On Bank Holiday Monday 31 May a group of us from Birmingham went to Elms Farm, a biodynamic farm near Pershore, Worcestershire, as part of FOE’s Fix the Food Chain campaign which forges links with local farmers.
Demeter is an organic standard dating back to the 1920s closely based upon the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner. Demeter follows a lunar calendar for planting, cultivating and harvesting with the aim of building a diverse ecosystem and becoming completely self reliant.
Elms Farm has been run since 2003 by Charbel Akiki who lives there with his wife Sussana and their four daughters. Charbel also shoulders a considerable amount of childcare while Sussana is at work in Birmingham.
I realised straight away I’ve met Charbel several times on his stall at Farmers Markets in Birmingham, so it was great to see from where his delicious salad leaves originate.
We began by attending Pershore’s ‘asparagus festival’ which was a bit of a let down, I think we were too late for the asparagus, although there was some still on sale. We saw the parade through the town centre with lots of colourful floats, but I think most of us were more interested in the Farmers’ Market. Like most of them in the UK, however, takeaway food and jars of preserves predominated.
Having scored our asparagus and, in Nigel’s case, some serious quantities of seriously chocolaty cheesecake, we headed in the direction of the delightfully named North Piddle and Elms Farm. Many thanks to Nigel Baker, as I greatly enjoyed being chauffeured in his Toyota Prius, never having ridden in one before.
Sussana and Charbel welcomed us with a big pot of tea and we met a group from Worcester FOE who’d also come to see the farm. We soon got to know one another, chatting away and learning all about the intricacies of running a farm to Demeter standard, which is one of the most rigorous. Charbel and Sussana gave us some background on the farm, before we went on a tour.
First stop was the orchard, planted with the help of an agricultural college with some 600 fruit trees of some sixteen varieties of apples, pears, plums and cherries. Hens and Chickens were wandering around and live in a coops up in the orchard. Foxes are a serious problem, last year the farm lost around fifty birds. Cute and cuddly or a financial liability?
We then went on to look at the plantings of strawberries, three varieties; early, mid and late, the greenhouse with tomatoes, courgettes and those wonderful salad varieties planted out.
What struck me most seeing the farm is the way the crops co exist with the weeds, which grow all over the place and the sheer effort of maintaining the farm by hand. There’s no tractor. It’s easy to see how the price of Charbel’s produce reflects the work which goes into it.
There’s a beautiful meadow alongside full of tall grass and wild flowers, and Charbel described how nice it is for his children to enjoy. That’s a good highpoint on which to conclude this report of our visit, and you can see some highlights on the video I made here.