Leaving Trill Farm

1 Oct 2020 | 0 comments

Dear friends,

I'm leaving Trill Farm in a couple of weeks’ time, although really, I'm taking Trill Farm with me.

There is perhaps a philosophical dilemma about whether you truly leave things behind or whether you take with you what you have created. I think I tend to go with the latter. I think the world is of our own making.

My working life started off in school teaching. An act of fate led me to work for six years in a progressive 'free' school. The philosophy of the school was to encourage the children to learn through their own interests. The skill of the teacher was to provide the opportunities and the means for them to do this. The school was run by the children, the parents and the teachers. It was an exciting place to implement ideals and lay foundations for the future.

Fundamental to this type of education was helping the children to understand and appreciate their responsibility for their own actions. I'm talking about this now because as I am packing up to leave Trill Farm, four decades later, I feel that there is a thread from working at the school, setting up Neal's Yard Remedies and most recently Trill Farm. I wanted Trill Farm to become a model, using the farm's resources to produce food. Good food, to me, is essential for good health. And good health leads to sense of wellbeing.

I don't know if leaving Trill Farm will, in hindsight, be the biggest mistake I've made. But for the last 18 months, I have tried very hard to handle my diminishing energy (post-heart surgery) and the loss of my partner, Godfrey. With those personal difficulties in the background, I have struggled to take Trill Farm into another new phase of its life. 

Trill Farm has been an exploration into doing things differently. An adventure into farming, community and education. It has been an experiment in weaving those three areas together. 

By the end of my first 18 months here, I recognised that I did not have the skills, energy or knowledge to do it all myself. Trill Farm became a brilliant opportunity to bring together idealists, creatives and activists in the world of farming, food and education.

Ash and Kate were the first people that I invited in, to take over the small vegetable growing enterprise that I had set up as Trill Farm Garden. Jake Hancock and his wife Chrissy then arrived to take over my herd of Red Devons and develop the organic conservation farming, which more recently has been taken over by Harry Boglione.

Daphne Lambert and I created the Trill Farm kitchen. This was designed to be a teaching kitchen that was able to bring together all the foods that were produced on the farm by the different people based here. Daphne moved on to run her charity, the Green Cuisine Trust and I invited Chris Onions to use the space to establish the Old Dairy Kitchen. Ash, Kate, Chris and Anna will all continue to live and run their businesses at Trill Farm.

I want to create products responsibly, ethically, and sustainably, but not just for people who are privileged enough to spend enough money to buy them. These products should be available to anybody who chooses quality above a mass produced industrial product that embodies hidden costs. But we need help to learn what to value.

By electing governments that do not prioritise the true welfare and wellbeing of their voters, a small artisanal project like Trill Farm taking responsibility for its people, products and the environment, cannot possibly compete with the global industrialised manufacturers that then get distributed by operations like Tesco and Amazon.

Somehow, we need to shift our values. And we can. We can value the small, responsible manufacturers. I'm looking forward to writing about this over the coming year, because I find it so fascinating that there is this core dilemma. We all, since the Covid experience, are understanding so much more about what is of value in our lives. 

Despite spending the last 18 months looking for partners to take on Trill Farm as a joint project, with core values around education, society and agriculture, I don't think I was able to come up with the right model. Although what I take away from Trill Farm, is the knowledge that it can work, if you get the model right, and of course with the right people.

Living at Trill Farm has been an extraordinary adventure into ideas and community and over the past 14 years, I have met brilliant people who have been truly supportive and inspiring. This is really a big thank you to all of you, but is also an invitation to join us for the next chapter. 

Tamsin and Lara, who have been with me on this journey from the beginning, and I, are going to take the name, energy and ideas of Trill Farm. We have lots of exciting ideas for the future and the land that we are retaining at Trinity Beacon, around our core values of nature, health and education. We'll be developing these ideas over the winter, with your help, and we look forward to keeping in touch.

If you are not already signed up to our mailing list, you can do so here.

Best wishes,

Diversity in the Garden

2 Oct 2019 | 0 comments

Autumn brings us the chance to take a deep breath and reflect on what we have achieved through the year. It often feels like a sudden change from the intensity of summer work in the garden to the slower pace of autumn and the adjustment can be quite difficult at times. However, it is absolutely essential for us all to slow down a little and feel a bit less pressured.

It is a time for us to look at what has worked well and what not so well so that we can make improvements to our crop plans for next year. We make notes throughout the year rather than relying on our memories. The planning takes a while but is so necessary to try to get the most out of the garden, through putting in different successions, allowing space for seed crops and ensuring that we continue to try out new and old varieties. 

A big part of what we do is ensuring there is a great diversity in the garden, whether that is through the crops that we grow, the varieties that we choose or the work that we do and the way we manage the land. We are not interested in just growing one crop or one variety, and although we focus on salad leaves as our main crop, we grow a wide range of other crops and varieties. This results in an interesting place to work as well as a garden that is home to a diverse range of habitats. 

We also choose to cultivate the land in different ways, but generally use techniques that minimise soil disturbance, which will lead to stronger soil health, improved drainage and healthier plants. 

Producing seed crops fits into this beautifully as it not only means that we are maintaining varieties that are suited to our soil and growing conditions, but also allows for plants to reach their full maturity and in doing so providing nectar and shelter for many beneficial insects that fit into the ecology of the garden. 

This year we have produced red mizuna, Navet de Nancy turnip, Painted Lady sweet peas, Beauregarde purple snow peas, many varieties of tomatoes, a couple of lettuce varieties and Black Hungarian chillies, and we have Golden Chard and Tender and True parsnips in the ground awaiting selection in the winter (we will then replant the selected plants and allow them to flower before harvesting and processing the seed). 

Not only does this work help to maintain genetic diversity by keeping some of these old varieties alive, but it also challenges us as growers to learn new skills and in doing so keeps our work interesting and diverse.

Ash and Kate run Trill Farm Garden, supplying the Old Dairy Kitchen and many other local restaurants with fresh, seasonal and varied produce, employing and training many people as they grow. 

Visit the course page to find out more about Landworkers' Skills Courses run by Ash.