Introduction to Fungi Identification and Cultivation course

Fascinated by fungi? Or ever marvelled at the mysteries of mushrooms? Then this course is for you!

Starting out with an introduction to fungal biology, diversity and ecology, exploring how incredible and important these organisms are, the course will then explore several outdoor and indoor growing techniques, for a range of delicious edible fungi.

We will cover everything you need to know to get growing your own fungi. From obtaining and storing fungi strains, right the way through to the development of grain spawn and production blocks. We will show you how to use the spawn you have made to create outdoor fungi beds and fungi log cultures, which can be integrated into your garden or allotment.

Following on from the understanding gained in the first two days, the third day will focus on field identification skills. Introducing the main groups of fungi, how to tell them apart, where to find them, and most importantly how to do it safely!

Taught by two experienced and passionate tutors, Rich Wright and Patrick Mallery, this three-day course is the ideal introduction to this hidden kingdom.

More info:

To book:

Participants claiming benefits – £90

Participants on low income (below £15,000) – £120

Participants earning above living wage (above £15,000) – £180

Booking enquires:
Non-booking course enquiries:

Bristol Food Producers are looking for new directors

Bristol Food Producers is a dynamic organisation supporting local food producers, retail
outlets, distributors, restaurants and supporter members to engage with each other
through the medium of local food.

We are recruiting new volunteer Directors to our board so that we can continue to support
our members and strengthen the organisation. We are particularly looking for people with
experience of successful fundraising, independent retail or the restaurant sector.

Directors meet once per month for no more than 2 hours. Many of the directorial team
have very seasonal workloads, so we are looking to compliment that with people who can
be available throughout the summer months.

If you are interested in applying for a post then please contact Sara Venn, our Chairperson,

Bristol Food Producers looking for new board members

Bristol Food Producers is a dynamic organisation supporting local food producers, retail outlets, distributors, restaurants and supporter members to engage with each other through the medium of local food.

We are recruiting new volunteer Directors to our board so that we can continue to support our members and strengthen the organisation. We are particularly looking for people with experience of successful fundraising, independent retail or the restaurant sector.

Directors meet once per month for no more than 2 hours. Many of the directorial team have very seasonal workloads, so we are looking to compliment that with people who can be available throughout the summer months.

For further information please look at

If you are interested in applying for a post then please contact Sara Venn, our Chairperson, at



Five reasons to join as a supporter member

So you’re not a farmer, grower or producer, a retail or distributor business or a restaurant. So why should you join Bristol Food Producers as a supporter member? We’ve put together five really great reasons why you should support our work!


1 ) You want to see a more sustainable and resilient food system

Our industrial food system is broken; we are not paying the true price for our food, farmers are treated poorly by supermarkets, and our soil and biodiversity is suffering. We are working hard to try and create a new, local food system that can feed us and Bristol in the future. Your support will help us working towards a better food future for our city.

2 ) You want to support local producers
There are a perfect storm of obstacles facing producers, such as competing in markets dominated by cheap supermarket food, finding secure tenancies, and overheads for seeds and packaging that erode their small profit margins. This is especially true for starter producers. We’re helping producers by identifying new routes to market, helping them access land through our landseekers’ survey, up-skilling and training them through masterclasses and subsidised training courses, and raising the profile of the food produced in and around the city wherever we can.

3 ) You want to discover new producers
We are here to help raise the profile of local producers, and connect them with consumers, retailers, distributors and restaurants. Whether that’s through social media, attending events, writing articles or simply talking about the great producers we have at every opportunity. In addition we’ll be showcasing some of the brilliant producers in the region through a series of short films, hitting your screens in the autumn!

4 ) You want see more access to training and opportunities
Producing food is about more than just growing vegetables, and we’re keen to see courses in marketing and business skills running to help promote viable businesses. This year we’ve run a series of subsidised masterclasses over the next year to train and up-skill our members and we’re currently busy supporting other people to run their courses, shouting about all the amazing opportunities out there as well as keeping an eye out for what provision is missing in the region.

5) You want to benefit from the opportunities and discounts that BFP bringsWe work hard to offer benefits to our members. From invitations to our quarterly networking events to subsidised rates for courses, we’re always coming up with ways to say thank you to the people who support us.

We’ve got some really exciting plans for the year ahead and are busy working away on tackling some of the biggest problems facing local food production in the area. We’d really appreciate your support in this. Supporter membership costs just £15 per year and you can sign up here.

Our members: The Community Farm

This post has been reposted from The Locavore website with permission:

One of my favourite things about living in Bristol is the beautiful countryside that surrounds the city. Unfortunately, I pick a bad day for my visit to the Community Farm, and my windscreen wipers are on full speed for a good chunk of the journey there. Luckily it dries up a little as I arrive in the Chew Valley, and I arrive under darkened but dry skies.


Ian meets me out in the field, a cheerful face on a damp morning. We can see Chew Valley lake through the hazy clouds, and we go for a wander around the fields as he gives me a history of the farm. It’s different from other farms as it’s a community owned social enterprise. In 2011, a share offer was issued, with more than 500 people contributing to the £126,000 that was raised. “We rent 15 acres, and we’re currently growing on half of that,” Ian tells me as we pass some young apple trees that have recently been mulched. “Our landlord Luke is a local organic farmer, and has been part of this since the very beginning,” he continues. “He’s a very supportive landlord.”

