City Designer to Country Farmer

It all started with a life-changing phone call. Three years ago, Lisa Payne of Oakcraft Organics went from living on the tenth floor of an East London block to running four acres of an organic garden in rural Cheshire.

The fact that I went from growing basil and tomatoes in pots on my balcony to growing organic vegetables commercially on a four-acre organic market garden (complete with an orchard and wood) still takes my breath away when I think about it.

How did this even happen? It was during a ‘proper’ office job that I started expressing my desire to be a farmer. My friends all laughed at me (thanks guys!) Even though I never experienced it, I hankered after a simpler lifestyle – it seemed so right.

Frustrated with my London life in 2007, I first applied to Oakcraft Organics. I don’t know what possessed me to decide that I could run a market garden with no experience, but I made an initial inquiry, wrote a business plan, visited Oakcroft and was interviewed by the owner, Mehr.

cheshirelife_wheelbarrow_by Kirsty Thompson

As I walked around the gardens and stood in the woods at the bottom of the field, I could barely contain my excitement. Could all this be mine? Could I really leave London and realise my dream to be close to nature and live off the land?

No, was the answer.

Mehr turned me down in favour of a couple who had more experience. Was I disappointed? Yes, but the fact I’d even been considered felt amazing. A thank you card to Mehr was sent and that was that.

Then five years later, I get a call (the life-changing one).

Mehr rediscovered the thank you card I sent her and phoned to see if I was still interested in running the gardens. Was I heck! I spent a crazy two months sorting out my London city life and moved to rural Cheshire to run Oakcroft Organics.

My friends think I’m brave for doing what I did. I couldn’t imagine not doing it. When your dream job knocks on the door, you don’t turn it away!

I think of myself as the unlikeliest of farmers. One of my friends described me as “So London, I didn’t even realise it” when I first talked about wanting to leave just after I turned 30.

Born in South London, I lived in London all my life until moving away at the age of 38. Apart from my friends and family, the only thing I miss about London is the public transport.

In my village there’s no railway station and only four buses a day – and the last bus of the day is at 4.30PM. Yep, PM city-goers, not AM!

The eccentricity is what I love about living in the country. Sheep and horses in fields opposite the Sainsbury’s in the nearby town. Horses neighing in the field next to my garden when I’m working.

 

cheshirelife_tomatoes3_June2014

Aside from my local veg box scheme and farmers market, The Food Assembly is my main outlet for selling my produce. I love knowing exactly how much to harvest each week for my orders, which means there’s no waste.

When you harvest for markets it’s always a bit of a risk whether you’ll sell it or not. That doesn’t happen with The Food Assembly’s online pre-order system.

Getting to know my customers through the weekly collection creates a connection between us. Customers also connect with me online through social media and see my photos and tweets as I harvest their orders. We’re becoming a real community.

I often get asked if the lifestyle is as idyllic as it sounds. The answer is a definitive “yes”.  It’s not all romantic walks in the fields in white eyelet dresses though. It’s hard, physical, dirty work and in the summer there are crazy long days.

What makes it all worthwhile is seeing vegetables I’ve nurtured from tiny seeds, mature into tasty and healthy food. When I sell my salad bags with edible flowers, or dark green, glossy courgettes, and see the amazing jewel coloured stems of rainbow chard, I feel real happiness.

comments

  1. Love this inspiring story

  2. Love this inspiring story!

    • Hi. Can I ask if you had much experience when you first applied? As an experienced self employed gardener, I am now interested in similar work but feel the need to get my horticulture level 3 qualification, in my late 40’s and am volunteering to get organic growing experience. Any advice please?

      • Hi Janette,
        I didn’t have any experience when I first applied! I mean, apart from helping my grandparents in their garden and growing things in pots on my balcony, I literally had no organic growing or horticultural experience. So you’re already way more ahead in the game than I am! 🙂 I wrote a business plan which included going to college to gain experience and a qualification, but that was for the initial application. When I was turned down I didn’t actually follow up on that asides from doing a Permaculture Design Course in 2012.

        When Mehr approached me again about running the gardens she was open to the idea of mentoring me and for me ‘learning on the job’ as it was. But I expect that’s quite a rare situation.

        If you’re volunteering to gain experience and you already work as a self-employed gardener then I think you could start looking at looking at what’s out there. Different opportunities will require different skill levels so you may also find that you could start something now and, like I did, gain experience as you go along.

        Are you using WWOOF UK for your volunteering: https://www.wwoof.org.uk? I follow them on facebook and find they often post information about organic growing opportunities. You could also look at the Permaculture Association https://www.permaculture.org.uk/noticeboard and the Low Impact Living Initiative http://www.lowimpact.org both of which have links to opportunities for organic growing and volunteering.

        If you’d like any more info then feel free to email me on oakcroftorganics@gmail.com.

        Good luck!
        Lisa

    • Thanks Amanda! 🙂

      Lisa

  3. Such an inspirational story. Something I’ve been hoping to do more and more recently is explore the world of food in-particular regard to growing, supplying and reconnecting people to the idea of where their food comes from, communicating with the growers themselves!
    Really encouraging story to make me feel like there’s a place somewhere for me in food and out of IT!
    Sinead

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