Oakcroft - Historic organic market garden to let
14 November 2012
Oakcroft Organic Gardens in Malpas, Cheshire, one of the oldest organically certified market gardens, in the UK is looking for a tenant.Owner and founder Mehr Fardoonji describes its history and this exciting next step in its future.
Probably the germ of Oakcroft Organic Gardens was sown in my childhood at school in the Cheshire countryside; or even further back in my ancestry when my Grandfather started a large and beautiful garden in Karachi where only one tomato plant originally existed; or most probably from the ideals of the value of manual work, self-sufficiency and identification with nature that came from Gandhi’s philosophy.
Oakcroft was started as an organic market garden in 1962 after I returned to England from my native India having worked for 6 years in the Bhoodan (landgift) movement started by Vinoba Bhave, who was a disciple of Gandhi to redistribute land to the landless. I worked for 4 years in a Bhoodan village surrounded by jungle and tigers in the foothills of the Himalayas, where I grew vegetables on a acre of land. I had been inspired by reading Albert Howard and Eve Balfour in Gandhi’s Library and corresponded with Evelyn Spiedon of the Biodynamic organization in USA.
On returning to England, my brother bought Oakcroft comprising of a large house and 4 acres of land, for my mother and myself. I had worked 2 years in 3 market gardens to gain experience; and we converted the house into 2 self-contained flats. Within a year I realized I couldn’t manage alone. With the help of a local headmaster’s recommendation I employed Peter who had just left school. Peter became the backbone of the garden from 1963 when he was 15 till he sadly died in 2005. To pay Peter I had to work outside the garden to earn money. I taught up to 5 classes a week to adults for the Workers Educational Association in the evenings on various subjects. During the day we both worked in the garden and I also did the marketing, accounts and various tasks to get the Soil Association certification.
We had many nationalities of WWOOFers and volunteers in the 44 years, so you could say we needed at least 3 full time workers to make a living for Peter and myself. We had at the time 2 large mobile glasshouses (which still exist, but need some repair) a polythene structure (now gone), 60 Dutch light frames (some still exist) 750 cloches (mostly gone, but some could be re-made) and a propagating house (still standing) operating on approximately 2 acres of land. There is also a large yard with out buildings in good repair.
Marketing was difficult in the early years, but by the 90’s we settled for 3 farmers markets a month, a weekly stall in Chester market and a small box delivery of 20 to 25 boxes a week left at central places (not door to door).
By 2005 Peter had died and my husband needed looking after as he had Parkinson’s disease. I decided to rent the flat (where WWOOFers had stayed) which is self-contained and 2.5 acres of garden with it as a unit. I wanted to keep the garden going, as I believe it is vital to grow and sell organic vegetables to maintain the tradition of smallholdings producing intensively so as to keep the land and people healthy.
A new opportunity
Oakcroft is now available for let from December this year. The site is 2.5 acres of south facing land with mobile glasshouses, outbuildings and a three bedroom flat.
The persons required should have some commercial organic growing experience; be prepared to be registered with the Soil Association; have some knowledge of marketing and business; be handy and able to repair tools etc; have some capital to maintain them selves at first, and renew glass and equipment; be committed vegetarians and non smokers (values which are based on Gandhi’s principles of non-violence); and have enough labour to care for the land properly. They must also have good communication skills and a passion for nature and sustainability.
I live on site so the new tenant will be able to draw on my experience of living and working here for over 50 years. I also have one acre of woodland which is 18 years old and although not part of the land to be rented, the tenant could use some wood, by arrangement, for use in the garden.
As I wish Oakcroft to remain organic always, I have pledged it to the Soil Association Land Trust after my death. This will ensure continuity and assurance for any tenant even after I die.
At present Oakcroft has been run on vegan organic lines (VON) for the last 3.5 years, and I am happy for this to continue if a suitable person is found, but an organic or bio-dynamic grower would also be acceptable.
Futher information on the site, including details of the tenancy is available here.
For apply or more more information please contact:
Sue Steer Tel: 01477 532188
Email: sjs (at) steerethelston.co.uk
Or Mehr Fardoonji Tel: 01948 860213