They operate an organic box scheme that delivers to around 400 households in Bristol and the surrounding area, as well as going to the weekly Bath farmers market. They grow some of the vegetables themselves, their fields currently boasting chard, kale, cabbage, parsley and salad greens. Other produce comes from local farms. “There’s a loose cooperative; people who don’t want to necessarily get involved with a box scheme themselves, so they bring it to us and we work with them to plan and fix a price that is above the market price,” Ian explains. “It’s really good for them as they can plan with confidence at the beginning of the year and know what they’re going to get. And in return we get some really wonderful produce and security in the supply.” As well as vegetables, they also deliver fruit, dairy, eggs and a wonderful selection of dried goods. Their landlord Luke Hassel also supplies meat boxes through The Story Organic – one for a future visit perhaps.

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I ask about the challenges they’ve faced over the last five years. “There’s been a bit of a learning curve with the ground,” Ian tells me as we stop to take a closer look at the soil, pointing out the issues to me as we crouch down. “Its a very light soil, so it loses its structure really easily.” He pauses; “We’ve worked out that the fertility building part of the rotation needs to be longer; not so much to add fertility but to allow the soil to regain some structure. We’re aiming to move to a 50/50 rotation, where 50% of it is cover cropped at any time, and as soon as crops are finished in September we need to plough the ground and get some of this grazing rye on it to cover it.”

We continue our walk, through long rows of cabbages and a forest of kale. Ian is the volunteer manager on the farm, with a dozen or so regular volunteers coming out each week to help out. “It’s wonderful,” he tells me, a big smile on his face. “It’s heartwarming every day because there’s people who are right into it, and come out and give their time on the farm.” As well as the regular volunteers, they also host community farmer days where the wider community come out and help. “People come and make friends, and you see that dynamic going on,” he points out. “If you went to a social event and didn’t know anyone, it can be awkward. But if you come and do something together, it’s a bit of glue to pull everyone together.”

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Other than Ian and the volunteers, there’s the head grower John, an apprentice leader and three apprentices through the Soil Association Future Growers scheme. “They really help us, it’s been great,” Ian points out. As well as the field workers, there’s the staff in the warehouse and office; packers, drivers, customer service and PR. The farm also has a volunteer board of directors; “They’re incredible,” Ian confesses “It’s humbling – they’re all well skilled in some area and they’re steering and directing the farm so well.”

We stand for a moment on the highest ground surrounded by kale plants, admiring the view and ruminating on the benefits of working on the land. I ask Ian why he got into farming. “Environmental concerns. You can be part of the solution to the environmental issues we face,” he points out. His passion for working on the land is clearly evident through his work with the volunteers on the farm. “It’s really good for the soul; we’re natural beings and not machines, so it’s part of our biological heritage.”

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We move from the fields towards the educational area; the yurt which acts as a sheltered learning space, and the outdoor area where kids and adult groups get their hands in the dirt. The educational side of the farm is integral to the farm’s ethos and operation, with the profits used to fund these learning experiences. “We want this to grow further, and hopefully develop a social and therapeutic horticultural garden and program,” Ian tells me. He describes his dreams for a poly tunnel, tool shed and larger covered area, as well as talking me through the plans for the garden. “It needs to be usable for a lot of different groups; hopefully there’ll be lots of different types of beds accessible to people of all ages and abilities. I’d like to see the people coming through this program being able to move into being involved in the commercial aspects of the farm,” he finishes.

In our way to the poly tunnels, we pass beautiful beds of lettuce, covered over to protect them from the deer who love to come and nibble on them. The tunnels themselves are bursting with a beautiful mix of salad greens, ready to supply the boxes over the coming weeks. We stop to nibble on some of the different leaves, tasting the variety of flavours that each bring to the mix. As we leave the tunnels, Ian’s volunteers start to arrive, so we say farewell. I ask him what he thinks is special about the Community Farm. “It’s an amazing project where ideals have become reality. It connects people with the land, their food and offers them an opportunity to be part of that.”


Find out more:

Our Members: Upcycled Mushrooms

This post has been reposted from The Locavore website with permission:

A fairly regular visit to the Feed Bristol site, I heard rumours that someone was starting to grow mushrooms there. I soon met Patrick and eventually, months later, got round to arranging a visit up to find out more about how and why he grows his mushrooms. 

It’s a beautiful spring morning when I arrive. Patrick is busy stoking a fire under a couple of oil drums. “Essentially, it’s a very low tech pasteuriser,” he explains, rubbing his eyes and ducking away from the wood smoke. “I’m boiling water in the drums, then I load the straw in these baskets,”  he says, showing me some metal cages. He then points out the winch structure overhead, explaining, “The straw gets so saturated and heavy you can’t lift it, so I need this to get it out again!” Another cloud of smoke comes our way. “The idea is that all of this will be cobbed in so it’s insulated and controls the smoke a bit,” he says with a good natured smile.


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Patrick got into growing food as a teenager. “My nan had a greenhouse and was really into growing,” he tells me. “I had a go at growing mushrooms when I was 19 or 20. I failed epically like everyone does,” he points out, laughing; “But for some reason I stuck with it rather than giving up. It was just a hobby for 5 or 6 years, then about 5 years ago I decided I’d like to do it as my job.” He spent the next four years saving money and buying equipment, and his business, Upcycled Mushrooms is now up and running. He’s one of four different enterprises (including Sims Hill) running on the Feed Bristol site. “I did a year or so of volunteering up here,” he explains. “Through speaking to Matt and trying to find somewhere to set it up, I got offered the opportunity to do it here and become one of the small businesses on the site. It’s amazing and feels really complimentary to the other businesses here.”

