Church Farm Ardeley

A Free Range Experience


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A Farm to Produce Food for People

Church Farm Ardeley is a “community interest company” set in order to innovate and create sustainable small farm enterprises. It took us 6 years of huge losses and a steep learning curve to get to full production and to break even! It is still a work in progress and a never ending challenge.

We produce every cut of meat, every vegetable and fruit we can here. Value is added through doing our own butchery and processing, making ready meals and we are reliant on people eating our food to sustain the farm in the pub, café, and direct farm retail.

To produce such a wide range of food, without using fungicides and pesticides, and in a manner we are proud of, takes a lot of people. We have a core team of full and part time people who help across the enterprises, we provide supervised work experience for adults with difficulties and education, have volunteers, students and interns contributing to getting the huge amount of work done to grow food and bring it to market. In all there about 48 full and part time staff on the payroll to run the farm, café, shop and pub.

We grow:

Livestock includes:

· British Lop, Large White & Berkshire breeding sows, boars, weaners and finishers (120)
· Red Poll and Red Poll Cross Cattle and Followers (80 head)
· Llyen, Suffolk, Texel, Black, White and Badger Faced Welsh Mountain sheep and fat lambs (140 head)
· Light Sussex, Cuckoo Maran, Black Rock, Rhode Island and Hybrid Laying hens (750)
· Outdoor reared table poultry – we produce 50 a week
· Norfolk Black turkeys, Embden geese, Aylesbury ducks, Bee hives and Apiary Garden

In addition we coppice and produce over 1500 bags of logs, make kindling, and grow some Christmas trees.

Thank you to everyone who eats our food and enables us to farm.

—Tim Waygood


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Choosing the Right Ram for the Job

October was the start of our sheep year, a funny time to start a year you might think but for us here at Rural Care it’s the start of our breeding year and what we raise our sheep for.

By this time, the ewes have been on the summer grass and have reconditioned after lambing.  They are in peak condition, and their fleeces are starting to grow back from being shorn earlier in the summer. Their lambs were weaned, and they have enjoyed a few months of lush grass, warm weather with no hungry mouths to feed.

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Jeff

The Rams, having spent 11 months now away from the ewes, are also in prime condition.  They have had their full MOT—feet trim, teeth checked, weight monitored and resilience checked. We have our Suffolk Ram, Randy Dandy, who proved himself last year and produced some beautiful strong Suffolk lambs. We have also kept a shearling Ram who we have called Andy.  He was a lamb who was born here is the spring of 2015. He is a Lleyn-Texel cross and is a handsome boy.  He has a beautiful temperament and takes forward the strong  points from both breeds, the strong bones of the Lleyn, and the temperament and excellent mothering skills and strength, stamina and conformation of the Texel.

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Randy Dandy

The flock here at Church Farm started with the Lleyn, good sized sheep who make excellent mothers, and we still have some of the original flock amongst this year’s breeding ewes. They usually carry triplets, and big ones at that! They are old timers at this and know exactly what to do. They are large, heavy sheep and not the easiest to work with when you need to tip them to trim their feet. However their calm, sensible, gentle nature makes up for it.

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Lleyn Sheep

So October brought with it big decision making.  We retired our Black Welsh Mountain Ram, Jeff, this year.  After 6 years of service we felt he had earned his retirement, however we are not sure he is ready to retire! You should always have a reserve ram ready just in case anything goes wrong, and so we chose one of Randy Dandy’s lambs born last year.  He has all of Randy’s characteristics, and is a handsome boy.

On October 13th the boys or the ‘tups’ went in and the’ tupping’ began. Tupping is the term used when referring to a ram mating with a ewe.  The ‘tup’ is an uncastrated male sheep. It’s always an exciting but tense day, with overwhelming anticipation the boys fly around the field, smelling the air, the girls in a flurry of excitement.

The ritual  of tupping is a polite one, which may surprise you. The Rams will seek out which ewes are in season, the ewes will come into season every 17-21 days. The odour of the oestrous ewe stimulates the ram, although it is the ewe who seeks out the ram and stays close beside it. The male responds to urination of the oestrous female by sniffing, extending the neck and curling the lip. This is the flehmen response. The tongue goes in and out and the male may bite the female’s wool, and raise and lower one front leg in a stiff-legged striking motion. If the female is receptive she will stand for copulation.

