Andy and Sally live and breathe community. They are the driving force behind the Good Mud Growing Project – a brand new initiative in Bude, Cornwall which aims to offer a growing space that not only helps stock the local food bank with fresh, healthy produce and offers employment opportunities to the locals, it also educates parents and kids along the way so that they can better understand the origins of real food.
By teaching all aspects of growing chemical-free food – from planting seeds to harvesting, cooking it up and eating it together around a table, they are empowering people with knowledge and values that enable them to make the right food choices that are healthy for them, their communities and the environment.
We had a chat with Andy and Sally and found out how they got started, why it’s so important for kids to get outside and learn gardening skills, a few tips on encouraging kids to eat their vegetables and why they choose to grow chemical-free food….
ABOUT BEING A GROWER
Tell us about yourself – who you are, what you do, how long you have been a grower, who works with you etc.
I’m Sally Gostick and I manage the Good Mud Growing Project and event manage Bude for Food festival. Technically… I wouldn’t ever say that I’m a grower! I learnt what I know at Spring Grove Market Garden in Milverton where I worked for 3 years. My partner and I, Andy, set up the project together and now we employ one person and have a few volunteers that help us regularly.
What is your background? Did you grow up with much knowledge of food growing?
For most of my working life I was an administrator or bookkeeper, a jack of all trades. I wanted to work outside but had no formal knowledge or experience, we didn’t even grow veg at home as kids really. I looked up WWOOFing (Worldwide Working on Organic Farms), an organisation that links farm hosts with volunteers and this led me to Spring Grove Market Garden. The owner, Mandy, ran a Soil Association certified box scheme and after a season of WWOOFing Mandy, Beth and I went into partnership to expand the operation and also run a farmer’s market stall. I loved it! When I met Andy, we moved to Cornwall and looked for a place that had some land with it. Andy’s grandparents had a productive veg plot in Somerset and grew food to get by. His dad had a small one while Andy was growing up and he’d help with digging potatoes and harvesting courgettes, we think some of it stuck! He loves being outdoors.
What inspired you to start the Good Mud Growing Project?
The project came about from a desire to use the land for something other than just grazing and for it to have a purpose and be more sustainable. I initially wanted to grow commercially but found that, apart from falling pregnant with our son, Jake, in 2011 as I was planning to start a business, that it wasn’t what really motivated me. I wanted to involve people and for it to get them together loving veg, eating healthily and learning together. Something positive. Andy really wants the land to become a special place to visit, full of biodiversity and a natural legacy so it all ties in nicely.
Tell us about the ethos behind Good Mud…
GROW – veg and plants as naturally and sustainably as possible. We aim for a variety of produce of a high quality, not forgetting our love of odd shapes and sizes. The benefits of the outdoors and nature are immense for our wellbeing.
LEARN– as much as we can in the most fun way! We’re trying to educate ourselves and others. The beauty of growing is that there are so may ways of doing it so we’re keen to have everyone’s input.
EAT – fresh, healthy and tasty food. Shared lunches are a very common theme! Cooked by our community chef, Fran, the children or ourselves.
What is the community reaction and what’s it like helping people connect with food at its source?
We’ve had a great response so far, mainly through our Facebook page from friends and local people such as teachers, enthusing about the need for a project that connects kids with food and supporting the local Food Bank receiving fresh, rather than non-perishable, produce. The Food Bank has told us that the response from people receiving the veg and fruit is often disbelief that it comes with their food box, and the businesses or chefs that we’ve supplied to say that the quality is amazing and it lasts much longer than shop bought or wholesale supplies.
What does a typical week involve?
Monday is harvest day for the Food Bank and any customers we can supply. Wednesdays and Thursdays are when we have our volunteers come along to lend a hand. These 3 days are when David our employee works. Thursday is the busiest day with the Free Range Kids here in the morning and often for lunch too.
What are some of the things that inspire you in the work you do?
• The kids’ enthusiasm… they’re so excited picking the veg and being able to prepare, cook and eat it. It’s great to have them running around and enjoying the space.
