, 3 types of tomato, edible flowers for the salad mix, 3 types of garlic, 3 types of broccoli, leeks, spring onions, radish, asparagus, and probably many more that I’ve missed. We still have so many favourites to plant in the next few weeks, like sweetcorn, courgettes, and a dizzying array of salad leaves and flowers! I’ll add pics of the seed packets we have left after our recent flurry of planting – quite a selection! I felt the need to stock up after the seed shortages in the last couple of years, just in case. We are using heritage varieties, and will save an increasing amount of our own seed as time goes on.

So here are some pics to show you some of all this. Thanks for reading folks! Please get in touch if you’d like to join us, whether as a member, or as a work-share volunteer, or just to say hi.

Tunnel Love!

I wanted to blog here and personally thank some friends, the welly wangers (it’s meant to be endearing), for kickstarting me with getting the polytunnel up. It’s far from finished, but we at least removed some saplings that needed to be rehomed, installed lots of ground tubes, and got 1 hoop up!

I’ll actually have to take it down again to add the right fittings, but I wanted it up to celebrate the milestone. The tunnel has been in bits since I bought it 2nd hand last summer, and it’s been one of those vital jobs that just gets put on the back burner – do you have those? Well finally, we’ve made a start, and although I’ll need to get the digger back to change the trench location and lots of other things (I was rushed last time), we should be up and running with a working tunnel before the growing season starts. Fingers crossed.

Oh, and I laid hundreds of metres of landscape fabric, ready to plant some wind shelter trees and habitat! Happy days. Now for the long slog of planting hundreds of cuttings and bare-rooted trees before spring comes.

Grassroots Garden is now a C.I.C.

You heard it here first! We have finally become a Community Interest Company, officially.

What this means is, we’re a company that doesn’t allow directors or employees to take dividends and siphon profits away for personal gain. Any and all profits are put back into the business, specifically to support the aims of the business – to feed local families, support people experiencing food poverty, and help to create a more resilient and sovereign local food system that can weather future storms.

I would like to mention here, that along with myself, we have 2 amazing directors that will help the business to grow in the right direction. Thanks Tamsyn and Rob! Exciting times ahead.

Personally, I’m pretty chuffed about this milestone. About 6-7 years ago, I became a fellow of the Cornwall School for Social Entrepreneurs, which trains people up in creating social enterprises, and I have been working towards this ever since. I’d like to thank Cornwall SSE for their support and help, which is first rate and really a beautiful thing to be a part of.

To get growing at a scale that can support 1 or 2 full time jobs, there are still tools to buy, tracks to lay, irrigation to finish, polytunnels and all manner of expensive things that need a little more investment, so now that we can apply for some of the various grant funding awards that are available to social enterprises, CICs and charities, I’m hoping to make the Grassroots Garden a self-funding and sustainable business within the first couple of years.

In other news, we have been enjoying 3 colours of carrot, Kohl Rabi, beets and turnip, roasted to perfection.

Also, a bait-hive was found on the floor, upside-down after the storms! I didn’t actually realise there were any bees inside until I moved away part of the disintegrated stand, and saw it pretty full and buzzing! I swiftly suited-up, fixed what damage I could, added another layer (called a super), and put it on a more stable base that should withstand the rest of the winter. Fingers crossed – I hope they last through the winter. I love those furry friends.

Hey Pumpkin!

Well I’d never planted any squash or pumpkin before, but now I’m intimately aware of just how far these amazing creeping plants want to spread! I don’t remember planting out many seedlings, but I ended up with a massive abundance of traditional ‘Jack O Lantern’ types, winter squash, and a strange one that I didn’t even plant that was a butternut in taste, but was bigger than any I had ever seen. If you’d like to buy some, send me an email and I’ll put them aside for you.

Check out the new stall with all the veggies! I have been selling some of the harvest on the gate with an honesty box. They went like hotcakes. Also, I don’t want to brag, but have you seen the size of that white carrot?!

I’m really proud of the quality and quantity of produce that has been bursting out of the beds. So much superfood kale, some beautiful Romanesco cauliflowers (my favourite vegetable), and I’ve even been getting into seed saving.

Are you ready to be part of next season’s CSA membership vegbox scheme?

Check out our first veg boxes!

