LWA’s Farm Walk events got off to a striding start on 12/13th April. Over the course of the weekend, some 80 LWA members and friends attended the triple bill of Chagfood CSA farm walk, Chagfood Ceilidh, and Shillingford Organics visit, all in Devon.
Ed Hamer showed us round Chagfood’s 2 sites, comprising six acres on the edge of Dartmoor, where veg is grown for a grower-led CSA, established in 2010, now with over 75 members. Ed outlined the benefits of this model, among them that marketing work is confined to the “off season”, with the rest of the year devoted to growing. A key feature of the growing system is the use of horses for cultivation and weeding: Ed and Samson, a Welsh Cob/ Dartmoor Pony cross, demonstrated the planting or potatoes.
Ed was pleased to claim that the CSA now pays the wages of both growers, whilst challenges include difficulties getting planning permission for essential farm structures within what is Dartmoor National Park.
Evening recreation at Chagfood included screen printing LWA flags for the upcoming DEFRA demo; a video showing of “Echanges de Paysans”; locally produced food, cider and ale; and a stonking ceilidh. A real celebration of the land and those who work it.
For many of us, Shillingford Organics, outside Exeter, is “big scale”: forty three acres, eight full-time workers, four tractors. As Martyn Bragg took us round, it became clear that this does not have to mean an abandonment of a thoughtful, ecological approach to horticulture. Innovations above and beyond organic standards include “alley cropping” agroforestry and undersowing crops with green manures.
As we wound our way home, I considered the various nuggets of experience and wisdom that I had picked up from our hosts at the weekend, and was also reminded of the importance of solidarity. Both Chagfood and Shillingford are successful commercial operations, who balance the books thanks to plenty of voluntary effort put in by CSA members and WWOOFers respectively. And where would we be without the sense of unity and shared purpose that these events bring? As the bloke from round our way, William Morris, once said, “fellowship is life, and the lack of fellowship is death.” Viva Land Workers’ Alliance!