Loaf’s visit to Mill Farm

Six of Loaf went on a road trip last week. Here’s Sarah to tell you what we got up to.

Jonathan, the owner of Mill Farm near Worcester, has been farming for over 50 years, so he’s seen a lot. But in the last few years he’s had to radically rethink how he approaches farming. The industry has been ravaged by politics and overwhelmed by the constant demand to supply more at lower margins. The land can’t bear it and something needs to change.

His neighbour Emma, inspired by the work of the South West Grain Network, convinced him to start growing heritage wheat varieties and a second yield was harvested this year. Emma contacted Loaf last summer asking if we’d like to buy some of it, and even if we didn’t, would we like to come and have a look around the farm?

She finished her email with the following:

“Our main aim is to re-imagine the food system where small-scale regenerative farming systems are producing nutrient-rich, tasty food in healthy soils, re-building short supply chains, and a new grain economy that is full of personality and traceability. If this aim resonates with you, then I look forward to hearing from you even if the purpose is simply to stimulate a Midlands bread and grain network.”

A couple of weeks ago we visited Mill Farm to meet Jonathan and Emma to find out more. We took some of our bread and shared a picnic under the shade of a massive oak. Sitting in one of the recently harvested fields, Jonathan told us about his plans.

One way to keep a farm alive is to get clever, creating a sustainable environment for better crops to grow without exhausting the land — from crop rotation to conserve the land, to wild flower areas to encourage pollinators, to making big decisions about what to grow and what to not grow.

Jonathan has won awards for his conservation efforts, and it really shows. We piled on the back of his truck for a tour around his fields, seeing how he has mindfully chosen to invest in the land, protecting the environment and conserving it for the future.

Growing heritage and ancient grains is a learning curve and comes at a cost, however. Can you imagine investing so much in such a large area of land with all that is going on in the world? Farming is highly exposed to such uncertainty. So much is out of the farmer’s control.

Jonathan could grow a standard commodity grain, but he and Emma want to do better. Fundamentally, they want healthy land, they want to grow grain that is tasty, they want to keep it interesting and they want to make a living from it.

I think that’s what resonates so much for me, because I see the same fundamentals in our coop at Loaf. We don’t cut corners and we aren’t chasing easy profits. We want balance. A great product that honours the grain and the land it grew on.

We were all so inspired to listen to how their new farming strategy is unfolding. It was a delight to learn from them, and we are particularly excited to take home some of the grains that they are growing.

As you’ll know, we are new to the heritage grain scene too. For us bakers this opens up a whole new world of flavour, texture and nutrition.

We really connected with Mill Farm on so many levels and look forward to bringing their grain to our loaves and onto your plates. We truly hope this is the start of a beautiful friendship.

Is the family farm the best farm?

In the world of baking you hear a lot of talk about ‘tradition’, particularly in contrast to the post-war industrial processes that dominate breadmaking today. But tradition can be an insidious thing, its origins obscured by the mists of history. Despite feeling right and proper, reverting to the traditional option isn’t necessarily what’s best.

Landed, the current Farmarama podcast series, is written and presented by Col Gordon whose grandfather rented, and then bought, a farm in the Scottish Highlands. Having grown up there, and recently returned to co-run his inheritance, he’s convinced family farms pave the way to an agroecological future  “in which rural areas are alive with culture, many more people work on the land, farms operate in sympathy with nature, and nutritious food is available to everyone in society”.

Progress is slow and he’s not sure he’s making much of a difference in the face of ‘Big Agro’. And then the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 happen. Like many people with more than a modicum of privilege he finds himself questioning a lot of things he’d taken for granted. In reading about BLM he comes across the phrase “the family farm is a colonial concept” which throws him, along with the discovery that the family farm tradition in the Highlands is only a few generations old. Prior to this, farms were run very differently. What if the family farm is actually part of the problem and there’s a better way to do things? 

We’ll have to wait to find out the answer as this is just part one, but it’s a really intriguing start and raises some pertinent and maybe difficult questions for those working to fix the food chain. We’ll be following with interest! 

If you’re new to Farmarama be sure and check out Cereal, their previous series on the Real Bread Campaign.

Want to be an organic farm apprentice?

The Soil Association is currently recruiting apprentices for the 2010-12 organic apprenticeship scheme with a number of exciting organic farm/growing vacancies on offer including:

· Abbey Home Farm, Cirencester, Gloucestershire

· Hankam Organics, East Sussex

cow and calf

Working as an SA apprentice, you will be paid at least the national minimum wage, working full time at the farm, whilst also attending 16 seminars across the 2 years in the Autumn and Winter months which are run by expert growers and farmers. The course fee is £1,600 per year though there is now of a number of funding opportunities to help support apprentices fund this.

Have a look on the SA website for more info or on the SA’s Organic Market Place where all the current vacancies are advertised, or get in touch with Lisa Nunn for more (email: LNunn@soilassociation.org, tel: 0117 914 2453).