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From computers to cabbage: A new way of life

This has been our second year of growing veg. I’d never even been on a farm before when we took on the tenancy at this National Trust farm five years ago. We started off with livestock, but I quite like the veg and the fact that you can eat what you grow. Last year we did six to seven acres, and this year we’ve done 21 acres, so it’s been quite a big increase.

We grow savoy and red cabbages, Romanesco cauliflower, sweetcorn, calabrese broccoli, as well as black kale, purple sprouting broccoli, broad beans and leeks. We choose different varieties partly according to when they mature (so crops are nicely spaced out through the season), but also for their different qualities in the kitchen. We have one savoy cabbage variety called Famosa that has a good texture when raw, so you can use it in coleslaw, and another called Melissa that’s better when cooked. 

Some things are quite tricky to grow, like the Romanesco cauliflower, which lacks vigour and doesn’t compete well with weeds – but people love the flavour, so that’s why we do it. It’s worth the effort. Our black kale was stripped by the birds, but amazingly it then grew back. It grows so quickly that it leaves the weeds behind. On the other hand, it doesn’t like the heat, so you need to get it picked then sent down to be packed straight away, otherwise it wilts.

Broccoli
From farm to fork: Organic broccoli growing in east Devon.

We also had a bit of a disaster on the broad bean crop, because of a pest called the sciarid fly, which lays its eggs inside the pod and means the whole thing is inedible. It took over so quickly, and we pretty much lost everything overnight. We planted in April and checked it every week; you just pray it will make it to harvest.

It’s not just the veg I’ve been getting used to. Before farming, I worked in IT for 34 years, managing a big team of people at Devon County Council – so this is a very different lifestyle! It’s hard work, but at least I sleep at night. You have fresh air and you’re your own boss. You have got pressures, but given the choice I’d definitely rather this.

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    Heather Rhodes

    Heather and her husband Ed grow a colourful mix of organic veg at their National Trust tenanted farm in the village of Broadclyst, Devon. They are members of the South Devon Organic Producers cooperative; founded by Guy Singh-Watson in 1998 to help small-scale organic farmers in the area pool specialist tools, staff, and knowledge, and grow more brilliant veg.

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