We set off up the A217 this morning, on our way to Sutton Community Farm who were holding a “Field to Fork” event for their customers. Sutton Community Farm are one of the main suppliers to the Transition Redhill food group, otherwise known as the Redhill & Reigate Food Group (with its own website, here).
We take a regular bag of organic vegetables from the farm, and were looking forward to finding out more about where it comes from. We arrived slightly late, and found a large group of customers already gathered in the portakabin that forms the main farm building, drinking tea and chatting with the staff – Laura, Carlota and Joris.
Then it was out for a tour of the crops. First stop, the polytunnels. Apparently these were blown down in a storm last year, but new, more substantial structures have risen from the debris, constructed from the salvageable pieces of the old ones. The new versions seem pretty solid, and are currently full of salad crops, plus tomatoes and cucumbers, interspersed with smaller plants such as basil and borage. We picked a bit of everything on our way through, and headed for the outdoors. Joris and Laura led our small procession, and explained the workings of the business as we went.
The site is divided into 50m plots, worked on a six-year rotation for the main crops, with a separate four-year rotation for salads and other crops. Courgettes, shallots, beans, chard, kale, fennel, and more, are all now ready for harvest, but at the same time next winter’s squash have just been sown, and the Christmas supply of Brussels sprouts is coming on very nicely. Even so, they can’t supply enough of every variety of vegetable from this small site, so, although most of the veg bag produce is grown here, some has to be sourced from other organic farms (more details here).
It was a real pleasure to walk around the plots and see them bursting with healthy plants, including a good number of flowering plants encouraged to attract pollinators. Bees and butterflies were everywhere, showing that food production doesn’t have to mean biodiversity deserts such as you see on industrial farms.
Currently the farm supplies weekly veg bags to some 160 customers in south London and Surrey, including our group in Redhill and Reigate, and hope to grow this number in order to become financially sustainable.
But Sutton Community Farm isn’t just about growing vegetables. Their mission takes in many of society’s thornier problems, all of which are somehow related to food. By growing healthy food for the local community they are improving people’s health and sense of connectedness to their environments, and giving their many volunteers a self-esteem boost and some important work skills. Volunteers include students from a local special needs school and vulnerable adults on probation, as well as people from all walks of life.
Back to the portakabin kitchen with our haul of organic goodies, and Joris the head grower turned into Joris the master chef. Dish after delicious dish came sliding across the table: salads, greens with eggs, tarte tatin, broad bean pate and quiche. All served with slices of fresh wholemeal bread (made by Guy, the farm’s baker). Obviously there were a few ingredients that didn’t come out of the fields this morning: butter (quite a lot of that), oil, paprika and bouillon powder, and, most surprisingly, medium sweet sherry (which added a rich sweetness to the onions).
All in all, a fascinating and enjoyable visit. Not only do we now know exactly where our food comes from, but we also have a lot of new ideas for what to do with it when it arrives.
To receive your very own regular bag of fresh veg (or bread, or fruit) from the farm, take a look at the selection here and place your order. They have a large number of delivery locations in Surrey and south London, including our own Redhill & Reigate Food Group delivery point in Earlswood.
More pictures from our visit (click to enlarge):