Farm shops, farmers markets and veg box schemes; there are now more chances than ever for us, as consumers, to play a part in the story of the food on our plates. Chances to buy organically, shop locally and to support small-scale artisan producers and farmers. But what if you wanted to go one step further and write the story yourself, not only choose the best food but grow it too?
Thanks to the Soil Association that is very much a real option. Formed in 1946 by a collection of farmers and scientists, the Soil Association is the UK’s leading campaigner for higher welfare farming. They firmly believe in a holistic approach to farming and in the connections between farming practise and health – both human, animal and environmental – and championing organic farms.
This holistic approach is evidenced by the Association’s Future Growers scheme, which pairs those wishing to learn more about organic horticulture with host farms from across the UK. Growers can choose from the scheme’s two options; either a shorter traineeship lasting six months, or the longer and more detailed apprenticeship lasting two years. Both options are paid and offer the participants a combination of on-the-job learning, expert mentoring and seminars to ensure that as much of the field to fork process of organic horticulture is covered.
The scheme not only benefits the growers, providing employment and training, but also the host farms. Participants on the scheme are enthusiastic, and the skills and ideas learnt through seminars and farm walks are often brought back and implemented on the host farm. The scheme also allows host farmers to future-proof their businesses, imparting skills and ideas to the younger generation to help ensure that the future of organic farming remains bright.
Thought don’t be alarmed by the terms ‘future growers’ or ‘apprenticeship’ and presume that this scheme is only available to young growers. It isn’t, and there isn’t a typical future grower with the scheme attracting a wide variety of people. From those like Amy Cartwright or Kate Collyns who decided on a career switch, to Claire Moore who had previously studied organic horticulture at Pershore College. It is enthusiasm and a willingness to learn while working hard that is important, not age or experience.
Unsurprisingly given the Soil Association’s approach, while, after either six months or two years, the scheme officially finishes the support continues, helping future growers to find more work and other placements or to set up businesses of their own. One such story is Will Johnson, who apprenticed at Coleshill Organics for four years, and since has successfully managed two community supported agriculture projects while still receiving advice from his Coleshill mentor. The scheme is more than simply a stepping-stone on the way to employment, it is a family.
To join the family and for more information visit the Soil Association’s Future Growers Scheme
Words by Hugh Collins