Once they find a ewe in heat they stick with her for about 8-12 hours, sometime longer.  There is a courting ritual, as ewes typically stay in heat for 6-18 hours. (Allowing just enough time for dinner and a night out!) They talk to each other in a low chattering type bleat, the same affectionate voice the ewe uses with her new born lambs.

After the first 24 hours we start to get an idea about how the tups are doing, as they wear a coloured crayon called a raddle on their chest. We are then able to see which ewes the tups have seen. The field is usually a sea of different colours.

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Bums for inspection

Randy had made it around about 10 ewes by the morning, and Andy, with his more polite approach and being a first timer, had seen 2. Unfortunately Randy overdid it in the first 36 hours, pulling a hamstring and had to be pulled out (with much resistance) and rested for a week. Luckily we had his 2016 lamb in reserve and our old timer Black Welsh Mountain Ram Jeff was on hand to muck in!

The tups remained with the ewes for 5 weeks, and they are now recuperating in the R&R field.  They lose a lot of their condition through tupping, often forgetting to eat or drink and need to be monitored closely. Randy is on the mend but he will need some physiotherapy on his leg and warm up exercises for next year!

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Say cheese!

The ewes are pregnancy scanned early in the year and we will find out who is carrying lambs and how many. Fingers crossed their hard work has paid off and we will have a successful lambing season. Here’s to the start of another sheep year!

Rozelle


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Mission Impossible?

Everybody knows that farming is hard work! What we are trying to do at Church Farm isn’t easy, but how hard is it actually?

Church Farm, Ardeley Community Interest Company is  a small family farm, run on ecological principles. The farm grows a variety of crops and orchard with old traditional varieties, and also breeds the livestock you would like to see on a traditional farm. The poultry is slaughtered in a small abattoir on site, while the larger animals are slaughtered in Chelmsford and butchered on site. We also run a village shop and pub.

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Small family farms are disappearing and being bought up by larger farms, just because they aren’t economically viable. Farmgate food prices have fallen to the lowest level recorded in the last five years, according to the United Nations.

At Church Farm we try to grow a full diet for people with as much variety in vegetables as possible, which makes it very hard to mechanise anything. If you grow hectares and hectares of the same crop you can invest in specialist equipment and machinery to seed, plant and harvest your crop but at Church Farm, Ardeley CIC most of this work is done by hand.

Natural England and the National Trust claimed 60% of England’s orchards had disappeared since the 1950s. Orchards are disappearing due to supermarket power demanding apples all year round—including out of the British season—that can be shipped and stored for long periods. They also demand disease-free apples with a decent profit margin and want a guarantee of consistency of shape. Church Farm orchard has 700 trees with 120 varieties of traditional fruit trees, which don’t meet all these conditions.

All of our livestock: cattle , sheep, pigs and poultry, are free range and reared in a high welfare system with requires a higher staff input than intensive systems and makes it less economically viable.  While we have been cross breeding with some of our rare breed livestock, Church Farm Ardeley CIC still maintins some rare breeds. Breeds of livestock become rare when their specific characteristics are no longer required or economically viable. Rare breeds are important to conserve for their genetic diversity that might otherwise be lost forever.

Abattoirs and butchers have been disappearing rapidly because of new legislation by the fresh meat standards that required upgraded facilities, which increases operation and by-products costs. In 1996, 800 artisan abattoirs were operational but this declined to 145 by 2007.  But Church Farm Ardeley CIC set up its own  poultry abattoir in 2009.

The common pressures facing rural shops in all areas of the country are competition from supermarkets, online shopping and changing demographics.  The New Economics Foundation (NEF) reveals that between 1995 and 2000, the UK lost 20% of some of its most vital institutions: corner shops, grocers, high street banks, post offices and pubs.

400 village shops closed in 2008 but Church Farm Ardeley started one in 2011.

In 2014, 31 pubs a week closed, but Church Farm, Ardeley CIC took over the running of the Jolly Wagonners in Ardeley in 2014.

We are also trying to inspire a new generation of farmers as the average age of the UK farmer is 59, as well as reconnect people with food and farming.

 So, how hard it is to run a farm like Church Farm, Ardeley CIC and making it economically viable?

Very hard indeed! Church Farm Ardeley CIC is combining at least 8 businesses that are hard to make economically viable and 8 years on we are slowly getting there.

