Church Farm Ardeley

A Free Range Experience


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Claire

dsc09879.jpgHave you met Claire?  She is embracing Church Farm with enthusiasm and passion that is contagious!  Growing up on a farm in the Scottish Highlands, where as she says, “rain and snow is every day weather,“ and the first vehicle she ever drove was a tractor, she is feeling right at home here.  Before joining us at Church Farm, she worked for 20 years as a wedding planner.  She adores  her three cats, and enjoys travelling, especially to Costa Rica, as they are 98% sustainable using the rain, volcanoes, rivers and sun, and they produce amazing coffee.  Claire says she loves working here in the fresh air alongside “so many dedicated and hardworking people.”  And so far, her favourite animal is Mike the rabbit.  She has also lived in Gibraltar, and is looking forward to the sunny days, as well.

 

 

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What’s Growing

Eva, who leads our horticulture team, sat down with me, Moles seed catalogue in hand, to talk about what’s growing at Church Farm this year.  As winter might hopefully be drawing to a close, it’s time to get excited about plans for new crops and setting seeds.

This year promises new varieties of traditional crops, Jerusalem artichokes and lots of colour.

At the end of March, Eva and her team had already set 2000 leek seeds and many spinach seeds, had two varieties of mange tout growing, and were ready to begin setting tomato seeds.  Eva says we are a bit behind last year, due to the lingering cold and snow we have had.

Mange tout, the year’s first crop, will come in green and purple.  There will be three varieties of beetroot grown—one in traditional red/purple, a golden one, and a red and white striped variety called Chioggia.  This year’s French beans will be green, yellow, some climbing and some dwarf.  The team will be planting cherry tomatoes (small) and beefsteak tomatoes (large).

This year Church Farm is expecting to produce more strawberries for a longer harvest period, due to last year’s planting.  This year, 500 new summer raspberries will go in, to increase the raspberry yield in coming years.

Last summer, Eva learned about Jerusalem artichokes from an enthusiastic chef in the Jolly Waggoner and will be growing them this year.

Jerusalem artichokes are sweet and almost garlicky and mushroomy and gorgeous. Although called artichokes they’re actually tubers – like rough and ready potatoes. You can scrub and roast them whole like mini jacket potatoes and split them open, drizzled with a little chilli oil. You can even use them in a salad with smoky bacon. A Jerusalem artichoke’s best friends are sage, thyme, butter, bacon, bay, cream, breadcrumbs, cheese and anything smoked.”

—Jamie Oliver

Hopefully, you will enjoy something new this year, alongside the mainstays of lettuce, carrots, parsnips, cucumber, broad beans, runner beans, and courgettes.  Would you like to see these things growing?  Be sure to include horticulture and the polytunnels on your next walk around the farm.  Are you having a weekly delivery from Church Farm?  You can – it’s easy, at churchfarm.shop.

Aimee

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Photos from Moles Seeds, with permission.


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From the Farmer

  • We will continue to grow the Farm, Rural Care, education partnerships, and school visits, which currently employ over half the team.
  • Pub, Café, Food Production and Catering improvements are planned, as we are investing in a new team headed by Becca who is overseeing in a new post.
  • Recruited for new post of customer experience director – Claire will be joining us 20th March to oversee all aspects of shop, retail, visitor experiences, events, reception, and meet and greet.
  • Camping and glamping is expected to be the same number of people as last year but higher spend per head with us providing luxury tipi tents and glamping extras.
  • Improving the farm trail and membership offer.
  • Online Farm Shop, Farm Box Delivery, Meat for the Week, Wholesale outlets—We are opening up Free Friday delivery to all of Hertfordshire and North London.
  • Developing and continuing to grow the market for our food and produce at Aldenham Country Park which we run, and has 200,000 visitors a year.
  • Developing the Café and Farm Shop at Aldenham.
  • Creating additional apprenticeships following on from recent successes.
  • We will increase number of breeding cattle from 34 to 60 between Church Farm and Aldenham.
  • No increase is planned for other livestock and poultry.
  • We aim to grow 2 acres more field vegetables—extra pumpkins, carrots and parsnips.
  • Growing Maris Piper spuds this year.
  • Corporate Days out in the week—real activities for team building events helping on the farm.
  • Quiet Family Camping – we will continue to ensure that neither fellow campers nor neighbours are disturbed by amplified music and aim to have zero complaints on this again.
  • We are giving up the weddings and music events that we did up to 2016, which has resulted in a £60,000 revenue reduction. Plans this year include addressing this.
  • We will be planting 2 acres in plots of the farm this year for butterflies and bees: Sainfoin, Winter Vetch, Alsike Clover, Red Clover, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Lucerne, Black Knapweed and Musk Mallow.

