Results for category "Shillingford Organics"

March On

As February and our final week at Shillingford Organics come to a close, we take a little time to reflect on our experience this past few weeks. An innate goodness points to the poor weather conditions and is thankful for a warm place to stay, as well as fresh organic food. However, the critical, analytic side also has a few things to add.

Overall, the work week activities passed similarly to the previous. Monday being slow, we ended up doing more weeding in the polytunnels, not an unpleasant place to be on a cold blustery day. When Tuesday arrived there was an announcement of an “all hands” project – prepare for a new herb garden on the edge of one of the “no dig” areas. Our spirits lifted at the news of working on this new task as we made our way through the bright morning sun to the designated space. Our heads filled with questions to ask, we were certainly ready to absorb some new knowledge, our minds seeming to have been preserved in a vacuum, free from any first hand explanations or transmission of gardening expertise for some time.

Upon arrival, we headed to the group and surveyed the scene before us . This was it, a day of learning. We listened carefully to the instructions. ” …Move a large pile of cuttings , etc … cut plastic sheeting … “. Soon it became apparent, that “helping to set up the new herb garden” actually translated to ripping away plastic matting that had been laid several years ago, which was thoroughly attached with large quantities of roots and grass, and relocating a large pile of gardening debris. Whilst we dragged large sheets of plastic away, the sun disappeared behind the clouds and the heavens opened. As we doggedly pulled, strained, teared, cut and lifted, nobody had the energy to talk or transmit any plans or information, and we had given up any hope of hearing anything that day. After this intriguing interlude, the rest of the work week returned to the standard cycle of orders and veg boxes, picking and packing.

Our understanding is that the WWOOF principles are supposedly based on a fair exchange- a person’s work in exchange for accommodation, food and knowledge. All too easily, it seems, WWOOFers just become regular employees, which by anyone’s estimation, are paid much less than regular staff by way of sub-standard accommodation and basic food supplies. Especially for us as a couple sharing sleeping quarters, in this instance going further to augment this already skewed trade. Both K & R coming from English speaking countries and having little interest in “practicing ” our English on people ( the vast majority of WWOOFers seem to be from non English speaking countries on a university gap year to learn the language) means the exchange is by no means sweetened as it may be for others. Perhaps it’s no surprise that from what we hear the UKBA (UK border agency) are increasingly stopping non-EU citizens from entering the UK to WWOOF.

Out of hours, as with the previous week, our time was mainly spent walking back and forth between facilities, trying to find a warm place to get an internet connection and the usual daily chore of cleaning up after the paid workers before we could begin to make our dinner, unfortunately not a quick job . After the first few days of the third week, we decided it was probably better to remove the pile of dirty mugs, bowls and plates from the sink and place it all in a corner for them (or the local wildlife) to get round to washing in their own time and to leave the rubbish which delicately decorates the floor around the base of the bin for them to pick up and place in the bin when they can find opportunity in their busy schedules.

We were thankful to have met Martin, the previous head grower here, who now has a smallholding near Okehampton and supplies for a market stall, so only working at Shillingford on Thursdays. He truly seemed engaged in teaching us, having become aware of our desire to learn and it was a shame not to be able to spend more time with this experienced and thoughtful person, only being able to pick up a glimmer of WWOOFing sanity here and there as we moved through the daily schedule. After talking for a little while we found his smallholding was one we had actually contacted for October placement – unfortunately he had had no room.

We were also lucky to have another canine friend here, Tilly. She often “helped” with our evening meals, especially concerned about the cleanliness of the floor at all times and overly interested in our eating techniques. She came to collect us in the morning a couple of times, as well, waiting patiently on our little porch until we would pop out, at which point she would walk us to our destination, leading the way. One day we were even graced with her presence on a tractor trip to the upper fields, an excursion which extended to digging for something near the spinach and helping herself to some sprouts. She is a sweet friend that will most certainly be missed.

