That’s what a few of our pioneering Assembly hosts and members of The UK Food Assembly team have been doing over the past couple of months.
We visited all sorts of farms: dairy, fruit and veg, organic, biodynamic, you name it! Let us take through a few of them…
The first farm we visited was a small-hold organic sheep farm in Kent. When we drove up to what seemed like a Scandinavian chalet (we later found out it was hand-built by the farmers), we saw a sign on the neighbouring shack that said “you can find me inside” with an arrow pointing to the right. Yes – people in Britain still leave their front doors open! So we wandered into the big wooden house, knocking on the door and entering freely as suggested. We met Maria, the head farmer. After an initial greet and meet, she offered to take us on a walk around the farm.
Maria took us to the lambing field. Lambs are born at the beginning of April, so the ones we saw at the time were only a few weeks old. Marked with different fluorescent colours, these sheep and lamb weren’t off to roller disco but were marked to signal different things. Twins marked in one colour, triplets in another and single lambs in yet another. Some had special markings to signal they were weaker than the rest and needed special care.
It’s not only lambs that get special (or should we say normal) treatment. A dairy farm we visited cleans its cows udders with tea tree oils and lets the cows decide when they want to be milked. As one of our Assembly Host described it: it’s a cow’s prerogative! And you can taste the difference. The milk and yogurt we ate from the local farm shop were better than we ever imagined those simple products could be.
Chickens at Brambeltye Farm are also happy campers. The farm is, in essence, two separate farms but on one plot. Brambletye Fruit Farm is made up of amazing fruit orchards, abundant in a variety of apples, pears, and all sorts of berries as you may have seen at our Hackney Wick Assembly launch. Amongst the fruit trees roam 3000 hens – these lay eggs for My Orchard Eggs farm. Theses (very) free range hens eat fruit that falls on the ground and bugs, and then fertilise the ground, promoting fruit tree growth. A symbiotic relationship between two food sources that taste so much better because they are given the freedom to grow together as nature intended!
On our visits, we also learned about the seasonality of food. While the seasonality of some fruit and veg may be relatively well-known (or at least more obvious), we rarely think about the seasonality of meat. So expecting to eat fresh lamb in the spring is unrealistic as lambs are only born then and are only ready for eating the following autumn. So unless it’s frozen, don’t expect local lamb in spring!
We also visited a biodynamic vegetable and fruit farm where we discovered “The Destoner” – a machine that removes stones from the ground, as the name so explicitly suggests. And the custom-made weeding (lazy weeder I think this was called) lounger machine (designed and made by Brockmans farm), whereby three people lie side by side on a triple-massage-table-on-wheels looking thing to pick bad weeds of the field as no pesticides are used to do the job!
We’ll keep visiting farms as we grow and look out for invites for you to join us in these rural adventures! In neighbouring French Assemblies (known as “Ruches” meaning beehive), it’s common for Assembly Hosts to take members on a farms visit to meet the people that feed their families.
In the meantime, if you go on a farm adventure and discover something interesting, share it with us, we’re all hungry to meet the people behind our food and discover more about where our food comes from!