Tim

 

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Lucerne


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The Hungry Gap

This time of the year in a British type climate is traditionally called ‘the hungry gap’. It is the time of the year between January and May where traditionally the food store for winter was running out and the new crops are still nowhere near ready for harvesting.  It makes you think of how our ancestors would have stored and preserved their supplies for the hungry gap. It must have been so hard to keep themselves fed without imports from warmer climates and special temperature/ humidity controlled storage containers.

One method used to store vegetables would have been clamps.  Clamps were first used in the 16th Century to keep harvested potatoes, but carrots have also been stored this way. A trench was dug round the base of the clamp to take away any rain that fell on it. The potatoes or carrots were placed on a thick layer of straw and then covered with more straw and earth, all mounded up in a triangular shape. And if this wasn’t enough of a performance, there were holes, plugged with straw, to ensure good ventilation. Good air circulation is vital when storing any fruit or vegetables.

At Church Farm we store our potatoes in huge wooden boxes resembling a clamp. Over the years we have learned the hard way about how important it is the air is not too humid and the potatoes are separated from each other by layers of straw.

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This year we are also keeping some of the root crops in the ground but adding a layer of mulch on it as frost protection.

The reality is that storing fresh vegetables is hard and even in our shipping containers the conditions are still too humid and we lose much of the produce. This year we lost a lot of our lovely squashes that make such wonderful soup.

The challenge here at Church Farm is with the wide variety of vegetables and fruit we grow to learn a low tech and low cost solution for storing each of them. Again not a small task!

—Ann

 


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Farm Shop

Our Farm shop has had a facelift and injection of new stock over the past 2 weeks. The refurbishment work is nearly finished and is part of a bigger project to create a farm shop that offers a little something for everyone.

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We are looking to offer more of a range of local seasonal products as well as unique fine foods and traditional nostalgic treats. As an organisation we are looking at ways to reduce the plastic going into landfill. We are looking to source products that use less packaging or use more sustainable alternatives. We are going to encourage all of our customers to bring their own bags and in addition we will provide a biodegradable alternative. We have sourced some lovely local products such as Wobbly Bottom goats cheese from Hitchin, Biggleswade sweet chilli crisps and glass bottled soft drinks from Cambridge. We are on the lookout for more local products to stock. Do visit us and browse our newly refurbished shop and stock—we have a wide range of jams, chutneys, sauces, and meat accompaniments as well as our own free range meat, eggs, vegetables, logs and more. We also have speciality breads available on the weekends, sourdough, ciabatta and baguettes.  These sell out fast though, so get in early!

We hope to see you soon.

Rozelle

 


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New Woodland Play

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n February we finally saw an ambition of redesigning and refurbishing the woodland play area come true.

Hopefully we have managed to create more of a ‘proper’ woodland play area with the accent on woodland and play.

We removed all the plastic toys as we decided that they never lasted long and ending up too quickly in landfill and polluting the world’s oceans.

Children have an opportunity to play with plastic toys all the time and everywhere and when you look at their play value it is actually quite limited. Play value is the essential value of a toy or game for play. Products should last as long as possible and have many different and long lasting uses. If you think of a plastic ride-on tractor, it only has a few uses. In contrast, a stick in the woodland has, with a bit of imagination, 100s of uses in play and is locally sourced and biodegradable. To encourage our little farmers imaginations, we have included a stick trail.

We have wigwam area made out of more sticks and the forts are made out of old potato storage crates and for the sound explorers there is a chance to play on the ’chicken drinker drum.’

Don’t forget the face-in-the hole murals to get a nice picture in our new woodland play area!

Thank you for the lovely artwork from Layona from Artifex Designs and Richard Moreham for all the hard work to put our ideas into reality.

Ann

 


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Easter Holiday Activities

Lamb Feeding
We are lambing now. If you would like to help us bottle feed them you can book online. A lamb feeding session lasts around 45 minutes and you will hear from our experienced staff all about the lambs you are feeding and the latest details about how the lambing season is progressing. A wonderful experience for all ages, bottle feeding lambs is a wheelchair and pushchair friendly activity.

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Indoor and Outdoor Play, Feed the Animals, and Farm Trail
With your day pass you can spend time in the indoor play room, the newly redesigned Woodland Play area, feed animals around the farm, and follow the Easter Farm Trail to get a treat from the shop.

Egg Collecting
Egg collecting can be booked for 11:30 am and lasts approximately 1 hour.  Accompany one of our farmers and experience the free range hens close up, and take home a box of (6) eggs.

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Camping
Pitch up your tent under the stars and enjoy all the farm has to offer for a weekend or even a week. Church Farm is a great place for a glass of wine around the campfire to relax and enjoy nature as well as natural play. You can book to have an open fire. There are large straw bales provided for clambering on, which can provide young and older with hours of fun – but only under parental supervision. Basic facilities like compost toilets and hot shower cubicles are ready in the camping field. Camping prices include a free farm pass for every day you stay!

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Trailer Rides
Enjoy a trip around the farm on our popular tractor/trailer ride.  Book for 12:30, Saturday or Sunday.

Book all events online!