Making the decision
Ben Raskin - 15 December 2010
Managing a piece of land part time is not easy, just ask my poor neglected allotment. and although I have to some extent adhered to the mantra of "grow for the market" I have also had to limit my choice of crop and site because of the time i will be able to devote to the enterprise. On the plus side of course since i will still be earning on the other days of the week, if the whole enterprise sinks without a trace i won't be responsible for my family's destitution.
Philosophical factors - I have wanted to conduct some rootstock trials for many years (since working with Hugh Ermen, now sadly deceased, and Laura his wife in the late 1990s), I have also become increasingly interested in how to integrate some of the permaculture principles into commercial cropping situations. These two factors led to the basic principle behind the choice of plants.
My work at the Welsh College and with the Soil Association apprenticeship scheme have helped to develop my interest in on farm training. Hence the decision to try and create on the site a demonstration and training centre.
Importance of Soil
the old saying that it takes the same effort to grow a plant in good and poor soil but with different results, had led to the rejection of one or two possible sites before I rented the one I am on. The site at churchill (though a little neglected) is a traditional vegetable growing area and the piece I am renting is the area the owners father used to grow his veg. Which suggested to me he had taken the best bit of the site. The other big reason for choosing Wheatfield is that the owner is providing security on the site. For a part time grower with a large school on the other side of the road this is serious consideration. The only major downside is that the site is an hours drive from where we currently live near Chippenham, so in the short term there's a fair amount of driving.
After discovering the outdoor life on an organic vineyard in Northern Italy, and a one year professional gardening course at Lackham College, Ben has worked in horticulture for 16 years. Previous incarnations include running a walled garden in Sussex, working for the HDRA (now Garden Organic) at their gardens in Kent, setting up and running the horticultural production at Daylesford Organic Farm, before moving to the Welsh College of Horticulture as commercial manager. Ben is passionate both about the commercial production of high quality organic vegetables and teaching practical skills through on farm learning. He currently works as horticultural advisor and learning manager for the Soil Association, as horticultural advisor for The Community Farm at Chew Magna, and has just signed the lease on a piece of land near Bristol to plant an experimental and educational fruit and agroforestry system.