• Tasting the produce. Enjoying the reaction of people as we say ‘No really… Pick it, try it!’
• Seeing the landscape change over the seasons in different lights and weather conditions.
ABOUT THE GOOD MUD GROWING PROJECT
Tell us about the Good Mud Growing Project – location, size etc.
We are based near Bude and Widemouth Bay in Cornwall and have an 8-acre field plus about half an acre of garden. 4 acres of that was planted with 2000 native woodland trees in February 2012 and there is about 3 acres of pasture. The rest has the growing beds, greenhouse and polytunnel (soon to be plural), fruit, the cabin (our new barn) and our fire pit and outdoor cooking area.
Can you tell us a little bit about the local organisations/projects you partner with…
Last year we barely grew anything as I became involved with Bude For Food and ended up event managing Bude’s first food festival. The aim is to promote local producers and put Bude on the map for good food. Through that I was in contact with different organisations and offered to co-ordinate a community food growing project that the local Transition Network Group had identified that people were interested in… however, I needed to run it at our place as I couldn’t manage two sites, Jake and Bude for Food… Kevin Johnson from Friends of the Earth became our mentor via the Transition group and he, along with Rob Meredith, a local grower, have been great supporters, both for the project management and technical knowledge. Friends of the Earth will be helping us with advice on planting and managing the land to increase our biodiversity and attract more wildlife, in particular more pollinating insects.
Initially the project was in part set up to provide experience and training for young people, unfortunately this wasn’t able to come into fruition this year, and so we contacted people we knew who were members of the home educators group Free Range Kids. This has been a wonderful part of the project as everyone is keen and willing to make things happen and it’s become a real collaborative relationship.
The Job Centre contacted us via Bude Works, an organisation trying to link employers and potential employees in the area, to train and educate. People trying to get back into work can do an 8-week placement to gain experience in a vocation before committing to a permanent position. This means they can increase their skills and confidence and should be more likely to remain employed upon starting a job. It works particularly well for those that have been off work due to ill health or for a long period of time. Paul and Sue joined us over two months ago and have been a real asset to the project!
You donate a portion of your produce to the Bude Food Bank, can you tell us how this works and why you do it?
It’s crazy that people that are the most in need don’t have access to fresh food!! Food Banks are unable to supply it. And so we decided that we would… and again hopefully encourage anyone and everyone that they could grow a bit at home to have their own free food.
As you look at what you have achieved with Good Mud over the past year, what has been some of the challenges you’ve encountered – physical or managerial challenges, time management, space etc.?
As a friend of ours said… the elephant in the room is the people politics working on a project – not only between ourselves but finding the right people, or the right way to work with different people. We had our ups and downs to begin with and have managed to establish a good core team. We’re looking forward to meeting and working with more volunteers next year!
Physically, I’m pregnant again and this is obviously challenging me! I somehow seem to fall pregnant just as we are about to launch something on the land.
Our growing expertise needs to be increased too, particularly to get our soil right on the new field beds for next year so we can up the production. We have found that the compost was way too alkaline and by employing a no dig method our plants have not been very happy outside. We are hoping that with a little digging to incorporate the compost with a few inches of clay top soil (which is quite acidic at the moment) that it will balance out over the winter, especially with more manure and other organic matter being added.
Any advice for those setting up their own community growing project?
Whilst you will have an overall idea or objective, allow the skills and input of volunteers around you influence the direction as well. Be flexible, everyone will feel enthused and support you as much as you support them. Enjoy!
Can you share your thoughts on the importance of having community projects like Good Mud in the UK?
Well, as Andy says, we either roll over and go for monocrops and intensive agriculture which is damaging the environment and resulting in a distancing between people and food or we champion the traditional methods of growing that are in balance with nature and involve people. So many children don’t know where their food comes from or how it arrives on their plate so the more local community projects there are nationally the more people can share the knowledge, skills and enjoyment.
What’s next for the Good Mud Community Project?
• Next year we want to offer some training (hopefully accredited) to us, volunteers and the wider community.
