Shillingford Organic Farm

My week in pictures

Last week I hopped on the bus and made my way to Shillingford Abbot. The location of my favourite organic vegetable producers. Shillingford Organics is a family run farm situated a little outside Exeter producing seasonal, organic vegetables, salad, herbs and fruit. They also keep hens under the charge of Matt Baker that produce beautiful organic eggs. Shillingford have been producing organic veg boxes since 2001 and in 2014 started their online shop. In addition to their own, they also source a range of organic produce from people with similar ethics. All produced locally.

I arrived to a hub of activity. It was barely 9am and the team were in full swing packing boxes ready for market and local businesses. I introduced myself to the group and explained that I was there as a blogger which I think a few found “interesting”…

Once introduced it was time to don the wellies and hop on the back of the tractor. We took a short drive out to the fields with the head of Shillingford Organics, Martyn Bragg at the wheel. Once at our destination (the spinach field) we hopped off the back. The team went about business. Picking the spinach for the veg boxes whist Martin took me on a tour of the farm.

I can safely say that wondering through the fields with Martin explaining the growing techniques and showing me all the produce was one of the best hours I have had in a long time. The sun was beating down and the views surrounding the farm were outstanding. I felt like I was in a little bit of organic farming paradise! Of course I know in reality how hard organic farming is and how it’s a constant battle against the elements and hungry birds. However, I couldn’t help romanticise slightly as I walked around the farm taking in these views. Martin was very kind in showing me around but I couldn’t help feeling that he wanted to be back on the farm so I suggested he left me to have a wonder around the rest of the farm on my own.

Before he left me to my own devises he introduced me to Clare and Leah. Known within the farm circle as the “salad gurus”. They were so sweet and took the time out of their salad bagging duties to tell me a little bit about what their role is on the farm. They told me how they nurture the salad leaves from seed to picking ready for bagging up. They are totally in charge from start to finish of the salad production which is fantastic. I buy their salad leaves regularly from the farmers market and the Real Food Store. At £1.99 a bag it is superb value in my opinion. The salad is so much more flavoursome than any leaves you could buy in the supermarket. Each bag is different which makes them unique. What makes them even more special are the beautiful edible flowers.

From Clare and Leah I headed off on my own to explore the rest of the farm. I made my way up to the poly tunnels to see what was growing inside. Lots of tomatoes, basil, peppers ad aubergines that need the warmth of the poly tunnel to enhance growing. I loved the fact that the tomatoes were growing alongside basil. A perfect combination on the plate and an actual method of farming called companion planting.

Each poly tunnel had wild flowers growing in them like calendula, borridge, marigolds and phacelia that bring in the pollinators like bees and butterflies. This is such an important part of organic farming. A lot of the flowers have other reasons for being there. For example, the marigolds release a chemical that helps keep pests like greenfly at bay. It’s ingenious really and completely amazes me. Nature is such a wonderful thing isn’t it?

After my hour or so in the fields I made my way back to the main site building where the offices are. My new friend Bridget is located here. Bridget is in charge of numerous farm related things but her specialties are customer service and social media. It was Bridget who I have been communicating with on and off over the past year via Twitter, Facebook and email. She is the most friendly and likeable person. The perfect face for the farm! It was a real pleasure to meet her finally although it felt like we were old chums after our recent communications.

She suggested a tea break so we made our way to the farm kitchen where all the team were sitting down to their breakfast. I found it delightful that everybody eats together just like a big family. They accepted me into the fold and offered me tea and toast. I accepted and sat down with another guest of the farm. Lars from WWOOF. He was visiting with his co-worker Scarlett. I chatted at length with them about what WWOOF is as I had no idea. WWOOF is a worldwide organisation that offers working opportunities on organic farms. Started 45 years ago by Sue Coppard who experienced the first WWOOFING experience at Emerson College’s Tablehurst Farm in Sussex. They were given rural household tasks like cutting back brambles and clearing out ditches. In return for their time on the farm they were given wonderful fresh food and accommodation in the farmers cottages. I want to look into WWOOFING some more as it really interests me so watch this space!

After the tea, toast and nattering, Bridget took me down to the farm school. A small patch of Shillingford set aside for groups of children to learn how to grow fresh and organic produce as well as learning about nature and organic farming methods. They also have chickens and sheep so they can learn how to care for the animals. This is a pretty new venture for Shillingford but it seems to be proving popular. Such a great thing for children to do.

My last point of call before leaving was the herb garden that had been started by the salad gurus as a sideline. Basil, thyme, rosemary and mint amongst others all growing in the most beautiful setting. Trees dripping in plums surround the herb garden along with an ancient pear tree, medlar trees and kiwi bushes. I couldn’t believe it either! At this point the heavens opened and we decided it was probably time to make a move. Bridget suggested she dropped me to the bus stop which I happily accepted as the weather had turned for the worse. 
I sat on the bus in a complete state of bliss. Being out at the farm was so relaxing. I truly believe I am at my most happy amongst lovely people in the countryside. The three or four hours I was there was perfect from start to finish. The people I met were so welcoming, kind and extremely supportive of what I am doing with the blog. The highlights for me were walking around the farm with Martyn and meeting all the lovely folk there. What a lovely way to spend a morning. I got to find out where my vegetables are grown and who picks and prepares them. It will make the vegetables I eat from Shillingford Organics even more delicious now I have seen where they come from.

Why not get yourselves down to the farmers market next Thursday in Exeter or the Real Food Store where Shillingford deliver everyday. Pick up some ‘fresh from the field’ veggies and create a storm in the kitchen. Use your imagination or take a look at some of my recipes.

I have another “Veg Box Challenge” coming up in the near future using the Shillingford Organics veg box scheme. Look out for that as there will be lots of yummy recipes for you to follow.

4 thoughts on “Shillingford Organic Farm

  1. It was a complete pleasure to introduce you to the farm and finally get to meet the person behind these wonderful blogs. Thank you for writing about your visit and for showing how important it is to connect with your local producers. We love what we do here at Shillingford Organics and love it even more when others’ love it too. Do come again soon 🙂 Lots of love to you Tara and keep up the amazing work you are doing in galvanising local, like-minded businesses. I am not sure how you fit it all in with your ballet teaching!

    1. I would love to come again soon.. 🙂 I had such a wonderful time with you all. I found the farm a very peaceful place even though it was a hive of activity. Maybe next time I visit I can get my hands dirty? Enjoy reading the blogs as there are many more to come.
      School holidays are approaching so ballet will stop so I will have even more time to write about the wonderful local producers we have here in the southwest! X

  2. You are welcome here anytime – even if you just want to walk around the farm to experience that sense of calm and well-being again. Keep up your amazing work – we are very fortunate to have met you, the wonders of social media 🙂 x

    1. I will take you up on that! I will visit in August for a cuppa and a chill out if that’s ok with you? X

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