He grows a variety of edible mushrooms across the site. Indoors he focuses on oyster mushrooms and lion’s mane, and we set off towards the polytunnels to see his set up, winding our way through the paths on the Feed Bristol site. “I grow different ones depending on the time of the year,” he explains. “Over the winter I’ve been growing grey oysters, but they don’t like hot temperatures so in the summer I move into pink and yellow oysters. It means that I don’t have to spend loads of energy or money trying to heat or cool a room to the right temperature for something to grow; instead just grow something that likes it at that temperature at that time of the year.” Sounds like a good plan to me. He’s made efficient use of the space under the growing benches in the polytunnels ; big plastic boxes full of substrate sit under one bench, shortly to have oyster mushrooms growing out of them. On the other side, he has bags of substrate; some have young lion’s mane mushrooms starting to grow, others have shiitakes peaking through. “The oyster mushrooms are ready in 8-9 days,” he points out. “You can literally look at them before you leave in the evening, and then again in the morning and notice the growth.” The lion’s mane take a little longer, with the fruiting body taking around 14-15 days to reach sellable size.


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The oyster are a familiar sight with their trumpet shape and long gills. The lion’s mane on the other hand look completely baffling; cream in colour and made up of thousands of long tiny spines. I ask about the flavour. “They have a high protein count and are very tender; great for people who are looking to cut down their meat consumption but still want that meaty quality for a meal.”


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As we continue walking around the site, we talk about his market. “I’ve started selling to a few restaurants around the city,” he begins. We talk names, and I’m delighted to hear Poco and Flow on the list. “It’s quite small scale at the moment but I’m hoping to up it once I get more space and get more established,” he points out. It’s a challenging operation, with everything done by hand. “I sell to restaurants because I have to ask a certain price for them because of the work involved,” he explains. “It’s tough to get people to realise what it takes to have local food, and understand the different between industrially grown mushrooms and ecologically or sustainably grown mushrooms. There’s such a difference between the two, both in terms of flavour but also nutrition.”

We find ourselves by his wood chip bed; it’s yet to start fruiting yet this year, so at the moment it looks just like a bed of wood chips with some young trees planned in it. “This bed was built last spring; it did fruit last autumn but it wasn’t fully colonised then,” he explains. With a bit of luck it should be bursting into life in the next few weeks and he’s hoping for 2-3kg of wine cap mushrooms a week from it. The wood chip bed can form a complimentary relationship with whatever is planted in it, as the mushrooms eat the wood chips and turn them into soil and nutrients, providing food for the trees and bushes. “We’re growing alder on it, which in five years, on a coppice rotation, will become wood chip again,” he explains, but points out it’s also an ideal set up for fruit trees or bushes.


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His tour continues, and I soon find myself looking at a pile of logs. Looking closer, I notice a series of holes in each log. “You drill holes into the logs, push the spawn into the hole and seal them up,” Patrick tells me. He pauses. “Then you wait a year!” He points out that while it takes a long time to establish, it will fruit for up to four years. “Once you get it going, you do a yearly rotation, replacing the old with the new.” He’s got logs growing shiitake, chicken of the woods and maitake mushrooms, but isn’t concentrating on the logs because of the amount of storage space required. He’s also started growing reishi mushrooms, a type of medicinal mushroom that is known in Chinese medicine for its immune boosting properties. They are the slowest growing of all the mushrooms he grows, taking 3 months or so to reach size.

We pause for a minute to talk about the wood he uses. He points to the closest logs; “This is poplar, which was rescued after the road protests. Some species are quite specific about what they want to grow onto – shiitake is an oak specialist, but oyster for example will go for most hard woods.” Some woods aren’t suitable, such as conifers which have a natural fungicide in the resin of the wood, which inhibits the growth of most mushrooms. Tree surgeons drop off their logs and chippings at the Feed Bristol site, Patrick takes anything that can be grown on, and the rest is turned into mulch or used on paths elsewhere on the site.

Standing in the shade of some blossom filled apple trees, conversation turns to the wonders of fungi. “I got really intrigued by them, and the more I’ve read and learnt, the more I realise how critically important they are to the entire ecosystem,” Patrick muses. “They’re the ones doing all the recycling, they create soil, they live inside plants…. They’re very very weird and slightly magical things!” he points out with a grin.

The tour ends where the process begins; the lab. It’s a hand-made set up, full of crates of jars, equipment and bottles, and an intriguing box set up with glove inserts (presumably a low-cost clean room). “This is where I clean cultures out,” he explains. “If I’m taking a mushroom I’ve found in the wild, I have to run it through a series of petri dishes on agar until I clean the culture out. And once I have a sterile culture, I then bring it onto a mid-range substrate such as rye grain or sawdust.” He shows me a jar full of grain, the top two inches fuzzy with mycelium. From there, he transfers it to a bigger food source; in the case of the outdoor beds, the wood chip. For his indoor growing, he uses either wood chips, sawdust (from a local furniture maker) or a mix of straw and coffee grounds. “Some of the substrate for my oyster mushrooms comes from Extract Coffee roasters next to the M32; so I’m taking their waste stream and converting it back into food again!”


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As I pack up my camera, we talk about how his love of fungi extends beyond just growing. He’s teamed up with another mushroom lover, Rich, to run courses. “We’ve written a three day workshop, and that’s been running for a few years now. It combines ecological growing and basic identification- if you’re doing outdoor stuff, there are risks involved with other weed fungi getting into the beds, so it’s important to know what you’re looking at if you’re going to eat them.”

As I cycle home, I get the feeling it’s going to be an exciting year for local mushrooms in Bristol.