Our third WWOOF week at Shillingford having finally elapsed, Friday afternoon we treated ourselves to a tub of chocolate ice cream, as a reward for having completed our time here. We look forward to the opportunity lined up for March and trust that we find a better scenario, one that works for both sides of the arrangement.

We also look forward to our visit from K’s Dad and Jan this weekend and to the Spring, now so very clearly on it’s way. The birds in ever more vocal chorus, the new blossoms and flowers everywhere we look, the longer hours of day and the plaintive cry in the dead of night of a newborn lamb, all stand as testament that we are entering the season of hope and new birth.

A Week of WWOOF Chronicles

Monday 0700: The first task of the day was to discard all of the residual lettuces harvested at the end of the week prior, as the farm prides itself on delivering fresh produce and three days (or more, potentially) just wouldn’t cut it. Unfortunately, this means quite a bit of waste and then the need to head out to pick anything required for the day’s shop orders.

Monday seems to be another (along with Fridays) slower day at Shillingford, and so there was a smaller crew there to carry out the duties of the day. With only two shop orders for the AM delivery, that included a small amount of picking for each item, two groups headed out to pick from the different locations. R harvested leeks and then black kale, while K traveled up to the top field to collect curly kale, spinach and hungry gap kale.

After the orders had been fulfilled and ready for van load and subsequent delivery, the drizzle sent us to a wet weather job for slow times, weeding in the second polytunnel all along both sides around all sorts of lettuces. We removed chickweed and assorted other culprits. The rains started to be heavier just after tea break, invoking the watering system in the polytunnel that uses the rainwater collected in the catchment to nourish the greens inside.

At Shillingford Organics, weeds from the tunnels are deposited into the pathways and left there to decompose and become a compost material, rather than “taking them out to somewhere to become compost only to have to bring back in”. This is a system we haven’t seen anywhere else and aren’t sure if the results have the same value as more formally prepared compost material. Our weeding took us through to the end of the work day and the rain drove us back to our pod for respite.

Tuesday 0700: First order of business, orders for the business. As often, we first set about shop order fulfillment with a full board of things to be collected, weighed, bagged, and packaged for delivery throughout the day. Some harvesting was needed to meet the requests, K made his way to the field for leeks and also cut and bagged squash for the market, while R headed out on a tractor trip and cut PSB, cauliflower and then popped off brussel sprouts to fill a green crate.

After tea break, the week’s potato grading needed to be done. Now old hats after the week prior, we made quick work of the task and then were sent to a few patches of “no dig” beds that needed black tarp resetting from the intense gales of the recent days that had wrecked havoc on the covering and left the ground exposed. The tarp had been in place since the end of summer and is left to ensure all of the weeds that had grown there have died off in time for the next planting season for the bed. At the conclusion of this repair job, our day was done.

Wednesday 0700: After quickly exhausting limited stocks of produce when packing the shop and market orders for the day, we made our way to the fields to replenish and complete the shop orders for the morning. After tea break, we needed to head back out to the fields in order to harvest for the large Exeter Market order and items for the veg boxes, as well. R picked a crate full of brussel sprouts while K picked two of hungry gap kale. Then R picked a large crate of red Russian kale, while K picked PSB and spinach.

When we arrived back, the employees went back out yet again to collect oodles of red cabbage for the veg boxes while we prepared the red Russian kale, PSB and spinach bags for the veg boxes. This chore took us through to the end of our work day, with virtually everything prepared for the first run of veg box packing to be completed that afternoon.

Thursday 0700: It was a drizzling morning as we went to the packing shed, but in the prep time, the drizzle had ceased and we headed out to pick for the morning, R picked red Russian kale while K went to another field behind the chickens and picked curly kale. After making up bags of PSB and kale for the veg boxes, we completed both the first and second packing runs for Thursday.

Once we’d had our daily tea break, we went back out picking, this time us both collecting hungry gap and then spinach. The sun was out when we departed and followed an hour later with a strike of rain/sleet before blowing out again for the sun to reappear. A second onslaught of rain caught us before we completed our pick two hours after we left. When we arrived back and unloaded, our WWOOF day was done.

