A personal account by Andy and Jo, FarmStarters

The 2022 growing season has come to an end at The Plot, which also means the 2022 FarmStart cohort have finished. Together with Dennis, our grower extraordinaire, Jo, Rashid and Andy (FarmStart 2022 alumni) have successfully provided 29 weeks of cropshares, providing our customers with a variety of fresh, seasonal and quality organic local vegetables. That’s a lot of vegetables; for example, by our calculations, that’s 190kg of mixed salad and a whopping 263kg of kale! 

To finish and reflect on the year, our FarmStarters sat down to discuss what went well, what didn’t and what their next steps are:

Andy’s reflections:

We made it! It’s been a rollercoaster of a year: we won the hunger gap, but our polytunnel crops suffered; we had no cropshares, then we suddenly had 30 and it was all systems go. All in all, the year, whilst full of sweat, rain, a bit of hail, and that heatwave, has mostly enabled me to take stock. A real privilege. I’ve really valued the breathing space from full-time work and the chance to reflect on life and a change of career. The programme provided the ability to see different growing perspectives and methods, through a mix of practice in the field and in-depth classroom training, as well as site visits. I’m grateful that I’ve had the chance to connect with some inspirational people and organisations. This year has not been without its challenges, the transition from one grower to another, the travelling from Leeds every week and overnight stays, a creaky back, and the stark reality of the growing sector and the barriers new entrants face. Ultimately though, it’s been a great formative learning experience, and one I would not wish to swap or change. I’ve had the privilege to see a growing season and a fledgling CSA mature. I already miss Lancashire, with its friendly people and swooning sunsets. I won’t miss the M61 or M62 rush hour traffic though!

Andy’s advice to next year’s FarmStart cohort: ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint’. Some wise words from a former grower to take heed of. Take care of your body and mind. Listen, read, be inquisitive and do reflect and take notes (it’ll come in handy when you feel the pinch of the summer and peak harvest time).

Andy’s mainstay listening this year (whilst driving to The Plot): Best of R.E.M (1991) CD or Radio 4 and the ever dependable 9am Melvyn Bragg

Andy’s next steps: part-time role creating a business plan for a care farm who want to establish a market garden

Jo’s reflections:

When I started the FarmStart programme in March I was so fired up, I really wanted it all, I wanted to be a fully fledged grower at the end of the programme, start my own site and run into everything headfirst. A reality check followed. By midway through the season I felt a humbling of expectations. With the cost of living crisis starting to squeeze and having time to think about realistic options for funding my dreams, I rationalised that I might need to observe and learn from other growers for a few more years before feeling ready to venture out on my own. Despite my aspirational goals changing, what remained was fulfilled. The desire to just spend time with crops, learn their habits and have expertise on hand to answer my questions throughout a full growing season was met.

It was a privilege to help with and witness The Plot’s first ever cropshare season unfold, with lots of learnings I’ll be carrying with me in my toolkit for years to come. I hope I’ll never tire of the feeling I had when watching customers pull up to the box shed at 4pm on the dot every Friday to collect their boxes brimming with organic veg that I had a hand in growing. 

Jo’s advice to next year’s cohort: Firstly, I hope you have a brilliant season and the metaphorical road is less bumpy with the groundwork we put in this year. Like Andy said, try to pace yourselves and don’t be afraid to say if you think of solutions or suggestions, every year it will just get better and better with your input.

Jo’s mainstay listening this year: The Farmerama Podcast, I managed to work my way backwards listening to every single episode whilst weeding, harvesting and packing throughout the season!

Jo’s next steps: Thanks to my experience at The Plot I landed my first part-time grower/packer/all things role with Vista Veg on their Home Grown Here project in September. So alongside this part-time work, I’ll be taking the next few months to reflect and let the seeds planted in my mind overwinter to hopefully start germinating in the new year.

 

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