• Up our production to sell more in the summer months. The aim is to have a community veg stall in town where anyone growing food can buy or sell produce. Invite more community groups to come along and get involved.
• Extra produce will also enable us to hold more Growing Days where people can visit and share a lunch, and to demonstrate processing, preserving and storing food.
• Both of these activities will work towards making the project more financially sustainable.
ABOUT THE FREE RANGE KIDS
What made you invite the Home Ed group to use Good Mud?
I guess we are partly interested in home educating our kids though we haven’t made a decision yet. Andy and I are fortunate to be able to work from home on the project and so it has become part of our lifestyle and family life too. Self education ties in closely with our learning ethos.
Why do you think being in the garden and learning the skills that come with it is so important for kids?
Kids want to be involved, they love sowing, getting their hands dirty and especially being able to pick the food. They love running, jumping, climbing and having the space and freedom to do it. The social, mental and emotional benefits are well documented as well as the physical development e.g. motor skills and fitness. I think you can teach and learn pretty much anything in the garden and being outdoors.
What is the best way for parents to easily introduce gardening and outdoor activities into a child’s routine?
• Grab wellies instead of the remote control. Don’t be afraid of getting dirty or wet, always have spare clothes. Splash in puddles- it’s fun!
• If growing something is a bit daunting to start with then bubbles, a ball or a lidded pot for bug hunts are winners every time.
• Have a ‘go-to’ outdoor place – farm, community garden, country footpath or woodland that you can visit. Take a change of clothes, snacks and a bottle of water just in case.
• Yoghurt pots, a bit of soil and seeds is all you need. Learn with the children, give it a try.
• Growing is never without failures – you can’t control the weather for a start!
Tips to encourage kids to eat their vegetables…
Get them to pick, prepare and eat them. Better still let them eat them straight off the plant – most things can be eaten raw!
ABOUT YOUR PRODUCE
Why is growing food without chemicals important to you?
Why would we spray chemicals on our food and then eat it? Isn’t it weird that is acceptable? That it is ‘conventional’? Almost weekly, it feels, there is new research and campaigns to tell us that this spray and that spray is actually carcinogenic… no really?!?! Man-made chemicals may not be doing us much good? Surely we don’t have to be Einstein to work that out?
It’s not just about what we eat, it’s the holistic picture for the environment as a whole. Chemicals on fields run into our water, into our sea, we swim, surf and source our food from the sea. Everyone time we buy non-organic seeds but grow them in an organic way, there are still fields and fields of crops being grown and sprayed to produce the non-organic seeds. Chemicals can’t be any good for the insects (and research keeps telling us so), insects pollinate the food, food we need to eat, insects die, no food… Doh!
It’s just such a shame that we’re told that organic is a luxury, a bit ‘special’ and so is priced accordingly. Surely food producers or manufacturers should be charged/fined for adding chemicals to food and the environment? Weird. I don’t get it.
So off my soapbox and answering the question, nature has evolved to manage itself and if we work more with nature then we can grow without chemicals. If we interfere by using chemicals then the chances are we will just create more problems and start a downward cycle of chemical reliance so it’s important to not use them.
Describe some of the ways you sell your produce locally?
Generally we take a sample and offer an establishment to try it free of charge, then pop in or call them and see if they’d like to buy some. So far no one has said no!
Can you share your thoughts on the importance of supporting your local growers and eating local produce…
If we buy local produce and support local producers then we reduce the need for mass produced food sources which strain the environment and the need for chemicals. We reduce transport costs, increase the food freshness, encourage good local relationships in the community.
Favourite summer vegetables?
Cherry tomatoes, well any tomatoes (although technically they’re a fruit!), courgettes and corn on the cob.
What are some of your ‘go-to’ recipes to cook at home?
I tend to use as many veg as possible make a veggie sauce for pasta. All the more delicious with our own fresh tomatoes and basil. Another favourite is pea, mint, basil and lemon blended to make a gorgeous pesto.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE GOOD MUD GROWING PROJECT