Friday 0700: Once again, shop order work needed to be managed first off, this day having only to pick 1 kg of black kale and 1.5 kg of red Russian kale in order to make up the small orders for the day. Then it was time for the third run of veg boxes, the final of the week.

Our chore before tea break was to pressure wash all of the dirty crates, a wet and tedious job. After break, we were sent out to a long planting bed in one of the “no dig” areas to fold and roll up a fleece that was protecting new broad bean plants from pheasants and birds when they were seeds and very young plants. Now large enough to not be of interest to the winged creatures, they needed to be uncovered to avoid mass weed explosion under the fleece. After moving almost 50 extra white crates to storage above the cold store and helping make room for the new delivery of a pallet of onions, we were done with our WWOOF week.

Friday 1301: Done for the week. Phew!  We returned to our pod, looking forward to our weekend and a special visit/day out…

Soggy Week…Sunny Weekend!

Our third day into WWOOFing at Shillingford Organics and we were already into the groove of the process. The morning means packing for the delivery shop orders, which this time meant needing to replenish supplies of a few greens and other things, so a large group of us made our way on the back of the tractor to the fields, K and R picking hungry gap kale, curly kale and finally spinach.

Once we made our way back to the packing shed and completed the shop orders with that which we’d just collected from the earth, we were able to move on to the next set of veg boxes for the week, the second of three installments to complete the week’s customer deliveries. Already familiar with the process from the previous day, we quickly went through the boxes and were ready then to work on the Friday shop orders, now up on the order chart.

Again, we went through each item one by one to fulfill the requests of each shop and discovered the need to return to the fields for more. Tractor loaded up, we went back to the fields and this time, K picked curly kale with Martin, who was the chief grower at Shilingford for several years until a couple of years ago when he decided to buy and operate his own smallholding near Okehampton. He had actually just been to the North Devon Seed Swap, run by Rob from Ceridwen. Our WWOOF world gets smaller! R and Claire picked red Russian kale at this time and then after a field change, K picked hungry gap kale while R picked brussel sprouts (learning all of the “quick picking” tips!).

When we arrived back with all of the produce, it was 1PM and the day was done – we even got to see the sun for a bit on our picking outings, a very very welcome change. Unfortunately, it was gone again by mid afternoon when the rain and winds returned once more. So we huddled in our little pod, apart from our daily walk where we huddled together against the wind and rain, although it thankfully seems to be somewhat clear just before sunset on several occasions.

Friday was a slower day at Shillingford, with most of the work for the week accomplished and things wrapping up, enough so that three workers don’t even work that day. We started bright and early (although not that bright yet with the sun just starting to wake itself) and finished the Friday delivery shop orders and then working through the last of the veg boxes for the week, as well.

As the rains streamed down, the Friday crew all looked for inside work, so while most of the employees made their way to the polytunnels for work, we worked through peeling another box of garlic bulbs into cloves for planting as soon as the Devon floods cease. It was slowly approaching the weekend, one garlic bulb at a time. We finished the last bulb just a few minutes before the end of our WWOOF day, leaving just the right amount of time to sweep up the area we’d peeled in, leaving the packing shed all tidy for the next work week come Monday.

It was now time for our free time, two and a half whole days of it. It had been a long week, with travel Monday and four early-starting wet WWOOF days and we were tired. The winds picked up speed into the evening and it almost seemed like they might be strong enough to actually shift the pod! It wasn’t until mid-morning on Saturday that the winds started to die down and the sun finally appeared.

So, after resting Friday afternoon, evening and Saturday morning, we decided it had been too long since we’d had a long walk and decided to venture the three miles into Exeter for a meander there. It was a lovely sunny walk into town and then along the canal into city centre. There was only one brief rain that met us on our afternoon of walking and we were quite happy to have chosen this day for a long walk.

After about 8 miles total of walking for our afternoon, we were pleased, although our feet complaining some. We settled into our pod as the cold night set in, this time without the intense winds of the night before.