Tim, Emma and Adrian have the guts and determination to take on this mission. They are helped by an incredible bunch of highly motivated and skilled team of staff, interns, volunteers and Co–Farmers to make this impossible mission possible.

A great thanks to all our customers, supporters and Co-Farmers who support this way of farming in 2016.

In 2017 we will continue to supply you with excellent vegetables, fruit and meat, a farm to enjoy and reconnect you with where your food comes from.

Ann

Sources

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/structure-of-the-agricultural-industry-in-england-and-the-uk-at-june

 http://farmbusinesssurvey.co.uk/DataBuilder/defra-stats-foodfarm-farmmanage-fbs-UK_Farm_Classification.pdf

 http://www.face-online.org.uk/resources/factsheets/discovering/rarebreeds.pdf

 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11353767

 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/11283995/The-real-reasons-for-the-tragic-demise-of-the-British-pub-industry.html

 http://tna.europarchive.org/20120419000433/http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/board/fsa080504a2.pdf

 


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Where is Farmer Christmas This Year?

This year Farmer Christmas has turned up in Vicars Orchard, miles away from the sheep in Upany where he spent the last festive season.

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Photo by Emma Massie

Almost everyone has a Christmas Tree of some description over the festive season for a few weeks but Farmer Christmas is interested in trees the whole year round.

Especially the fruit trees in the Orchard where he has found more trees than he thought, maybe nearer 800 than 700 which means more work and hopefully more fruit in years to come.

So the children who come and visit Farmer Christmas are helping to keep him company and to help the work in the Orchard where each tree needs to be fed, protected, pruned and generally cared for through the winter months.

Some animals will hibernate and trees are very similar in that they have a rest and wait for the warmer days of Spring to get growing again.

This means that with no leaves or fruit or undergrowth in the way it is the ideal time to get on with those maintenance jobs you have been dying to do.  Stake the trees that need some extra support, repair damaged tree guards to keep the rabbits out, put cow manure around the trees to replace the nourishment that has been taken out.

That is 800 barrows of cow poo! A big pile of poo!  Luckily we have lots of cows.

Also we have lots of visitors who help support the farm and they have been finding trees and having their picture taken with Farmer Christmas and the tree that they have found.

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Photo by Tom Large

It may be Apple or Pear, Quince or Medlar, younger or older, in sickness or in health – oops I think I just slipped into a marriage ceremony!  But the idea is to nurture and cherish the tree as far as possible, so that it too will nurture and cherish us in years to come with beautiful blossom in Spring and fruit in the Summer or Autumn. With a tree hopefully living for 25 years or more it is quite an interesting comparison to a marriage after all.

—Chicken Dave

 

 


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Bats in the Belfry

In Ardeley there is a Church and a Farm.  Bats may well be living in both.

All 18 species of bat found in the UK are protected, as their natural habitats have been disappearing.  As mature trees are cut down, these small creatures, the only flying mammals, need places to live which suit their natural behaviour.

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 A long eared bat eating a meal worm

Caves would be good and holes in trees are ideal so you can see how a large hole in a dark tower holding a bell might work.

As flying is such hard work a bat has to eat a third of its body weight each night to survive, and that might mean 3,000 midges!!!

As part of the conservation work on the farm, bat boxes can be seen and hedgerows still exist and provide plenty of food stuff for bats on their nocturnal ventures.  Bats can see, but they hunt at night and use echolocation to find their prey and avoid flying into trees at high speed.

Man has made use of this technique to develop sonar and has invented bat detectors which convert the sounds bats make, which we are unable to hear, into something we can hear.

Only three species of bats eat blood and none are found in Transylvania at all, so Bram Stoker may have made up some of his book involving a certain Count Dracula.  Thankfully, those three species are also not found in the UK, so those of us sleeping at the Farm can sleep safely in our beds!!!!!!

 

Chicken Dave

 


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The Tree of Knowledge

The second weekend in October saw our third effort at holding an Apple Day, and it was pleasing to see how things have changed over the last couple of years in terms of people’s interest and knowledge about this annual event.

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A Display of Vicars Orchard Apples

Church Farm only started taking part in Apple Day celebrations in 2014 and have made great strides in popularising the Vicars Orchard supply.

