Reflections from working on Sutton Community Farm

14th Jul 20 by Will Holmes, EcoTalent intern

Being totally immersed in food is something I really enjoy about being on the farm.

After learning about food systems and their relationship to the environmental crisis at University and through online courses, articles etc – I decided what I personally thought  were the ideal practices and concepts that our current food system should work towards. Now halfway through my EcoTalent internship with Feedback I almost can’t believe my luck that the farm I’m working on just so happens to embody so many of these ideals – what a result! If someone were to ask me how we might improve our food systems and agricultural practices, I would say the way we grow food should be organically done incorporating biodiversity and working within complex ecosystems. This should happen on a smaller and more localised level that is community-led, environmentally sustainable (with focus on soil health and seasonality of produce) and happening more in urban spaces. To have the opportunity then to work at Sutton Community Farm that essentially practices all of these things has been such a wonderful experience.

Generally speaking, life on the farm happens at a slow pace (for the growers anyway, I’m sure the veg box team would have something to say about that). The type of growing the farm practices is very skill and labour intensive so there is always a lot that needs doing, however regardless of the slow-paced nature of the farm everything does get done in the end and seems to always work out as if by some magic agreement between the growers and the crops. I was honestly shocked at the scale of the farms production when I first started, that a community farm of 7 acres delivers over 600 veg boxes a week across South London and has 11 polytunnels, 11! I was even more shocked to find out that this was mainly done by a handful of people. It soon became evident though that this could only happen because of the vast amounts of knowledge and care that goes into the growing at the farm. If I end up with even a fraction of the knowledge that the growers at the farm have at the end of the internship, I’ll be a farming whizz.

With the exception of Hannah who had already been at the farm for 6 weeks, us EcoTalent interns started our placement on the farm during the annual ‘hunger gap’ where the winter crops have ended but the new seasons crops are not yet ready for harvest. This meant our tasks in the beginning involved everything except harvesting. Bed preparation, plant maintenance, irrigation, planting out and sewing seeds were how we spent most of our time. As already mentioned this is an extremely skill intensive form of farming, so seeing the amount work that goes into getting crops ready for harvest and learning how to do all of these tasks was extremely educational. It’s also worth mentioning the ridiculously hot weather we were experiencing at that time which made plant maintenance all that more important.

The end of the hunger gap in early June also brought with it the rain and with that, raucous celebrations by the growers at the farm. Ever since then it has been ‘harvest, harvest, harvest’ which I have thoroughly enjoyed, even the afternoon Libby and I spent harvesting 150kg of broad beans in the rain. There really is something very rewarding about harvesting crops that you have had a hand in growing, this is even more rewarding when you’re the one eating it. Besides the hundreds of kilos of broad beans, other harvesting highlights include tomatoes, aubergines and discovering what ‘aztec broccoli’ is. A quite regal looking plant that looks nothing like broccoli but tastes absolutely delicious! Whilst harvesting has brought with it more physically demanding tasks which my back and knees are probably not thankful for, for me it’s got to be my favourite aspect of the work on the farm.

Being totally immersed in food is something else that I really enjoy about being on the farm. Aside from the fact that food is actually everywhere on the farm, it’s also usually the main topic of conversation at the farm too. Whether it’s people sharing their own stories of growing at home, discussing their favourite foods or swapping recipes with each other, everyone at the farm is passionate about food and for someone who loves talking about food as much as I do I really can’t complain. This as well as the lovely volunteers at the farm who really are the beating heart of it, make it such an enjoyable working environment and one that I genuinely look forward to going into every day.

Bring on the next 7 weeks!

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