Q+A with Bickham Farm

1. What do you grow?

We grow tomatoes, courgettes, runner beans, leeks, spinach, chard, kale and broad beans and we also keep animals – turkeys, pigs, geese and cattle.

2. How long have you been farming?

I grew up on a farm in Kent and spent my formative years helping out on the farm. After school, I went to agricultural college but lost my way and moved to London. It was fun, but a bout of illness made me revaluate my life. Then three things happened at once: I met my wife, a friend offered me the farm in Devon and I got better. That was 24 years ago and I haven’t looked back. It’s hard work, farming, and the job is never done, but it’s satisfying. You have to enjoy it to do it otherwise you’ll go mad.

3. Talk us through a day on Bickham Farm.

I wake up at 5, put on a pot of tea, then I read my book for about 45 minutes before heading out. The first thing I do is check on the cattle – we have 55 cows and two bulls. Then, I’ll walk around the polytunnels to see which crops need irrigating and work out what needs picking and sending where. The team arrive at 7am and they get straight to work picking vegetables and packing the veg into boxes ready to send off. We’ll be done picking by about 11am, otherwise it starts to get too hot. As we’re organic, we don’t use pesticides to get rid of weeds so I do it by hand. By mid-afternoon, we’re done and I go and check on the cows again. Our produce is collected to go to Planet Organic three times a week, and we sell locally daily too.

4. What’s it like farming during the pandemic?

Orders have got larger, staff have got easier to find and the weather is just as challenging as always. Demand for fresh produce is strong, it must be all of the people who used to eat out now cooking at home for themselves. My kids, 16 and 18, were supposed to be sitting their GCSEs and A Levels, but instead they’ve been at home helping out on the farm. It’s been nice showing them what I do and I think it’s sparked a bit of interest in my son – he’s been driving tractors and has even got me on Instagram.

5. What can we, as consumers, do to help?

Keep cooking at home after the pandemic, and buy organic when you can.

6. Why do you farm organic?

The key to everything is healthy soil – it’s essentials for healthy plants, animals and humans – and that’s the key principal of organic farming, to look after and nurture your soil. Soil is a living thing made up of bacteria and fungi – you have to treat it well, nourish it, and not leech too much from it to keep it healthy. Non organic agriculture has ignored soil and how precious it is. We need to learn to take care of it better.

7. What’s in season now?

We’re currently harvesting spinach, chard, courgettes, broad beans and runner beans.

8. Favourite way to cook with seasonal vegetables?

I love cooking and collecting recipes but I tend to cook more in the winter. The days on the farm are too long at the moment to spend time cooking but once they’re in the ground, I’ll have a bit more time on my hands. I like all of my vegetables steamed. With butter and a pinch of salt, you’re in paradise. One of my favourites for courgettes and broad beans is a belly pork ragu, slow-cooked with thyme until it’s rich.

9. What does the future hold?

Farms are surprisingly difficult to get hold of, but I’d love to try somewhere a bit less hilly and stony…

Shop our London Fresh collection of organic fruit and vegetables online at Planet Organic.