Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Carols on the farm

A traditional family Christmas celebration, with Carol Singing, Mulled Wine, Mince Pies and if you are very good, Father Christmas will make an appearance too...

This event is FREE, just wrap up warm and get your singing voices at the ready....!
(Entrance to grotto, including eco-friendly gift £4)

There will be eco gifts and a certificate of goodness for each child, a snowman hunt, make your own Christmas decorations and decorate your own biscuits.

Plus family carols around the tree - tomorrow 3pm - 5pm - see you there!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Garden Update

Our Tuesday gardening group is often blessed with sunshine and yesterday was no different. This was particularly welcome after the wind and rain of the weekend.
Time then to getting planting! After a spot of weeding we lightly dug in some worm compost to feed the soil then we sowed  broad beans, a good overwintering variety known as Super Aquadulce which we buy from Garden Organic. This was followed by garlic which we had saved from this year’s crop and finally, making the most of the day, we planted our onion sets.  The soil was then covered with a good layer of leaf mulch which we also put round our brassicas.

Terry and Will sowing our broad beans

A few years ago a supporter kindly gave me a root of horseradish which I planted in a stack of tyres, figuring it would be easier to get at the roots to harvest them if I just lifted the tyres off.  Yesterday we were able to do just that and our chef Barney now has some horseradish to make a sauce to compliment the roast beef he serves on a Sunday here in Arthur’s Restaurant, which if you haven’t already been, I would recommend you treat yourself to a visit.  Happy gardening, Bex

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Its Halloween this weekend and I know there will be some fun and frights at Fordhall on Sunday from 5.30 till 8.30 pm for children and families to enjoy.
We had harvested a pumpkin in the garden a few weeks a go and yesterday we thought it would be a good idea to make some delicious pumpkin soup to serve up for lunch to the volunteers in the garden and staff in the office. Here you can see Will and Terry, regulars to the community garden preparing the soup. The good folk in the office thought it was delicious.
Dont get too spooked by the ghosts and spirits that you might bump into over the weekend!!! Bex
What I enjoy about gardening is thinking about the future! We gardeners look forward to buying seeds ready for the spring and we plan what to plant in order to dream about the produce and what can be done with it, what delicious meal can be conjured up to eat after a day out in the garden! Here at Fordhall we recently harvested some big hazel nuts from the Hazel Butler trees growing outside the tea room. I wanted to plant these nuts to ensure an even greater harvest in the years to come. Now the way to know if the nuts will produce strong healthy trees, is to float them in a bucket of water and if they sink, they will be good. We did this but they all floated! Hey ho I think we will plant them anyway!

Monday, September 16, 2013

A visit up north!

On Tuesday 13th August myself and Emma went up to visit the Growing Well project in Cumbria. This is an amazing project that employs 6 staff members. They run a commercially viable business that supplies vegetable as part of a box scheme, with all the growing work being done by 1 staff member and volunteers with mental health issues. Our mission was to find out if, and if so how, they managed to be sustainable! Our reason for this was so that we could bring this learning back to our own Community Garden here at Fordhall and look at ways of expanding our own growing space. Beren and James the project’s Organisational and Growing Co-ordinators were incredibly open and could not have been more helpful. We started the day in one of their lovely yurts (there are three in total, which are all interlinked); these are usually being used as the base for educational and training purposes. Beren started the day by telling us about how at heart their focus is mental health and growing, with training and education expanding from this. Sadly the project is now less sustainable than it used to be; now 70% grant funded, with contracts from Social Services a 10th of what they used to be. All the people that come through the project start as volunteers, but then have a choice as to whether they want to progress and do horticulture training courses at Growing Well and so become students. Growing Well has set up an interesting pilot project linking with local GP practices, which has been funded by Northern Rock. This has been set up to establish that there is a demand for the service: 50 – 60% of their referrals come through GP practices. James then took us for a walk around the site and showed their potting shed, polytunnels (of which there are several), their outdoor growing spaces and their 2ha of land that is under green manure. He explained about the daily challenges of logistics and getting the work done within a time frame and how he balances this with working with a specialist client group. The project is very clear that volunteers need to make their own way to the project and be there at a set time each day; if they are not able to commit to this it is recognised that the project is not right for them. Since returning from the project we have re-evaluated what we think is possible for us. The learning from our visit was invaluable in making these decisions. We have decided not to physically expand our growing space, but to develop the space that we have in a different way. We have also realised that trying to be financially sustainable is not a task to be taken lightly, and so have decided that we will look towards further grant funding as well as developing outdoor food/cooking courses and educational visits. All that said, we are still committed to developing our growing space as an area to be used for learning; especially for those people who, for whatever reason, are marginalised within society.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What a Scorching Success!

