Another very pleasant summer evening for HEOG was spent with Henry Lucas at Pleasance Farm, the land of which surrounds Kenilworth Castle and takes its name from the scheduled monument which is what remains of the lavish summerhouse and VIP accommodation provided by the Tudor monarchs for castle visitors.
Henry’s father bought the farm in the 1960’s, moving from Yorkshire to set up a mixed dairy farm here. The steady erosion of margins in the diary industry caused them to give up milk production in the 1990’s, since when Henry, and more recently his son, have built up a mixed arable and beef enterprise, supplying meat under contract to Waitrose as well as crops of wheat, barley, oilseed rape and lupins. Further diversification has come from the conversion of some of the old farm buildings into holiday cottages, the popularity of which is attested by the fact that they now have 80% occupancy thoughout the year - www.northmere.co.uk.
Henry Lucas is Chair of the local branch of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) which encourages farmers to adopt practices which enhance the environment as an alternative to additional unpopular regulation. So it is not surprising that there are also a number of farm activities that promote wildlife and environmental conservation which have resulted in increasing numbers of threatened species, especially farmland birds which are in decline elsewhere. The farm also hosts visits from a variety of groups of all ages to promote the idea of farmers as custodians of the countryside, and to show what can and is being achieved. www.cfeonline.org.uk
Our tour took us through the pasture where we were closely inspected by the young Hereford cattle while our host told us more about the farm and The Pleasance, the earthworks of which were clear to make out alongside the farm track. We then continued past some new mixed woodland which has been planted to provide cover for birds and increase biodiversity. Close by we saw where plants intended to provide wild bird food have been planted – with varying success. Henry explained the difficulties of preventing one plant species becoming dominant when sowing a mixed crop, and what techniques he has tried, and perhaps more importantly, what he won’t be trying again!
He also showed us some well-maintained hedgerows which also provide vital habitats for farm wildlife. On returning to the farm the group were able to ask more questions over a cup of tea in the meeting room used for presentations about the work of the farm. We would like to thank Henry for giving up his summer evening to show us round. SH.
In a new departure for the group we teamed up with local environmentalists of Kenilworth Alltogether Greener at one of their regular meetings in The Kenilworth Centre. The purpose was to explore the pros, cons and possible conflicts inherent in the so-called LOAF principles as proposed by Christian Ecology www.christian-ecology.org.uk.
Some have argued that of these local production makes the greatest overall contribution to sustainability, but the meeting looked at the whole range of issues involved. Steve Hammett introduced the subjects by looking at the history of HEOG with reference to the changes which have affected the organic movement and food production during that time. He pointed out that when the group started 30 years ago there was no conflict between the concepts of local and organic production, because there were only small, local, organic producers. It was the food scares of the 1990’s which brought the supermarkets and the food industry giants into the organic market, and it was largely their influence which destroyed the local base which organic production had enjoyed.
We then watched a couple of videos giving more details about organic production and certification processes and the advantages to farmers and consumers. After a break for refreshments an open forum explored many associated themes, and this continued until it was time to close the meeting. Ross gave a brief summing up, and the two groups resolved to continue greater networking between their respective memberships.
In summary it was a valuable and thought-provoking evening for all participants, with the promise of further interest and future co-operation. SH.
Among the changes at Garden Organic's Ryton HQ has been the new direction for the garden's restaurant under the management of Andrew Brooks.
We arrived to find they had already started to set out a buffet-style selection from their award-winning world street food menu in the Doubleday Hall. As usual, HEOG's enthusiastic foodies needed no second bidding to set to work devouring the North African Inspired Tagine and a Malaysian seven vegetable and coconut curry, along with the accompanying salads made from fresh vegetables and fruit and the woodland mushroom pakoras.
The tasters' reaction was universally positive - and all the food had disappeared by the time the restaurant's proprietor and chef, Andrew Brooks, came in to tell us more about his wide food experience and the philosophy behind the new venture at Ryton Gardens. Andrew's experience is truly world-wide, having worked on P&O cruise liners and in Columbia, where the town he was based in is commemorated in the name of the Cafe - Fusca. On returning to England he became inspired by the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables and started Fresh Rootz - an award-winning mobile vegetarian catering company, providing speciality menus for events and festivals, including Glastonbury. During questions he emphasised their philosophy of using fresh ingredients in everything, Cafe's suppliers including the on-site CSA Five Acres Farm, and other local sources. While they try to use as much organic produce as they can, seasonal availabilty makes this difficult to achieve at the moment.
This was followed by a special tour of the Gardens led by volunteer guides Barry King and the Group's irrepressable nonogenarian President John Sargent, who provided his entertaining, if sometimes slightly 'off-message', commentary on what we were seeing. Thanks to John, Barry, Andrew, Maria and the rest of the Fusca staff for providing us with a really memorable - and replete - Sunday afternoon. SH
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