Sutton Community Farm details its wide range of activities and plans for the future

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It has been a busy time for one of the borough’s most successful community enterprises. Here is a blog from Sutton Community Farm which outlines all of the activities and plans for the coming year

Hi, it’s Rachel here. We’ve had an exciting March on the farm, with some wild contrasts in the weather (as can often happen at the beginning of spring), from bizarrely high temperatures at the end of February, to high winds for a big chunk of March threatening to blow away our marquee/temporary shed extension. The wet weather meant some much needed time repairing infrastructure and our hardy beloved tractor: Rosa. 

Now, as the season begins, we welcome our new apprentice Will – making the growing team up to 5 of us! Will will be working with Nick primarily on vegbox production, but with some overlap of jobs between all of us so we get the experience of different areas of production. We are really excited to have him on the team!

Winter has seen some exciting developments of some areas of the farm, mainly due to our neighbour Chris leaving the land we have shared with him since the farm began. We have taken over one of his glasshouses which is a brilliant addition to our covered cropping area. This summer it will be filled with tomatoes and aubergines, some of our high value crops that are in demand from our restaurant wholesale customers.

In the winter and into the hungry gap, this extra area increases our ability to supply the vegbox with greens such as spinach, pak choi, chard and spring shallots, and hopefully some more novel crops such as coriander that we have started to trial this year. For now read my blog about the impact of the hungry gap on our vegboxes on our website here

Responding to demand from restaurants, this year we will also be growing more salad and summer tunnel crops, which brings in the revenue to allow me to stay on at the farm. This is an amazing opportunity for me to learn on the farm for another season, and meets one of the farm’s central aims of providing fairly paid land-based employment

Our Wednesday volunteers have been grafting to clear and prepare an area which was formerly a bonfire area, small christmas tree forest, 2 reservoirs, a dubious sculpture, and  years of build up of our neighbours’ equipment. Since our neighbour has left, we have been able to drain and fill in the reservoirs he formerly used to irrigate his carnivorous plants. We spent a good few Wednesdays pulling the layers of carpet and black plastic that were lining these reservoirs, and in the process rescuing and relocating many frogs into our various ponds around the site. We then cleared the area of all the debris and a digger came in to dig pits for the barn and level the ground. 

As part of the changes and developments, we want to make an effort to increase biodiversity on site. While we had the digger on site, we had 2 more much larger ponds dug which will be brilliant for attracting frogs (great for slug control!), and beneficial insects. We have also been preparing various areas around the farm to sow a mix of wildflowers to attract bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects like ground beetles too. Sonia’s Monday volunteer group will be helping us out by sowing these flowers, some direct sown and others sown in propagation and transplanted. This means we can have some focused areas of specific flowers, and some areas of a diverse mix, and Sonia’s volunteers can experience different methods of raising and planting flowers.

The Monday crew have also been hard at work giving the rhubarb some care and attention by weeding, composting, wood-chipping to give it a boost of nutrients for the year ahead. It is looking really healthy, and hopefully we will harvest our first crop next week to go into the vegboxes.

Sonia led a group of volunteers battling the weather on a stormy open day weekend to relocate the raspberries from where the barn will be built, to a new spot next to the biodiversity area where they can re-establish. Last week we celebrated the Gaia Foundation‘s #seedweek. Nick was busy sowing seeds with the volunteers. Our film showing on Wednesday 27 March will be Seed: The Untold Story which is well worth a watch. More details below.

Our false spring at the end of February, although disturbingly warm, allowed us to take the tractor onto the beds unseasonably early. We can only begin tractor cultivation once the soil has dried up enough after the winter rains, and this year the early week of warm weather did this for us. This has meant that Nick has managed to get his shallots in (the first spring crop), and me and Sam have planted our first generation of outdoor salad. Beds for other early crops are ready and waiting for planting! Next to go in, in the next couple of weeks will be our first beetroots and lots of weird and wonderful salad leaves for our mixed salad.

Please feel free to come and visit on any of our volunteering days. Either out in the fields helping with crop production, or in our lovely Veg Shed helping with weighing and packing fruit and veg for our VegBox scheme. Email Sonia if you are thinking of visiting. Read 10 reasons why you should grow food (and get down to your local community garden to do so) here. A note from Sarah – We are delighted to announce that the Croydon Volunteer Centre (part of Croydon Voluntary Action) will be joining our community of VegBox Pick up Points from April 2019. Based conveniently in the Centrale Shopping Centre, Croydon customers will be able to collect their VegBoxes from the Volunteer Centre from 12pm on Thursday 4th April. More information here

We are always on the look out for drivers to undertake vegbox deliveries as cover every now and again when our drivers are away. Please contact Sarah if you are interested.

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