I knew it wasn’t going to rain and I knew it was going to be hot, but I couldn’t have imagined how much of a scorcher it actually was at our Summer Fair on July 7th.

Ben's catering trailers were a roaring success all day. Although no one was envious of those working behind the griddles in that heat!

Volunteers Chris, Rosemary, Max and Charlotte M, helped out on the Saturday to set up for the Sunday. 

Chris and Max moved and stacked 30 hay bales for the Hay Bale Tunnel, banged 49 posts in for the Post Maze, scrambled around in the Dutch barn, under the portacabins and in the tool shed to find all the different items needed to run the event. 

Meanwhile, Charlotte M was in the office printing and laminating signs for all the activities, Rosemary and Charlotte H were putting up marquees and I was pulling together the last minute preparations for the day. 

Dan (from Dan’s Cannons) was so dedicated to the event, that he brought his cannons along on the Saturday ready for firing on the Sunday morning.

Saturday was a long and hot day and we thought we thoroughly deserved an evening in the pub to celebrate!
Sunday morning, we were up bright and early with the sun.  Stall holders began to arrive from 7am and the day just continued to gather momentum. 

At 09.30hrs the RAF Helicopter came into land piloted by Chris Phipps.

Barbara turned up with her working horses Tyler and Billy and Mark and Karen set up their shave horse for the greenwood working stall.

The ladies from the Ellesmere spinners guild were spinning yarns, Andy arrived up with some massive logs to demonstrate the ancient technique of hewing and Helen and Kelvin began weaving their magic on some beautiful willow baskets….the slightly more noisy Paul also joined in with his chainsaw carving demos!

Jonno and The Good Tree Company had rigged up a pulley system on a tree in our ancient woodland where kids had the chance to scale the heights of a big old Sweet Chestnut.
Maggie and Geoff kept ususpecting groups entertained with their Maypole dancing and folk music.

Jester Jack and his Hobby Horse Project had people falling all over themselves to try out the stilts and hula hoops and learn some circus skills.

Kids could have a ride on the donkeys Primrose, Rainbow and Teddy.

Volunteer Nim had a great day as farm tour guide on the tractor and trailer rides, provided by A.R. Richards who at the very last minute were able to hire the trailer from the West Mid Show ground - phew! By the way, Nim was the one dressed as a bumble bee (sadly no photos!).

And fortunately, we had TWO ice cream stalls to cool people off throughout the day…!

Thank you to all of the volunteers who helped set up and run the day and special thank you to Lesley for baking lots of delicious cakes for our tea and cake stall.
It was a pleasure to host all of the wonderful stall holders, thank you for coming along and enduring the heat.

And last but not least, thank you to all the families who came along and supported us on the day – hope to see you here again soon!

Despite the Wimbledon final, the Grand Prix and the 27C of sunshine, everyone had a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Check out these fantastic photos taken by Bernard Beekes 

Thank you all,
Becca x

Thursday, July 04, 2013

It's going to be a hot one...

Don't forget that this Sunday, here at Fordhall Farm, we are holding our 8th annual Summer Fair, from 10am – 4pm. It will be a fundraising, family day out celebrating bees and butterflies.

Town Crier - Geoff will be here to open the event
We are having a local producers’ market at the event with items for sale ranging from soaps to dog kennels to goats’ ice cream and the market will run alongside lots of free family activities around the farm. 

There will also be rural and traditional craft demonstrators on hand to show off their skills and the ladies from Ellesmere Spinners Guild will be here with their spinning wheels and yarn.  Two working horses from Carnog will be showing the traditional skill of logging and Andy Hyde will be demonstrating the skill of log hewing. We also have expert basket weavers, Helen and Kelvin Stanley, who will be creating willow baskets.
Dan's Cannons are going to be back - this time with an even BIGGER cannon to try.
Jester Jack and the Hobby Horse Project will be here running a circus skills workshop - come and have a go at a unicycle....or stilt walking!