More information:


Grow Leader course and placements

Summer has truly sprung up here at Feed Bristol – the wildflowers are blooming, the birds are singing and the ponds are full of frogs and newts! With the new season we have released an exciting range of opportunities to get involved in this buzzing project where wildlife and people thrive.
The Grow Leader Course: learn to be a community facilitator
We are thrilled to announce our next Grow Leader Course, which kicks off on the 6th of July. The course is for anyone interested in becoming an effective facilitator for engaging people in ecological land management and food growing. During the 12 sessions, you will learn the skills needed for developing community engagement, as well as a theoretical and practical knowledge of conservation and horticulture.
The teaching will take place at the beautiful Feed Bristol site, a 6 acre oasis of food growing, conservation and community work (BS16 1HB). Spending time on site is a great way of experiencing the running of a successful food growing and conservation project first hand.
For more information on the Grow Leader Course, and to sign up, follow the link below:
What better way to spend your days than on a beautiful site, surrounded by wonderful people, learning about one of the most important things there is – how to encourage resilient and sustainable communities?
Grow Leader Placements: join our team!
Those who want an even richer learning experience should consider applying for a Grow Leader Placement. Successful applicants will join the Grow Leader Course FREE of charge – as well as having the exceptional hands on learning opportunity of working at Feed Bristol 2 days a week.
Grow Leader Placements help us to run the site; facilitating volunteers and assisting the food growing and conservation activities throughout the season. This is a brilliant way of getting work experience whilst enriching and building on the learning from the Grow Leader Course.
If you are interested in becoming a Feed Bristol Grow Leader, follow the link below for further details, the deadline is the 16th June, so get those applications in (interviews 21st June for 6th July start):
feed_bristol_grow_leader_volunteer_role_description.doc . Applicants must be able to commit to 2 days on site a week for 9 months.

Our Members: Stream Farm

This post has been reposted from The Locavore website with permission:

Working in local food for the past year, I’ve learnt a lot about the wider challenges in the agricultural sector. One of the most pressing is the subject of land access, especially for new entrants to farming. With agricultural land prices trebling in the last decade, it makes starting a new enterprise out of reach for many people. Over the months I’ve found out about a number of different ideas and models, but one of the most interesting is the Share Farming approach taken by a farm down in the Quantocks, and so when other adventures took me almost to their doorstep, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to find out a bit more about Stream Farm.


It’s a grey and rather dismal January day when I pull up to the farm, a light drizzle greeting me as I step out of the car. Despite the rain, I stop to admire the view, the farm sitting in a beautiful valley surrounded by lush rolling hills, peppered with sheep. A few birds sit on the lake at the bottom, unbothered by the weather. The rain gets the better of me though, and I make my way to the office and am warmly greeted by James who owns the farm, and Sam who helps keep all the separate enterprises running smoothly. Within a few minutes it’s obvious that James is an expert on the issues facing the farming sector at the moment; talk flits easily from subsidies and Brexit, to the impact of potential trade agreements with the USA and rising land prices.

We eventually turn the conversation around to Stream Farm. James and his wife Henrietta bought the 250 acre farm back in 2002, aiming to look at tackling some of the issues that have resulted in the decline for rural communities. “It’s only a very short time ago that whatever you produced as a farmer, you could take to the end of your drive and sell, and you would make a livelihood,” he points out. Touching on issues with the supply chain and the dominance of supermarkets, he talks about the current challenges in creating a livelihood off the land. “The alternative has to be to create something different, which is so obviously attractive that people think that they can do it all over the country.” So they set out to create an alternative farming model that would be replicable elsewhere.

Coming down from London, they spent a couple of years learning the farming business themselves. “When we arrived there were 25 cows and 25 sheep,” he begins. The farm wasn’t organic at that point, but the conversion was always inevitable. “I knew we had to go organic; I’m a child of Silent Spring!” he points out. “I kept it as it was for a year to see what actually happened. And the answer was that we went out often enough with white wellies, white overalls, white masks, white goggles, white gloves, putting on stuff from a tin with a skull and crossbones on it.” He pauses for a few moments. “It was obvious that this couldn’t possibly be ok. So at the end of that year we began to convert to organic, and on some of the fields we saw the change within a single crop.” I ask about the changes; “Suddenly we saw the worm burden burst forth again, you saw the birds come back, you saw the hare return. It was just extraordinary,” he explains, smiling.

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The first enterprise they scaled up was the cattle, and they stuck with the Dexter breed that was on the farm when they arrived and increased to around 150 cows. “Dexters divide very well into 8 boxes, of a good size for a family.” This box scheme has formed the basis of their meat operation, with the £149 boxes containing a variety of cuts. “The boxes are priced over a hundred pounds less than the equivalent premium organic from Waitrose or Sainsburys,” he points out, showing the benefit of buying in this way. The Hampshire Down sheep was the next to be increased to its current flock of around 300, and is sold in similar fashion with a half lamb box coming in at around £80-90.

The third business on the farm is the organic chickens, and they sell around 125 free ranging Devonshire Gold chickens each week direct to customers or restaurants. “I’m quite happy to explain why one of our 2kg chickens, which will cost around £15, is good value,” James explains. “You’re not going to find that 30% disappears when you roast it and you are going to find that it’s going to give you three good meals.” They’ve also got around two and a half acres of apple orchard; 925 trees of 5 different varieties that produced about 800 cases of apple juice last year. They’re working on a spring water enterprise too, selling still and sparkling water from a spring they discovered on the farm. Not to forget the rainbow trout raised in ponds on the farm, from which they sell fresh fish or smoke them in the smoker they built out of an old caravan they bought on eBay. They’ve just started producing honey and are looking at a potential crayfish enterprise to compliment the trout business, and the possibility of eggs is always running around the back of James’s mind. In short, there’s a lot of potential.

