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A journey to a market garden

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Market gardener Lindsay Whalen sells her organic produce to the people of Manchester through her regular stall at Levenshulme market and her veg box scheme. Formerly the food writer for Ethical Consumer, Lindsay explains how she went from writing about food to growing it.

My journey to running my own market garden was meandering, but ultimately motivated by my desire for a food system that nurtures the health of our bodies and the land. I was the Food Writer at Ethical Consumer magazine for four formative years, before setting off into the world to learn those practical useful skills that were so necessary to a more sustainable life. It was a ten year journey taking in living and working in Morocco, Spain, and Ireland; studying Horticulture for two of these years, and visiting around 20 organic growing projects before an opportunity in Cheshire came up. I’ve been farming a half-acre organically certified site at Reddy Lane near Altrincham for five years, along with George (who is my Dad).

During the growing season, myself and George, farm three days a week. The other two days I sell the veg we produce at Levenshulme Market and in our veg boxes. People can pick up their veg boxes, or arrange a delivery. My days farming with George are my favourites, we love watching and listening to the birds, there are friendly Robins and Pied Wagtails, who come to look for worms in the soil we have disturbed. Once a fledgling Tree Sparrow flew out of the hedge, and got caught in my hair for a couple of seconds. We see Buzzards circling up high daily, and occasionally have seen them perched on the water tanks. You get a real sense of a person when you spend the entire day weeding with them. The repetitive work is calming, and encourages the mind to drift. I used to spend my weeks desperate to get into the countryside to get some space from the city and time alone, but now I just go to work. I love the autonomy, to work when I want to work, and to just make a decision and act on it.   

I have been trading at Levenshulme Market for four years now, and I really love being a trader there. There have been times like three years in, when we lost our crops due to rabbits, and everyone else growing at the site left, and I had just been diagnosed with endometriosis, when it would have been easy to stop. But I had built up the stall, and got to know my customers, and their delight in the veg we have grown really kept me going. Many people are drawn to the stall or the box scheme due to ethics, but they stay for the taste. Crops which have grown at their own pace, and been harvested when they are mature taste better. They are a protest against the homogenisation of our food.

For Reddy Lane, selling our crops direct at the market and via the veg boxes, is the only way to make my livelihood as a small-scale organic grower possible. I feel that the direct relationship increases people’s understanding of the real cost of our food. We need small-scale independent growers, as most farmers in the UK are on the cusp of retirement, without succession plans for their farms. I would like to see more support for people producing food in a sustainable way, as opposed to the current system of subsidies that pays landowners for owning land rather than using it to produce food. The recently published People’s Food Policy manifesto challenges the current approach to food policy making, as it articulates the kind of food system we need, and puts value on the people who produce our food.   

It’s a critical time for Reddy Lane Market Garden as we have been given notice to quit our land, and need to find a new site for the next growing season. I am spending the next few weeks trying to connect with as many landowners, farmers, organisations and local authorities as possible, to see if there is a suitable piece of land out there for us. Our criteria is on our website: where I blog about farming.

Lindsay Whalen @reddylane 

The Slow Food blog is welcoming contributions on the topics of Food, Farming and Agriculture. The contents may not entirely match the views of Slow Food, but reflect the journeys of the authors. To write for us please click here



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