We are also delighted to have an RAF helicopter flying in, which children will be allowed to scramble around and ask the pilot questions.  The helicopter will be stationed amongst other large machinery, including old Land Rovers, heavy farm machinery and a working steam engine.

Pilot Chris will be touching down on Sunday morning
Everyone at the farm is really looking forward to the Summer Fair. There will be so much going on; from tree climbing to beehive building and welly wanging to country dancing and the added bonus that the weather looks like it’s going to be a scorcher! 
The Hay Bale Tunnel will be out

There are going to be lots of free family activities to enjoy and to complement our bee and butterfly theme, we are encouraging everyone who attends to unleash their inner butterfly…or bee... Becca and the team are going to be fluttering about in fancy dress too - see if you can spot them on the day!
Lots of traditional games will be available with a bee/buttefly twist....
And all of this is only £3 per person and under 4’s are free. If you need more information look at our website, or give us a call on 01630 638696.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bees and Butterflies Summer Fair Fun

The Summer Fair is soon upon us and we are getting a real buzz around the event.  This year, we have decided to have a fluttering theme of bees and butterflies. We want to celebrate these amazing critters and all that they do to help pollinate the crops around us. 

We have a bee hive demonstration, as well as a Butterfly Chase and many more wildlife themed activities that are being kindly developed by the girls from Newport High School. 

To complement the bee and butterfly theme, we are encouraging everyone who attends to unleash their inner butterfly…or bee –so, straighten your antennae and flutter your wings and join in with some fancy dress fun!

We will also have our usual market with lots of local producers selling their wares. This year, we have got jewellery from Button It!  and Jeanie Jewellery, food from the Ultimate Fudge Company, Crumbs Cakery, The Goat Ice-Cream Company and Polly’s Parlour, soap from Soapbox, handmade pet homes from Built 4 Paws and wooden crafts from The Wood Life and From Mrs G with Love….and the booking forms are still coming in!

There will be donkey rides, tractor rides and tree climbing!

The Owl Experience will be here with their beautiful owls and  birds of prey.

 The RAF helicopter is coming in for a flying visit and you can scramble all over the helicopter!

A-Star Sports will also be here organising sports sessions with the kids.

Dan’s Cannons will be here – see how far you can shoot a “cannon” using your body and a little help from gravity…or have a go at Welly Wanging and see how far you can wang a welly – with a prize for the furthest throw!

We’ve also got some fantastic rural/traditional craft demonstrators coming, including Pics and Sticks and their green wood workshop, the Ellesmere Wool  Spinners, Helen and Kelvin Stanley demonstrating willow basket weaving, Andy Hyde with the ancient art of hewing and Barbara and her working horses Tyler and Billy…

Phew…! There will of course be a tea and cake stall run by the wonderful Fordhall volunteers, Ben’s Fordhall BBQ will be out serving delicious sausages and burgers and ice-cream from Polly's Parlour... you can then sit back and watch (or join in) the country dancing lead by Maggie Love and Geoff Turner.

£3 per person (under 4’s free!), 10am-4pm, Sunday 7th July…be there or be square… :-)

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Brigit helps us Bee Aware at Fordhall Farm

Brigit telling the group how wonderful horse chestnut trees are for bees.

Last Sunday the inspirational Brigit Strawbridge came to Fordhall to run a workshop on bees. Did you know for example, that in the UK we have 267 different species of bee? Most of these will avoid stinging at all costs, and, only one of these is the honey bee.

In fact, the smallest bee is smaller than a grain of rice! Brigit had the group awestruck as she described the different types of bee's, where and why they choose to live in the different habitats that they do, and why different plants are more beneficial to them.

As farmers, we know how important bees are for producing food. Although, we only grow grass at Fordhall, our cattle also rely on herbs within the pastures and leaves from the surrounding trees for health. Even though bees directly pollinate a third of the food we eat and 80% of the plants on the planet you can, in fact, pretty much relate bees to almost every piece of food on your dinner plate. Their importance is exemplified in the fact that they have been around for over 100 million years - humans have only been around for 0.2 million years!