In 2014, we were blessed with a lovely orchard and 700 trees as well as a guest appearance by a Japanese violinist and Geoffrey and Aimee.  A small display of apples was on view but no visitors to the Vicars Orchard.

2015 saw a beautiful Autumnal Sunday, a packed car park and Aimee and the Apple Jacks playing to a long line of apple pressing children and a Rural Care Harvest Party with a Goat.

We had a Radio broadcast, as well as the Offley Morris Dancers celebrating their 60th anniversary.

The Orchard had been tended and fed and was bountiful for the first time since its creation in 2008 and producing apples for the day and for the coming weeks.

This year over a hundred people made it out to the Orchard, Aimee sent a band called Mosaic, including a harpist, and Geoffrey made it three years out of three, despite his budding music teaching career.

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Local musician Geoffrey entertaining outside the Garden Room

 

Apples were pressed almost non-stop by Austrian and English alike and we ran out of apple juice and sold out of toffee apples by lunchtime.  The weather hadn’t been as kind on the day, but the interest in locally grown fruit and vegetables certainly seems to be a rising trend and nature’s bounty continues to provide us with fruit from just 500 or so yards away for the Farm Store, Café and box scheme.

Comments from those tasting their freshly pressed juice included “the best apple juice I have ever tasted,” “much better than from the supermarkets,” “mmmmm,” “good,” “lovely.”

When asked whether they enjoyed drinking the juice or making it more, children seemed torn between the two, perhaps “making it” just shaded the result.

Maybe the growing popularity of allotments, of visits to farms and of an interest in home grown food is coming home to roost and Apple Day is becoming a measure of how this movement is progressing.

Thank you to everyone who came to the farm again this year for Apple Day with big thanks to Mosaic and Geoff and everyone else involved.

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Three of the Beauties of the Farm
A Three Generation Family enjoying Apple Day

 Chicken Dave

 


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A Day to Remember

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November is the month when we traditionally remember the people that went before us, and is a good time to reflect on a day back in April.

In April this year we planted 32 trees in memory of my late husband, Dan Gomm, and in 2017 we will plant the same amount again to replace some of the trees that have died.  60 friends and family came together and dug holes, planted trees, put in tree stakes, manured around them and erected benches.   The children also made some lovely bug hotels.  After that we ate a lovely stew.

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The trees are traditional varieties of fruit trees and were purchased from the Brogdale Trust, the national fruit tree collection.  Some of the trees  are so rare, that they have to be specially grafted for Church Farm and are only available in 2017.

Darren, our Church Farm orchard expert, made sure every tree was planted to the correct depth and with the required care to ensure their best chance, whilst Roger and Mary Gomm, my parents-in-law, painstakingly mapped out the grid of where the trees were going. Roger has also engraved up to 300 labels for the fruit trees on permanent aluminium labels, giving a new sense of energy to the orchard.

Why Church Farm?  Church Farm orchard seemed an obvious choice in the end.  Dan loved apple trees, we got married at Church Farm during his illness, Mary and Roger lived locally and volunteer on the farm, and I set up Rural Care and spend most of my life here.

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There were no flowers on Dan’s grave, instead people donated money towards the fruit trees.  He will get blossom every year in the spring from now on, and apples, nectarines, pears and gages in the autumn.  And heaps of wild flowers and wild life!  Just as he would have liked.

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Maybe the orchard will become a place to remember all of those who we have lost at Church Farm, like Roger Waygood, Wendy’s dear husband, Tim, Adrian and Jackie’s father; Tim Monohan, the Co-Farmer; Kevin Doires, a dear volunteer; Jason Kay, the butcher; and Terry Lauezzari, a dear neighbour and friend of the farm.

Planting the trees in memory of Dan was an amazing day, if not physically and emotionally exhausting! But it was very much a positive action to take in memory of him.  For anybody who knew Dan Gomm and would like to help with planting the rest of the trees in memory of him, the next tree planting day will be on 25.03.17 from 10-3.  Please RSVP with me at ann@churchfarmardeley.co.uk.

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If anybody would be interested in a similar event and plant a (few) tree(s) to remember a loved one please contact darren.edwards@churchfarmardeley.co.uk or charlotte.smith@churchfarmardeley.co.uk.

—Ann, Manager, Rural Care

Photos by Nick Hooper
www.nickhooperphoto.com