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The produce itself is wonderful, but the most interesting thing is the fact that each enterprise is run through a Share Farming arrangement between James and Henrietta, and the people running each enterprise. “The model that we chose to establish therefore was an umbrella common brand, which is of such a caliber that people hear of it and know what it stands for, and then under that brand to have large numbers of small businesses, all helping each other out.” He pauses; “They run their own show through a share farming agreement, and take a proportion of the gross income which covers a livelihood for a family of four, somewhere between the national average and the Somerset average income.” For some of the enterprises they’re at the point of supporting a full livelihood, while others are still a work in progress. It’s fascinating to listen to James talk; his choice to come at farming from a more business focused angle while still respecting the environment makes for interesting listening.

I ask James why the model works. “I don’t think it’s any different from the old village model,” he explains, “Because all the businesses share all the land and all the kit, and they rotate as they did in strip farming because that’s part of fertilising the fields. We help each other out all the time; if there’s a sudden order for 100 fresh trout each week for the spring menu of one of the restaurants then we’ve all got to get on gutting, and we all help out cleaning the barns for the beef cattle twice a week.”


It’s also intended that people only stay for long enough to learn the business, and are then replaced by a new generation of budding entrepeneurs. About 20 people have come through the farm in the last 15 years, and while James suggests two years as the ideal amount of time for people to pick up the business and a year as the minimum, some people stay longer. James admits that while the farming education side is important, the greatest success has been that people have left understanding the business side of things. Sam chips in at this point; “They learn skills here that are very useful. The last chicken farmer from here now runs a successful small joinery business. He built four of the chicken sheds we have, and as his time went on it was clear he was really talented at that, so it was a real springboard. And now he’s doing really well!”

They’re passionate about making their model replicable elsewhere; “Nothing that we’re doing is very complicated,” James explains. “I think now we’ve got this model sorted, people who know more about farming can definitely make it work better than I can! We’ve got the shape of it, and this can now be taken up by anyone with quite a lot of land pretty easily.” He stops to take a drink of tea and looks around the organised office, phone ringing in the background. “My interest isn’t in farming, my interest is in the regeneration of rural communities, and getting this model out there is the way to achieve that. In fact we’re trying to create ‘suitcases’ so that you can pick up all that you need to start a chicken business and you know that in that suitcase there’s answers to the question such as ‘how much land do I need?’, the paperwork you need etc,” he tells me.


Stomachs start to rumble as lunchtime approaches. While James goes to check on progress, Sam takes me out to see the newest arrivals on the farm. It’s lambing time and there’s an assortment of tiny lambs bouncing around in the barn. He hops over the barrier to grab a lamb who’s bleating loudly in one of the pens; it turns out to be a bottle fed lamb who’s associated our arrival with the hope of a meal. I get a cuddle of the soft, gangly legged creature for a few minutes before we head in for lunch. I’ve arrived on a fortuitous day as Mondays are when everyone gathers together for lunch. Henrietta has cooked up a couple of beautiful big quiches with some of their own smoked trout, and we pile our plates high with this, salad and warm bread. There’s a lovely sense of community around the huge table with plenty of laughter and warm conversation.

After lunch I ask the trout farmer Simon if he will take me down to see the ponds. “We get the trout in as fingerlings from a place about half an hour away,” he explains as we walk down the driveway. “They go into the ponds, and literally it is just stream fed. We have two filter ponds at the top where the water comes in from the stream and we pass it through two holding ponds and then some barley straw. It comes into the ponds and goes through.” We arrive at the ponds, and he continues his explanation. “There’s about 900 fish in each of the ponds at present. And so we just grow them on and stagger it. We feed them organic food, but we can’t sell them as organic was we don’t have a local source of organic fingerlings, but it does come through in the flavour.” I ask how many fish they sell a week. “It depends!” he says with a smile. “We can do 64 fish in the smoker, and fresh, as many as we need. It takes a few months to grow to plate sized, and a little longer for the ones we smoke.” He’s been doing the trout for just over a year and enjoys it. “It’s quite simple, and it seems to work. Sometimes producing organically really fits with small and more varied farms,” he points out with a smile.

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I go for a quick wander in the orchard, admiring its beautifully straight lines of trees through a fine mist of drizzle, and on my way out I pop by the barn to witness the twice weekly clean out, when during the winter everyone drops tools and picks up a pitchfork to clear out the cows. A job that would take one person all day is achieved in just over an hour with a full team. It’s a calm activity as everyone knows their role and tractors and people move around each other with ease. It’s a great moment to witness the Stream Farm model in action; cooperation and community at work.

Find out more:

Our Members: Plowright Organic

This post has been reposted from The Locavore website with permission:

I’ve been to a LOT of vegetable farms over the past five years. However, occasionally one comes along that sparks my interest and inspires me to find out more. I heard about Plowright Organic last year and was intrigued; partly because they’re growing on 30 acres of land and use some machinery on the land. But what got me most interested was the fact that they provide totally farm grown veg boxes for nine months of the year; something that few farms in this country can achieve. Time for a visit I think…


Started back in 2000 by Richard and Remke, ten years ago Plowright Organic moved to Stowey Rocks Farm at the foot of the Quantock Hills in West Somerset. It’s a rather grey Monday morning when I take a farm walk with Adam, one of the growers, and the hills are masked in a slightly etherial blanket of mist. “It’s an 80 acre organic holding rented from the council, originally on a 7 year tenancy but we’ve just renewed for another five years.” he explains as we set out across the farmyard. “The tenancy beyond 2021 is far from certain, and this is a real issue but Richard is always optimistic about the future and continues to invest in the business.” Security of tenure represents a challenge for many farmers, but Plowright are remaining positive despite the uncertainty.