Even the dead nettles, dandelions,
daisies are loved by bees
In the morning we learned as much as we could about many different bees that can be found around us, taking tips on what we could grow in our own gardens to help reduce their decline. Then came lunch, a feast of honey roast pork, homemade honey bread and honey roasted vegetables cooked by Barney and Nicola.

To work off the delicious lunch we ventured into Fordhall's fields to see what we could find. The excitement came when we found small holes from ground nesting solitary bees. Holes that previously none of us would even have noticed, but on inspection you can see the hard work that goes into creating them.

Every time a member of the group spotted what they thought was a bee, there was a flurry of excitement. And we weren't always right. Some flies look like bees to avoid predation from other insects and birds. However, we were learning to spot the signs. Bee's have large antennae, a split body, two sets of wings and smaller eyes.

Another bee was spotted feeding on the bluebells and another down near the river. Unfortunately, even at Fordhall there were less bees to see than you would expect and this is due to the wet summers and the lack of habitat across the country which is encouraging their decline.

The entrance to the home of a ground
nesting solitary bee at Fordhall

Of course, we will all be aware of the debate over pesticides within the EU and the slow stance the UK has taken on making a decision. At least, here at Fordhall we have land which is, and always will be, pesticide free, and we will do all we can to help support our British bees.

For more information see these useful websites:
Bumble Bee Conservation Trust:
To record your sightings:
Information on all insects:
For all things Brigit Strawbridge:

Enjoy the summer and do what you can for our bees!


Friday, May 31, 2013

John Kirkpatrick returns to Fordhall

We are proud to announce the Shropshire premiere of John Kirkpatrick’s latest folk music project on Sunday 9th June at 7.30pm here at Fordhall Farm.

John Kirkpatrick has lived in Shropshire since 1973 and has always listened out for tunes and lyrics emanating from the county. So this special performance will feature songs and music purely from or about Shropshire.  With his powerfully dynamic voice and twinkling concertina fingers, John will romp through a range of famous and forgotten gems like Shrewsbury Quarry, The Shropshire Militia Hornpipe, The Shrewsbury Rakes, A Shropshire Lad and The Shrewsbury Lasses – for so long the theme tune to Percy Thrower’s television Gardening Club.

Chris Eldon Lee, Chairman of the board of the Fordhall Community Land Initiative said “We are delighted to be hosting a unique concert to launch John’s new album of Shropshire songs.  John pioneered music in our new venue last September before a capacity audience. At the end of the evening there was a unanimous vote to invite him back again - and now his new CD “Every Mortal Place” is completed, that’s exactly what we are doing!”

John Kirkpatrick explains and introduces his music with wit, charm and enthusiasm - and his squeezebox playing is incredible.  John is now a national treasure of the English folk scene and winner of the BBC 2 Folk Musician of the Year award…and is not to be missed.  

Tickets for the evening are £20 and include a hot supper from Arthur’s Restaurant during the interval. They are available on a first-come-first-served basis on 01630 638696.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Charlotte visits shareholders in the Isle of Man

Charlotte and Adam

On the 8th and 9th May I was invited by shareholder Adam Denard, to visit the Isle of Man to speak to their Permaculture Group about Fordhall’s outdoor grazing system and our innovative community structure.

Having never visited the island before, I was interested to learn about their independent government structure, their extensive farming systems and the general beauty and biodiversity of the island. In fact the island has no intensive poultry or pig farms, or foxes - which is certainly something to celebrate.
The Isle of Man’s landscape is rather like Anglesey, rolling hills, glorious coast line and small towns dotted in between. The farming is generally extensive and mixed. With many farmers growing the crops needed to feed their livestock through the winter months.
Most will know that the main business on the island is in finance, with agriculture, once one of the mainstays, making a declining contribution to their GDP. I was only on the Island for 2 days and so it was very much a whistle stop tour, although I seemed to dart from one end of the island to the other without a blink of an eye; it being only 12 miles wide and 30 miles long with a population of about 80,000.

