High above Anne Port bay, with a commanding view through the trees to St Catherine’s Breakwater, sits Anneville Farm. Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Justin Le Gresley who farms the 48 acres of Anneville Farm along with his parents.
A few weeks ago I was appalled at the sight of farm workers who were required to wear full protection (body suit and gloves) in order to plant new potatoes. (See Facebook Post). I try and eat organic food where I can, and started growing my own food over 17 years ago so that I knew exactly what was going on to my plants, and into my body. But I only have a small space to grow in and limited time, so I do still buy lots too – preferring to buy local food in support of local farmers. I feel quite strongly about this – as an island which imports a vast majority of its products we already have very little food security as it is, so by buying from local producers we are ensuring that we keep a local supply chain going for some products at least, and support our local economy.
And this is where Justin, his parents and the 2 members of staff at Anneville Farm really make a huge impact. There are no chemicals used at all on the new potatoes here, and in fact very little used on the whole of the farm (only the ability to use a product as a last stop, if all else has failed).
Over the last few years Justin has been working with the soil, meeting with Glynn Mitchell to learn about the soil, and working with the soil microbiology to ensure healthy and hearty crops, without the use of chemical herbicides or fertilizers. In fact the farm has never used herbicides, preferring instead to use mechanical weeders such as finger weeders or ridgers. More recently the farm is trialling the use of cover crops. These fix nitrogen into the soil, slow down soil erosion and provide organic matter for the soil when it the plants are dug in – and because the soil is smothered in a cover crop and not left open and idle, there’s no space for weeds and, therefore, less need to weed in the first place!
When I arrived at the farm, Justin was preparing a batch of compost tea. A huge vat of water sits inside a specially made barrel, and placed into this are four small cages. The cages are filled with Justin’s home-made compost and a few other ingredients – seaweed extract, rock dust, fish emulsion and a little bran. These ingredients are food for the microbiology, which helps them grow and reproduce larger numbers of microbiology. All things natural here!
Air pipes are placed deep into this compost mixture, which is then submerged into the barrel of water and turned on, and left to bubble and brew for 48 hours. After which time it has to be put straight on to the land. There is quite a bit of planning and forethought that goes in to timing and placing of the compost tea.
Normally, if I saw a tractor spraying on a field, my initial thoughts would be chemicals! I would automatically assume that the contents would be chemicals, but in this instance I couldn’t be more wrong. Never assume (It makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’). The compost tea will be sprayed on the crops which need water, also giving them a healthy dose of microbiology to feed the soil at the same time. Plants have a symbiotic relationship with fungal hyphae – the fungal hyphae mine the minerals the plant needs from the soil, and the plant feeds the fungal hyphae with plant sugars. The others – the nematodes, arthropods, protozoa, flagelates, testate amoebae, ciliates and oomycetes all have their own roles to play in the soil food web.
Modern farmers tradionally use fungicides, insecticides and herbicides on the soil. These strip all the microbiology from the soil, which in turn requires the application of fertilizers in order for the plants to grow. Take away all those synthetic chemicals and add back some nature, and you end up with healthy soils, strong soil structure and healthy plants.
Chemical cocktail or nature? Hmmmm, not a particularly difficult decision to make. For my health, and for the health of my island, I vote nature all the way!
Look at the lush and healthy potatoes here. Despite being in an official drought, the healthy soil is retaining moisture and the plants are stronger, making them more able to withstand problems.
There’s a lot more than potatoes going on here though. In the farm orchard there are a variety of different apple trees, some local and some rare heritage varieties from around the globe, as well as almonds, cobnuts, redcurrants, white currants and gooseberries. Although Justin says, the squirrels know when the almonds and cobnubs are ripe before he does, so he doesn’t always get his fair share!
Next to the orchard there is also a very exuberant rhubarb patch. Just one part of the diversification of crops that the farm are keen to promote.
In the nearby fields, Justin and his family grow chard, kale, kalets, spinach, onions, shallots, beetroot and purple-sprouting broccoli.
In the large pollytunnels, the farm grows the majority of the its plants from seed, before hardening off and planting out in the fields or smaller pollytunnels. Also grown in here are the baby salad leaves, which are picked fresh daily and don’t get big enough to make it out of the pollytunnel.
The small pollytunnels are currently nestled under a layer of horse manure but will soon be watered with a batch of compost tea and planted up with chillies and sweet peppers for the UK market.
One lovely surprise, which says volumes about the ethics of this particular farm, was in relation to some old greenhouses. At a time when the island seems to have a plethora of broken down greenhouses quietly rotting away (and secretly biding their time until a change of use can be applied for) I was hugely impressed with the Le Gresleys. Not only have they completely cleared some run down greenhouses, they have converted the land back into agricultural use, probably a first for Jersey! They could have dismissed the hard, compacted soil as impossible to work with, but instead are working with natural means to get the land back into full use. Tillage radishes are grown in this field, their deep roots breaking up the compacted soil, then providing organic matter into the soil when they are cut down and rotavated back into the topsoil.
I was given full access to the farm, not just paraded around the best bits for show – and so I wandered into the storage shed where the next batch of potatoes are sitting, awaiting their turn to be planted. Look! There’s nothing hidden here – no pink chemical fug painted on these potatoes – just healthy, natural seed potatoes. No need for chemical protection suits here.
Anneville Farm supply to many local outlets, such as Just William and John Nagle in the central market, The Works, Moo, Belle Gourmande, Funghi Delecti, Snow Hill fish and chip shop, Midland Stores and the Fresh Fish Company. So, next time that you are buying some local fruit and vegetables, ask for Anneville Farm produce. Buying locally supports local farmers and the local economy. By asking specifically for Anneville Farm products you are supporting the hard work being undertaken by this farm and sending a clear message to the farmers, saying this is how we want our soil protected and this is how we want our food grown, naturally.
Alternatively, there is a tiny farm shop where you can buy direct from the farmer. Actually, it’s more of an honesty box housed in a rustic granite building, than a farm shop, but I love the quirkiness of the setting. What’s more, there are some zero-waste options available too!
With grateful thanks to Justin for taking the time out of his busy day to show me around the farm and to answer my unending questions. But especially for being the type of farmer I want to get behind 100%, a true steward of the land.
Follow Justin and his family at Anneville Farm on their Facebook page @AnnevilleFarmShop, where you can access the opening times, and a map for directions.