Adam continues; “We currently crop on about 30 acres out of the 80, and the rest is either permanent pasture, woodland, hedgerows or leys.” As we walk past we pop into the small farm shop that operates on an honesty box basis, the vegetables all laid out in boxes ready for people to help themselves to; “It’s fantastic; we have about forty or fifty people coming here over the course of the 3 days that it’s open.” As I look around the shop and the wide range of veg on offer, we talk about their other routes to market. As well as the shop, they have a veg box operation. “We deliver from Bristol right down to Taunton and across to Wellington; a lot of it is to villages which is quite rare, and it’s nice to be able to provide the rural areas with veg boxes.” They average around 220 boxes a week, but the most unusual thing about Plowright though is that their boxes are 100% farm grown for nine months of the year; a remarkable thing when compared to most operations that buy in heavily during winter and spring. They also sell a lot wholesale, some to local community shops but also to places like The Community Farm and Green Wheel to help support their box schemes.

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There are four of them working full time on the land, two people doing grading and packing of the boxes, two drivers, and one person doing a lot of the behind the scenes work including managing the orders and paperwork. We wander into the packing shed, where trays of freshly harvested cabbages are waiting at the entrance, but as it’s a Monday morning most of the crates pallets are stacked up along the side waiting for harvesting to get underway later in the week. “In the summer we usually harvest as much as we can before the sun’s out and get it in the chiller straight away,” he explains. “We’ll often harvest roots the week before too to take the pressure off.” He also explains that they try and time the harvesting around the weather to look after the soil but also to try to avoid having to wash the vegetables, which keeps them fresher. Their walk-in cooler still contains carrots, parsnips and potatoes, despite it being the end of January, and they’re looking to build new chiller this year that will allow them to harvest crops earlier and get cover crops in the ground, as well as improve storage for crops through the hungry gap (the period from March – June where there are few vegetables growing in the fields).

The next stop on the tour is the tractor shed. Conversation turns to the controversy of mechanisation in organic farming, but Plowright have opted to use tractors and machinery in well timed and carefully thought out ways. With it being winter, everything is mostly packed away at the moment, but Adam takes me round and shows me the different implements “We do everything on a bed system so the whole production system is standardised. It’s a 1.2m bed and everything’s on 3 rows,” he explains. He shows me the drill they use for seeding, reducing the need for labour intensive tasks like thinning out, the one man weeding machine (“One person can go out on a summers evening and do 10 acres!”) and the carousel planter that allows you to change the spacing between plants, and you just load the plugs from trays into the machine. We pause by the bed former, where Adam explains why it’s an important piece of machinery for them. “It’s got a hydraulic compressor on the back which allows us to set the compression of the beds for different crops, though we usually only have it set to one compression. It’s also what creates the raised bed system we use, which helps create better drainage, increases warmth in the soil and also buries stones”.

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He explains that each piece of machinery has it’s individual use, and helps reduce the manual labour input, one of the biggest costs to organic farmers. One of the key tools in this is the steerage hoe, which represents their primary weeding method. An assortment of blades and rakes protrude rather fearsomely from the implement, allowing you to set each one precisely to your needs. The other key aspect is in the name; “It has hydraulic steering so you just tap it left and right and steer it; you can take it really close to the plant,” he points out. Another important implement is the gas burner. “It’s monstrous, but it’s super efficient,” Adam tells me with a laugh as I stare in amazement at the size of the hulking device. “We only use it on drilled crops; we do a strike before we drill and then we do a pre-emergent strike so it gives the carrots or parsnips a little bit extra time to get ahead of the weeds.”

The tractor tour complete, we head out to the fields and begin to walk the perimeter of the farm. It may be the end of January but there’s a surprising amount still in the ground, and as we walk Adam talks me through what’s still growing and what was there earlier in the season. “We have everything set into blocks and each block is about two acres, so you can see the lineages around the farm.” There’s almost no bare soil in the fields, and we stop to look at one of the winter cover crops that helps protect the soil. “This is rye and vetch that we sowed in September; you’ll see this all around the farm,” he shows me. “And you’ll notice that we have a lot of weeds on the farm,” he points out with a smile. “Richard has a good philosophy about them; we really like them. They’re fantastic soil protectors for the crops we can’t get a green manure into at the right time and create such diversity within the soil.” He stops and looks out across the field for a moment. “We try to manage weeds at the right time; it’s really important to manage them during the early growth. Once you get a plant above that stage it can compete for itself.” As we continue around the fields, he tells me about a botanist who comes to do surveys twice a year and told them they have a lot of species you don’t see in the farm landscape any longer. It’s clearly of benefit to the biodiversity on the farm as well, as the amount of birds and bugs flying around are testament to. “We try let some things go to flower too; the bees will love it.”

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We crouch down to look at the soil; it’s a sandy loam with good drainage. Adam digs up a vetch plant to point out the nodules on the roots; “That’s the nitrogen bacteria (Rhizobium) that fixes the nitrogen that is made available when the plant decays,” he explains. “The soil is just so friable (a good crumbly texture) and it has a really high level of organic matter,” he continues, showing me the root systems from the weeds. A worm comes into sight and conversation turns to them. “The worm count here is fantastic!” he says proudly, before showing me the worm castings all over the surface and explaining a few of the different types of worms we could see.