Whilst there I had the privilege of meeting their Minister of Environment, Food and Agriculture, Phil Gawne. We met over lunch in a sourdough cafĂ© with Dr Pete McEvoy who is government botanist and agricultural scheme adviser for the Manx (Isle of Man) version of DEFRA. Phil was a very down to earth Minister with a real interest in seeing the Isle of Man become completely independent and sustainable in its food needs; farming in a way that was not reliant upon outside resources (such as additional chemicals, oil or fertilisers). He was not particularly saying the island should be organic, but he was keen on creating a more self-contained food system, something similar in my mind to the Foggage system we run at Fordhall. I became excited by the opportunities on the island; their independence from the UK government and the EU means that change can be quick. They have a fantastic opportunity to see where others have made mistakes, learn from them, and take their island in a different direction. Whether that be in the direction of sustainable farming techniques or community engagement. They have already designated the island a GM free zone. 

Rearing mainly beef and lamb on the island, with some arable crops, they have one main abattoir. All animals on the island go through it and are then distributed amongst the islands food retailers.  A fantastic localised and fully traceable food system.
That evening I gave a talk to permaculturists, farmers and Manx residents about Fordhall. I even had the pleasure of meeting another lovely Fordhall shareholder in the audience. Everyone seemed to enjoy the presentation and we may even have got some more supporters along the way.
That evening I spent the night in a 1976 horsebox! It had been extremely well converted into a small flat, complete with woodburner, stove, desk and bed. The horsebox was on a piece of land collectively owned by 6 individuals. They each own their little piece of this abandoned farm land, grow their own vegetables and fruits, live on site in yurts and use compost toilets.

It was a real honour to stay there, made even more special when I woke in the morning walked out of the old 1976 horsebox to see two ducks passing the path in front of me, a small bunny rabbit munching on the grass to my left and the birds in full song. Nothing seemed to mind my presence there – it felt very Beatrix potter J
After offering some volunteer labour (very little in actual fact), Amanda took me to visit their community farm. Run by the Children’s Centre on the island, the community farm worked with, amongst others, young people struggling with conventional education - rather like our young people’s project at Fordhall. The main difference was that they had lovely dry poly tunnels to work in; a fantastic well equipment greenwood workshop, and they received funding from the government to sustain the project. It was interesting to share experiences, but most importantly seeing the enormous and identical benefits it had for their young people; demonstrating the power of working practically outdoors with nature. In fact the island has an extremely low unemployment rate, yet these projects are still highly valued and supported.

A 'pizza' garden on the Children's Community Farm

At the end of my final day I met with local farmer John Kenaugh. His family have been farming the land here for over 5 generations. He could even remember the first bag of ammonium nitrate fertiliser to arrive on the fields. Although not a convert to organics, he is a traditional farmer and a real custodian of land. A farmer who understands and appreciates that his job is to nurture and build the soil and in return it will provide him with healthy food and a livelihood. There was a lot of synergy between John and Fordhall. The best bit of farming advice he was ever given was to ‘never plough through sand’; a mistake that my grandfather made during the first world war, costing our soils dearly.
As John simply puts it “now I have brown soil, not white soil”. Again John’s motivation, like their agricultural ministers’ was to produce food on the farm without being completely reliant on outside inputs, whatever those might be. He believed that farming and nature could not be separated: they are one and must be managed as a complete system, where everything is valued and each living creature has its place.
The Isle of Man was an island of intrigue, beauty and inspiration. They have a fantastic opportunity to develop their food system in a truly sustainable and healthy way, as they have not yet got stuck into the vastly intensive route many UK farms have.
Perhaps their biggest stumbling block will be high land values and barriers to entry into farming – I wondered if the Fordhall community ownership model could offer some alternatives. As an island that attracts wealthy investors, land values look like they will continue to rise. Maybe placing land in common ownership or creating laws that offer land to local’s first at an affordable rate may be solutions for the Manx government?

Either way, I had a truly inspiring visit to the island. I would like to extend my thanks to Adam, Pete, Phil, Jim and Amanda, who all made me feel extremely welcome and at home.

Gura mie eu and Aigh vie (Thank you and Good Luck!)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Biodynamic Workshop - stag bladders and compost!

Last Saturday, we held a Biodynamic Workshop here.  Charlotte and I decided to tag along to see if there were any ideas we could take on and use at Fordhall. 

