Agriculture has experienced dramatic change, especially since the end of World War II seeing farm policies gravitating towards the “bigger is better” model. As a result, many small farms were forced to shift towards intensive monocropping (growing only one crop in a large area of land). An unsustainable agricultural practice that reduces soil productivity, depletes soil nutrients, kills biodiversity, and requires large amounts of water, fertilizer, and pesticides.
Fortunately, more and more people are realising that this model is not sustainable for the land, the farmers or the people who are buying and eating questionably-produced food. And thankfully, there is a growing movement of courageous farming folk who are committed to smaller, more local and diversified ways of farming.
Stream Farm is one of the pioneers of the share farming model here in the UK. A model that maintains that the countryside is better-served by having large numbers of small farmers all helping each other, instead of the increasingly large mechanised farms who only deal with supermarkets.
Over the coming month, we will introduce you to all the farmers at Stream Farm and discover how the capacity to share, a steadfast work ethic and commitment to producing good quality ingredients will move us towards sustainable agriculture within the UK.
This week, we meet Sam and discuss how produce from your local farm (or, at least, Stream Farm!) is not only cheaper but a much better alternative, we continue to learn how the share farming model works, and we find out about his Natural Spring Water and Organic Apple Juice production on the farm.
ABOUT BEING A FARMER
Tell us how you got into farming?
My interest is in using small business to create livelihoods. I think we all have an entrepreneur within us somewhere. I knew Stream Farm was doing this in a rural context, helping small agricultural businesses to start up. There was an opening at the farm to run the spring water business and help with the organic apple orchard – and to me it was the perfect opportunity to grow a business of my own and to be part of a small-scale approach to farming that I believed in.
Can you share your thoughts on the importance of supporting your local farmers?
I think we are turning a corner in this country now, or at least it feels that way in the West Country; that means we are increasingly interested in the provenance of the food we eat. Here in Somerset you’re never far away from your local farmer – I would say go out and get to know them.
The key idea for me is that of being sustainable. Sustainability means producing food in a way that doesn’t negatively impact on future generations’ ability to do the same. What have we seen in the last two or three decades since we shifted towards supermarkets? We’ve seen rural economies decline, accompanied by an exodus of young people from rural communities, we’ve seen a lack of control over and understanding of what goes into our food, we’ve seen farms get bigger and bigger and employ relatively fewer people, we’ve seen people stop eating seasonal food and instead importing food from around the world (at what cost to the environment?) and we’ve seen a generation of children who never had the chance to engage with where their food comes from.
A different approach would be to support your local organic farmer, which is a far more sustainable approach to buying your food. It keeps the money you spend within the local economy. It empowers a group within society that has been suffering for decades. It allows you to look at the way your food is farmed, and assess for yourself the impact on the environment.
What would you say to people who say buying locally is more expensive and less convenient?
Do the research yourself and then see what you think. The prices I see the farmers on Stream Farm charging are very competitive when compared to supermarkets or the big food delivery companies. In most cases, our produce is cheaper, and in some cases markedly so. The fantastic array of awards the farmers here have won in recent years (see our website!) also suggests to me that produce from your local farm (or at least from Stream Farm) is not just cheaper but much better than the alternative.
I think the bigger challenge is changing the way people think about the way they shop. A supermarket is open all hours, always fully stocked, with food from around the world. That’s what we are up against. Our response has to be to offer something different and at least as convenient. So we deliver our produce for free, to your doorstep or business. Where possible it’s the farmer who delivers the produce, so you get to know exactly where the produce comes from and how it was farmed.
ALL ABOUT THE FARM
Tell us a little bit about Stream Farm and how the share farming model works…
There are two parties: the land owner and the share farmer. There is quite a lot of flexibility to how you approach the agreement but typically the owner provides the land and the capital, and the share farmer brings his labour and expertise. But the crucial thing that I have seen here on Stream Farm is that it offers a way into farming for those who want to farm, but who would otherwise not have the chance.
In the case of Stream Farm the opportunity is actually much richer than a standard share farming approach. Here there is an understanding that each farmer learns how to run their own business. To this end, each farmer acquires the skills and experience needed to do so. You can be a fantastic farmer when it comes to rearing the best animals or producing the nicest apples, but you need to know how to make the business support you and your family. On top of this, there are other share farmers working the same land who are around to help. For example, when I have a lot of spring water to bottle, or a lot of apples to pick – other farmers can lend me a hand.
ABOUT THE WATER
Why is your Natural Spring Water different?
I actually grew up drinking water from a spring on the Quantocks out of the tap! So for me it’s exactly as water should taste. This particular spring is situated in our organic fields about half way up a valley – so in terms of purity and taste, the water is superb. We glass bottle the spring water on site, so you know that it hasn’t travelled very far by the time it reaches you. And I would far rather drink water that no one else has drunk and has not been through a Victorian sewage plant! On top of that it carries the story and vision of Stream Farm on the label – a lot of the people who buy it also buy our meat so it’s nice for the bottle of water on the table to be able to tell the story of the meat on the menu.
What does Natural Spring Water mean?
Sadly you aren’t allowed to sell water as ‘organic’ – otherwise we would! The water bubbles up through our organic fields and into a spring. It isn’t treated with chemicals, so it remains perfectly natural. With bottled water it is actually legal to take it straight from the mains tap (some might remember Coca Cola doing this a few years ago in Kent!), so if you are after great taste then make sure you look out for either natural spring water, or natural mineral water.
ABOUT THE ORGANIC APPLE JUICE
Tell us about your organic orchard…
We have an orchard with 5 different varieties of apple – Red Falstaff, Bramley, Egremont Russett, Red Devil, and Red Windsor. The orchard sits on the south facing side of the valley, so it takes up some good sunlight all year round. We’ve just been in the orchard pruning the trees back, and we are also mulching our own chicken manure into the soil to boost our soil fertility. It’s great when the businesses on the farm can work together. The orchard is fully organic, as certified by Organic Farmer and Growers, as well as the Soil Association.
Describe the flavour of your apple juice…
Every year we pick all the top fruit and then decide on a blend based on what the harvest was like. So this year we had a very strong crop of Bramleys which gave the juice a pale, cloudy finish and a beautiful crisp, tangy flavour. In years gone by our red apples have come out stronger and that gives our juice a darker and sweeter finish. I love seeing how the juice will turn out each year. We think our organic apple juice has a very elegant taste – which makes it a nice alternative to wine. Serve it in a tall wine glass, with plenty of ice; the perfect aperitif!
ADOPT AN APPLE TREE
Adopt Your Own Apple Tree – a unique concept being offered by Stream Farm. The scheme started in September 2013 with the aim of “creating a stronger relationship with buyers, getting them involved in farm activities and securing a more reliable market”. It is a farmer– led initiative and anyone can adopt a tree for £50 a year in return for a share of organic apple juice. As the juice is made from a blend of different varieties, this is equivalent to a case of 750ml bottles. Find out more here.