After a Sunday morning of frost, the sun again shone across the fields of our pod view and so we made our way over to the office building for a load of laundry to dry in the glorious weather, such a contrast to the wet week.  Once the laundry hit the lines in the polytunnel just outside the offices, we ventured out for a long walk among the rolling acreage of arable land.  After our late lunch/early dinner, we reflected on our first week and prepared ourselves for the week ahead at Shillingford Organics.

A Commercial Venture

As the wind howled and the rain lashed in, we opened our eyes to pitch blackness. With no visual confirmation, it took a few seconds to realize we were in new surroundings, as K groped for the alarm. Having arrived at our new WWOOF host on Monday afternoon, Shillingford Organics, we were keen to get to work, although perhaps not “7am start time” keen! After a quick hot drink we made our way through the waterlogged ground to the rendez-vous point, the packing shed.

Shillingford Organics provides a local veg box scheme to between 180 and 210 homes weekly, in addition to supplying numerous shops and markets with their produce, a true commercial entity working Monday to Friday to supply produce for hundreds of people. Our first day would be an introduction to a typical Tuesday preparing for the shop orders of the day.

We jumped right in and began to pack kale, spinach, and other greens, carefully weighing out the appropriate quantity, sealing the bag and re-bagging until the orders of the item were completed and we could move on to the next. As we worked our way through the order board, it was was realized, we needed more leeks, purple sprouting broccoli(PSB) and other things, so two teams headed to two different fields on tractors.

K and a couple others headed on a tractor up to a hillside to collect leeks. A second tractor carried R and others to fetch a variety of things, R focusing on PSB. Once enough of the items were collected, each party made their tractor way back to the packing shed to finish the orders. Once all of the baskets had been filled with all of the goodies ordered, it was time to move on to other tasks about the packing shed.

After the morning’s three hours, it was time for a tea break, enough time for a hot drink and some food into our bellies, most of us not having had breakfast before work began with it being such an early start time.

With the break completed, we made our way back into the packing shed to work through potatoes for the week, using their special machine, which moves the potatoes along a belt with multiple filters. The first filter is for debris, the second for very small potatoes and the third for still slightly too small potatoes before they come out the other end, where four of us stood to visually inspect and pull any less than perfect specimens to be discarded. We also pulled out extra large spuds to be bagged and sold as baking potatoes.

Our last task of the WWOOF day would be to work on the squash for the weekly boxes, so we went to the shed next door where they are stored under straw in three layers. There we pulled out 9 trays of Crown Prince squash and began the process of cutting and weighing into the sizes delivered in the different veg boxes.

At 1PM, our WWOOF day was complete, so we made our way back to our cozy sleeping pod to relax for the afternoon. The evening included our first full meal from the Shillingford kitchen (by our own hands), penne pasta with pesto, kale and butter beans with sauteed onions, garlic and chopped tomatoes. It was wonderful!

After an early night and restful sleep in our pod as the wind whipped around us, we awoke Wednesday to work on packing some items for Wednesday shop deliveries and then all ventured out to the fields for picking, in the wind and wet. K and R both picked red Russian kale then curly kale before it was time to relocate to a second field for other produce where K picked hungry gap kale and R picked black kale.

When we arrived back at the shed, it was time to weigh and bag the brussel sprouts for the weekly veg boxes and then a tea break, before it was time to pack the veg boxes for Thursday deliveries. Customers can order in four sizes: mini, small, medium and large. Each box currently contains potatoes, carrots, parsnips, brussel sprouts, squash, leeks, oriental salad, purple sprouting broccoli and onions, unless a customer has specified a dislike for something and then they receive an alternate selection. They can also order eggs from the farm, if they would like.

Our final chore for Wednesday was to peel garlic bulbs into the individual cloves for planting as soon as the ground isn’t so saturated. After admiring the horizontal rain and a nice lunch, we had our daily stroll in the hills before our evening meal and settling back into our snug little pod.

Loving Simplicity