The course was led by Biodynamic guru, Bernard Jarman of Hawksford College.  He certainly knew his stuff and was fascinating to listen to.

Biodynamic Apparatus

Biodynamic growing and farming is all about connecting the light with the dark, the earth with the cosmos and society with nature.

“Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), founder of biodynamics, was a highly trained scientist and respected philosopher. Long before many of his contemporaries, Steiner came to the conclusion that western civilization would increasingly bring destruction to itself and the earth if it did not begin to incorporate an objective understanding of the spiritual world and its interrelationship with the physical world. Steiner's spiritual scientific methods and insights have given birth to practical holistic innovations in many fields including education, banking, medicine, psychology, the arts and, not least, agriculture.”

Bernard Jarman
On our workshop, Bernard started the day by teaching us how to create compost preparations using 6 key plants: Yarrow, Chamomile, Nettle, Dandelion, Valerian and Oak.  Each of these plants has its own unique properties which are not only used medicinally, but they also help to assist with various mineral processes under the soil.

Compost Preparations
The Yarrow flowers, for example, are collected and dried over winter, then in the spring they are sewn inside the bladder of a stag.  The bladder is then hung up over the summer, then buried in the autumn and dug up in the spring ready to use in your compost.

Yes, it does sound a little far-out, but the whole idea of connecting the external with the internal is really quite powerful. 

We all ventured outside, just as it started to rain and Bernard showed us how to add the ready-made compost preparations to our compost heap in the community garden.  We also added a liquid compost starter to the compost created from the Ridan Hot Composter

Adding to the compost heaps
As it started to get a bit too chilly outside, we made our way back in and enjoyed a delicious lunch from Arthur’s Restaurant of vegetarian quiche, home-made bread and seasonal salad.

Charlotte stirring the vortex
After lunch, we learnt about the Horn Manure and Horn Silica that is used on the land.  We had to put the Horn Manure into a bucket of water and stir it for an hour, but not just stir it, we had to create a vortex in the water.  We were shown how to stir the water in a clockwise direction until there was a vortex down to the bottom of the bucket and then stir the water in the opposite direction again creating a vortex. 

Horn Manure

This liquid was then sprinkled all over the field and community garden, this will hopefully help with plant growth… watch this space!

Connie and Becca sprinkling the Horn Manure across the fields

This workshop would definitely appeal to all gardeners and growers who are interested in organics and are open minded to new ideas!

We are holding our next Biodynamic Workshop with Bernard on Saturday 19th October.
Get in touch to book!

Friday, May 03, 2013

Explore Fordhall Farm

I’m dog sitting today, so I’ve just taken Luke out for a walk around the trails at Fordhall.  The sun isn’t really shining this afternoon, but it’s still really warm and the farm is still really beautiful. 

All three trails are now open! The 3rd of the trails which is named after the late Arthur Hollins has been closed for a while as the ground had been so wet, but as you’ll see if you walk around the farm, it is now very dry and sandy.  Arthur’s walk takes you around most of Fordhall’s 140 acres and takes about an hour and half…longer if you stop to explore along the way! 

Tree tunnel

At the moment, out in Fordhall’s fields you will find the lambs and calves, they are all sticking close to their mums still.  In the pig paddock the Gloucester Old Spot piglets are a bit more adventurous; they love to go running off on an adventure!

Today, I walked along the River Tern and stopped to look at an otter holt (den), I was just about to pick up a cray-fish claw that was on the bank when I heard a splash, I turned to look, but all I could see was the ripples in the river - I was right by the otter and I missed it! Oh well…maybe next time.

The otter holt
Our trails are open all through the Bank Holiday weekend, Charlotte’s Walk only takes half an hour, Ben’s Walk goes a bit further and takes about 45 mins – for Ben’s Walk you probably still need your wellies. 
If you don't fancy going on a big adventure around the farm, you can still head over to the pig-nic area and see if you can find these guys...

For the youngsters (or the young at heart) we have a selection of free activities to help you explore along the way; create a natural bookmark, hunt out all the wooden animals, collect brass rubbings and go on a  Fordhall Treasure Hunt.  You can collect all of these from Arthur’s Tea Room – just ask at the till.

I hope you have a lovely bank holiday weekend – winter has finally turned into spring!