We went picking the other night after a day of planting, fencing, faffing and planning, and counted 15 different crops that are ready or almost ready! I know that was the plan all along, so it shouldn’t have surprised me, but check out this veg box!

There are a few more bits and bobs ready to put in, but to see 3 different colours of beetroot, 2 types of lettuce, white and orange carrots, kohl rabi, 2 types of kale, spring onions, chard and edible flowers all in one place, it made my heart swell with pride and amazement. This veg growing journey is really happening! Nature is working her hardest and everything is going smoothly.

I missed out the cucumbers in the small tunnel, along with tomatoes, broccoli, radishes, and there are probably a load of alpine strawberries ready too. Hey – I even picked a few blueberries, believe it or not!

So there we have it – our first veg box, sold to a dear friend of mine. We have learned so much this year, and feel more ready than ever to grow the best veg we can, for local people. Our planting plan is being made so that we can fill a veg box every week for our members, with any unforeseen gaps being filled by our other farming friends.

Please get in touch if you’re in mid Cornwall and want to be part of a local and resilient food system. Become a member and you’ll be supporting this kind of growing, which benefits the soil, the planet, and you.
Join our mailing list by clicking here.

Check out these tasty morsels!

I know it’s probably not that impressive for seasoned growers, but after we had a cold and rocky start to the season, it has been lovely to watch some of our veg grow. Check em out!

3rd Time Lucky?

Bert has been boring us again! Well, boring the ground with his fancy drilling rig. It’s the 3rd hole he has drilled, so all our fingers are crossed that this time, he hits a decent pocket of ground water.

The 2nd hole, it was assumed, had a decent amount of water. It was one of the deepest I’ve heard of, at 82m! Most of the time, Bert hits water by 40m, so for such a deep hole to run dry after a few minutes, it’s not a good situation. Lots of time, money and energy has been spent on lowering, raising, re lowering pumps, cables and pipes, and without a reliable source of water, our project can’t really grow all that well.

It’ll take a while to get the pump up from the last well, and installed down into this one, I’ll keep posting updates so that I can remember this part of the journey in a few years time.

see the drilling rig…

Rain, rain, come again!

This drought has been really frustrating. Especially so when we discovered the borehole was dry! Finally, we’ve had some rain that is now stored in the tanks, which can only mean one thing: waterslide! Oops, not that: planting out!

Thank goodness for that rain! It has enabled us to plant out loads of kale, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, Kohl rabi, and there will be more going in soon.

Thanks go out to Jez, for doing some dowsing for us. Bert the borehole guy could do with a little assistance, as the last 2 holes he drilled have been very deep, and very dry, so we’re working on drilling another asap so we can really get this show on the road.

Will the borehole find enough water to keep the crops alive? Or will we have a super soggy spring that nourishes the seedlings?

I’ll keep you in the loop! And I’ll be posting pics of the veggies as they grow or get eaten. Fingers crossed!

Milestones Everywhere!

Finally, we had a massive delivery of compost last week while we had a digger and a dumper for the hardstanding. It was by far the largest delivery we’ve ever taken. It was more than a series of trucks full of the black stuff – this is the whole basis of the market garden, and it’s a massive milestone.

I got rid of the rotorvator a couple of years ago after experimenting with “no-dig” growing, and although the up front cost is rather substantial, the pay-off is worth it. Most of all, this method is better for the soil, as it is left intact and doesn’t expose the soil life to harmful UV rays, or let it wash away in rain. It should help with retaining water, and we should have less weeding to do, so we’ll see how this goes.

Another milestone that keeps creeping in and out of focus, is the water situation! I blogged about the borehole pump, getting it stuck and then freed again. Well, after successfully lowering the pump for what I’d hoped was the last time, it appears that the well is dry! After a few minutes at least. This is not sustainable so we are having some more dowsing done to see if it is worth having another go, or if we spend on connecting to mains instead. What a palaver!

So for now, things are a little up in the air.

There is no doubt that we will be growing veg, but our greenhouse full of seedlings can’t be planted out yet, because we haven’t got enough water to nurture them properly. This is rather frustrating, but we’re relieved that it happened now, after a drought, so that we know how limited the borehole supply is and can make changes before we had huge crop failures.

We’re praying for rain. We have thousands of litres of rainwater storage, but this recent gorgeous weather has a price.

Jez will be dowsing tomorrow, so fingers crossed he finds something and we can get this market garden growing!