Our route takes us past a patch of woodland. “This is Stowey Wood,” Adam tells me as we peer through the trees. “It’s part of the farm but the council manage it; it’s an old plantation and they’re currently felling it and replanting with deciduous native trees. All of a sudden there’s so many flowers and plants!” We walk along the edge of the woods for a few minutes and into their overwintering brassica field, currently sporting the promising beginnings of a purple sprouting broccoli crop. We spend a few minutes watching the pigeons swooping down to enjoy a snack from some of the exposed plants before moving into the next field. “You cut your losses and you can’t get too angry at the pigeons,” he says with a good natured smile before stopping to highlight the size of their hedgerows and margins; “That’s 6 or 7 meters there! We get high winds here, so Richard and Remke have allowed the hedges to be as big as possible.”

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Across the sea of kale, sprouts and cauliflower, two of the other growers Owen and Joel are busy harvesting cabbages and we stop to wave. With a tractor in sight, conversation touches again on the mechanisation of the farm; “I think the middle ground between no-dig and conventional tillage is the permanent bed systems and I really think it’s got a future,” Adam comments. “Richard’s developed a very good philosophy regarding mechanisation and cares deeply about it. We do use tractors and machinery, but if you do it at the right time you can make it work; you can build soil health, soil structure, increase worm counts…”

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Pausing for a moment to look over the rolling hills, a small brook and patch of woodland, Adam points out the perimeter of the farm. “Our neighbour next door is an organic farmer and he grazes his sheep and cattle on some of our pasture in exchange for manure, which is good for us,” he explains. On the other side is a large empty field. “This year we lost something like 60,000 leeks in that field to wireworm,” he tells me. “It shows how precarious farms are. There’s so much risk in farming; this could have put a farm out of business; one simple crop loss.”

Looping back towards the centre of the farm, we stop by the tunnels, and Adam is in his element; “I run the indoor cropping; I’m learning a lot from it!” he says with a grin. He’s only been growing for four years, and I ask how he got interested in it. “When I was at university I took a year out to work in industry, and got involved in this community garden behind the university. I found that so many issues can be solved by a local seasonal diet. And it’s just such a nice thing to do!” His hard work has paid off and the tunnels are bursting with life; spinach, herbs, chinese cabbage, pak choi and much more. “These are permanent beds, so minimum tillage. We broad fork at the moment, but the idea is that we move away from that. We’re trying to mound up and create raise beds to reduce the foot traffic. We put compost on top, disturb the soil as little as possible, and you can get your hand so deep in!” he says, demonstrating by sinking his hand deep into the bed. We look into the next tunnel, full of the remnants of winter salad, and a third tunnel which is being prepped for the early crops. “This will be early carrots, courgettes, baby leaf kale, some alliums, some beetroot. We dig the beds by hand and use a rake to create a nice tilth that we can drill into. The benefit of the hand drilling is that instead of having the three rows we have in the field, we can get four rows in here, so we can increase the amount of food grown on one area of land. But it takes more time, so we just try and find the balance.”

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As we leave he points out some of the giant sunflowers that are all over the farm. “I love sunflowers!” he explains with a wide grin. “And it really helps the birds who then eat the pests,” he points out. “I do a lot of flowers in the tunnels during the summer too, just to try and encourage insects in and create a better environment.” The last part of our walk takes us through the orchard, where there trees are bare and the ground is littered with the last few windfalls. “There’s about 200 trees and 15 varieties,” Adam tells me. “The birds love this place; we have a flock of fieldfare who spend a lot of time here.”

We find ourselves back at the start and fortuitously in perfect time for the coffee break. Everyone gathers in the farmhouse kitchen, coffee is brewed, jars of peanut butter are cracked open and everyone sits down for a half hour. The team here works hard, but as I look around the room I see a group of people who enjoy and care about what they do. And with that, I take a sip of my tea.


Our Members: Source Food Hall

This post has been reposted from The Locavore website with permission:

I stopped shopping in supermarkets several years ago. I had a multitude of reasons, including the poor deal they give suppliers, lack of provenance information about produce, the difficulties faced by small independent businesses, and the fact that I simply grew to hate the experience. Now, I manage to buy a good chunk of produce direct from farmers and local producers, but I still need to go to shops to buy food a couple of days a week. So if I don’t go to supermarkets, where do I go?

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A few months ago I started working in the Corn Exchange in the centre of Bristol. My lunchtime wanderings led me past the Source Food Hall and Cafe, and as soon as I popped my head inside, I knew it was going to be a regular haunt. A huge butchery counter lines one side of the shop, with fish and cheese along the other side. Dried goods, vegetables, bread, freshly baked treats burst from every surface. A cafe occupies the top end of the space, with tempting smells emanating from the kitchen. In short, it’s food lover’s heaven.

Source started back in 2009, when Joe, Ross and Liz did a management buy out of a business called Taste. Originally a wholesale company, Taste had expanded into the retail market, but when the financial crisis hit, the business went into administration. All three of them were working at Taste at the time, and decided to give it a go themselves. 7 years later and Source has become an integral part of the food scene in Bristol, and I swung by the cafe one afternoon to chat with Joe about what makes Source different.
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“All three of us are very passionate about high quality food done well,” Joe starts. He heads up the shop part of the operation, with Ross taking on the role of head chef in the kitchen and Liz as their pastry chef. “Source plays an essential role in the supply chain,” he points out. “We’re a link between the producer and the customer; I think we’re a service provider more than a food provider.” And they do provide an excellent service; from fish filleting to meat butchering, not to mention the lovely food you can eat or take home from the cafe. They source from local producers and further afield. “We try to get as much as possible from Somerset and Gloucestershire,” Joe explains. “We buy the best that we can; we look for locality and quality first, and then things like organic.” He pauses for a moment, “For every product, every thing that’s in here, there’s a reason why it’s here. There are so many variables for each different thing, so we take it on a case by case basis.”
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For me, this relationship with suppliers is essential. My friend jokes that I won’t eat meat unless I know the farmer’s name, which is in fact not far from the truth. In Source, I may not know the farmer’s name, but I know for sure that Joe does, and his standards are ones I trust. The shop is full of so many great products, and I ask Joe if he has a favourite. “I really like dealing with pork suppliers, which is a really strange one,” he admits. “They tend to be really lovely people who care about the whole chain. I think it has to do with the nature of the pig; it hoovers up all of the waste, it doesn’t need much husbandry, it can live in a relatively small space, and it can plough and fertilise your field for you. In addition, when it goes to the abattoir, every bit of it is used. So I feel an affinity with pig farmers and pork suppliers, because I think it fits in really nicely within the food chain.” This passion influences the way they source meat, buying whole animals where possible to ensure all parts of the animal are used. This is why you’ll often find more unusual cuts and offal on the Source counter, alongside your more familiar steaks and roasts.

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This leads onto a conversation about the importance of good local food, a favourite topic of mine. “The true cost of food in the UK is nothing close to the cost that we’re paying at the moment,” he points out. “Local food is good because it cuts down on food miles, it creates local jobs and benefits the area. Plus you have a freshness element in there as well – if something is picked that day, it can be sold and consumer on that same day, which is excellent for your health.” I ask about the relationship between the cafe and the shop, and how they benefit each other. “The fish, the cheese, the meat, the veg all supply the cafe. It’s a nightmare for the accounting, but it’s great for us,” Joe tells me, with a smile on his face, despite the challenges this must bring. “The chefs can just wander down to the shop and have a conversation with the fishmonger or the butcher, and say ‘Hey I fancy doing this this week,’ and then we all make it happen. It’s extremely seasonal and fresh, and if we’re having a problem shifting something in the shop, we can talk to the chefs and get it on the menu. It’s awesome; I mean there’s obviously waste, but not a lot, and I’m proud of that.” We chat more about the challenges of stocking fresh produce. “As soon as we order products, the delay process starts. We employ different tools such as charcuterie, curing, cooking…. and selling – that’s a good tool!” he finishes, laughing.

They also run several courses at Source, increasing people’s practical skills around food. “About 6 years ago we started doing a fish filleting course,” Joe explains. “It was basically to break down the barrier that British people seem to have with fish. The course is designed to teach the average person who’s a bit interested in fish how to select, buy, prepare and cook your fish; right from the whole fish to putting it in your mouth. It’s superb because it’s just the best fast food imaginable!” His enthusiasm for fish shines through, not surprising given his background as a fishmonger. “We teach a group of 6, with two teachers and it takes 3 hours. You get the flat fish and round fish we teach you on, and we throw the knife in as well. It’s an after school club!”

Well, I’m persuaded.

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“A couple of years ago when Paul joined as our butcher, we added the basic butchery course which is along the same lines,” he continues.  “We take the bones out of a shoulder of lamb, and the way that Paul has designed it, the skills can be downscaled to a chicken and upscaled to pork and beef. So they’re totally transferrable skills. Then we do a charcuterie course, which is a very science based. You cure your own bacon and make our own sausages, and take them home at the end of the night with a whole head full of figures and science.”

I love the experience of shopping in Source. It’s a small staff team, so I’ve got to know people over time, and always get a nice hello when I go in. In addition, I always learn something new. Whether it’s learning about the problems with salmon farming in Scotland, or discovering a new cut of meat, the staff are without question the most knowledgeable of any shop I’ve been in. Which, for a big food geek like me, is a big bonus. “We have a really good following of really good, loyal customers who come in on a daily basis,” Joe admits. “I know a lot of people’s names and they know mine. It’s really genuinely lovely to see them,” he points out with a big smile. “I’d say that is one of the best things about Source, it’s part of the community. Not everybody can shop here, because we’re a very small shop and we don’t do things in the mass produced way. But I’d say that no matter what your budget, no matter what your take on food, there’s something in Source for you. Come on in and have a look; some things are cheaper than Tescos, some things are not cheaper than Tescos. But when you shop at Source, you get more out of it than an experience shopping in Tescos.”

I ask about the future, and where he’d like Source to go. “That’s a big question!” he responds. “We would like to have lots of little Sources all over the place, but it requires a lot of skilled staff to be very dedicated to the cause to keep your eye on waste and things like that; you can’t just find those people everyday. The team we have here are excellent, and we’re very blessed to have them. But it’s taken us a long time to bring these people together so that we’re working really well as a team.” He stops to think for a moment. “So I’m very happy with Source as it is at the moment. We’re going to have a few more events coming up, continue doing our courses, and engaging schools in the whole process of farming and where your food comes. We have beehives on our roof, and Quentin our beekeeper takes the hives into schools to show them the extraction process and has also done candle making. And I’d really like to get more involved in the political side of things; there’s a lot of politics underpinning and undermining what we’re doing, things like the true cost of food. People have a preconceived idea of us and why our food is so expensive. But actually given the bigger picture, it’s actually extremely good value.”

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