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Owena, her partner Ivan and I took a trip over towards Rye in early March to visit a care farm in Beckley set up by Claire Cordell in March 2014 called Little Gate Farm. Hannah Briars, who is Head of the farm, was kind enough to meet us and show us around.
We began with a cup of tea made in their beautiful, cosy kitchen, which we drank sitting outside under the shelter, watching goats leaping about in the field nearby. Hannah told us that Little Gate Farm covers 46 acres, and explained that they support people with learning disabilities (who they call their ‘Rangers’) to develop confidence, communication, independence and work skills. They then support Rangers into paid jobs.
Claire’s motivation for setting up the place as a care farm came about because her daughter Evie has learning disabilities. Evie wanted to work in a café, and Claire felt that supported employment was a way to allow learning disabled adults to reach their aspirations.
Little Gate Farm is open from Tuesday to Friday. They provide a daily minibus service to collect up to twenty people, age 19 plus, from about a 20 mile radius. Each Ranger has a different pace, skills and set of particular needs, so part of what Hannah does is to assess each person and come up with an individual plan for them.
A Young Ranger Project for those between 8-21 is being developed too.
The Farm provides an education programme covering independent living/life/work skills, and then supports Rangers through a supported employment programme, ‘job carving’ where appropriate.
A lot of care has gone into the detail of the Farm environment itself. There were so many intriguing things we enjoyed noticing, such as the great welly storage, the superbly-cut, interlocking, curved wooden decking pieces and the children’s bucket that’s part of a drain!
There is a wheelchair-accessible stable block under construction. They have pigs, sheep, alpacas, ponies, goats and rabbits that the Rangers help care for. Although the pigs are trying very hard to escape by digging their way under the mud. Owena and Ivan explained what they do to keep their pigs in at Baulcombes Barn.
Little Gate Farm Rangers manage and chop wood and sell bags of it as well as making charcoal, which they also sell, both run as social enterprises. They also sell fruit and veg, including what they grow in their beds and polytunnel at the weekly market in Hastings, so that Rangers can get selling and marketing skills.
We thought the den with the car boot door was magnificent.
What a beautiful, inspiring place, with lovely people. We hope they can visit us soon.
On a wild and stormy afternoon, with Hurricane Doris on the way, the Plumpton Rural Pathways group arrived at Lewes Community Allotment, carrying bundles of willow they had cut two weeks ago at Owena’s smallholding, Baulcombes Barn. Local basket maker Sarah Lawrence was on hand to show them how to weave the willow into hurdles to edge the flower and vegetable beds, to keep the soil in.
She began by talking about health and safety – particularly with sharp secateurs and working with long pieces of willow that tend to whip about and can damage eyes.
We split into different groups to do different tasks.
Sarah told the weaving group that we needed to find the fattest lengths first to slot into the wooden frame that Neil Merchant had kindly made for us to allow us to make the willow hurdle structures. These pieces of willow were then cut with loppers to equal lengths.
Sarah said we needed to be careful to keep the outside structural ends straight and upright whilst we wove thinner pieces across them so they don’t pull together and make a triangle. We then took turns to weave the willow pieces across between the uprights, turning at the ends, doing it in pairs at each end one at a time, changing which side of the hurdle we started with each time for stability, and pushing the willow down each time.
We loved the different colours of the willow. We all had a go and were really pleased with how it worked out.
Sarah had also brought a paint tin lid opening tool for making holes in ground to make a hurdle straight into the earth, and she showed another group how to do that!
The other groups got on with some excellent tidying and trimming back work.
I’d been wanting to visit the Landport Community Garden for a while (garden, not allotment note – that’s intentional. They do grow fruit and veg, but they’re happy for people to come along who just want to enjoy the space, perhaps make tea. You don’t HAVE to garden to become a member).
A good reason to visit cropped up when we were thinking about the camping toilet we have on our Community Allotment, and wondering about the possibility of fundraising for a Thunderbox composting toilet.
I go along to meet David Gray, who got a group of people together to create the lovely walled garden five years ago, from what had basically been scrub land. He’s pictured above with his beloved pond.
The first striking thing about the garden is the location. I assumed it would be part of the Landport allotments, but it’s not. It’s tucked away out of sight through a blue gate next to Landport Farmhouse at the end of Hayward Road.
I really like the peace and tranquillity here. I also like the pond, the arbour, the lawn with chairs, the fruit trees and the raspberry stakes along one wall. The bug hotel is very Lewes and fun, and the scarecrows make me smile.
David shows me round, including a peak into the Thunderbox composting toilet. It’s wooden, self-assembly and up some steps (the company can do wheelchair accessible ones, but there are a lot more expensive). It’s very nice. There is no smell whatsoever.
David explains that, over the years, they’ve had financial support from the Council and the National Lottery as well as donations. This has enabled them to create raised beds, similar to ours, as well as add a polytunnel, a shed and a shelter. Probationers helped build some of the raised beds and Sussex Downs students helped put up the polytunnel.
The Community Garden differs from our Community Allotment in a number of ways. Both are run along organic principles, have raised beds and welcome members of the community to come along. But the Landport Garden is tucked down low, and very sheltered. We are up on the Nevill, on the Downs, on chalk. We’ve got stunning views but the site is much more exposed. Having a polytunnel up there would be challenging. We are permitted to have campfires however, which the garden is not (they are next to residential properties, whereas we are not).
David explained that, after five years, he’s handed the running of the garden over to Marina Pepper. Members meet there every Monday, between 11am-3.30pm, and anyone is welcome to drop in. It’s free. People share the tea and biscuits fund. Produce is shared. For more information, and contact details, see the poster below:
Because of the current risk of Avian flu from wild birds, all the chickens are shut in a polytunnel, and we all needed to dip our wellies in disinfectant before entering the yard.
Then we split into three groups. Some of us filled nets with hay for the ponies, with one person holding the net open, the other stuffing the hay in. This caused much interest for Frankie, who put his head over the door and tried to eat the hay as we worked. After the bags were full, we put them on the gates for each of the three ponies to eat. A couple of sheep came for a nibble too.
Another group mixed up the pig feed. Owena was putting the food into the open trailer which she’d placed in an opening next to the field for them to eat inside. This is because one of the pigs is going to the abattoir next week and she wanted the pigs to get used to going in and out of the trailer before taking one of them away in it. It took a bit of getting used to, but they got there.
The third group went to clear horse manure from the pony field.
Then, some students went off with Ivan to trim brambles in the sheep field, and Owena showed Connor, Natalie and Ebbie how to lead Buster and Frankie on the head collar in such a way that they don’t push you off the path you want to follow (you sort of have to lean into them).
Owena also explained that, although the ponies are very muddy, it wasn’t a good idea to groom them when their hair is wet. Ponies can get mud fever if mud gets brushed into their skin.
Finally, the whole group gathered for some hot chocolate to warm up.
The Plumpton College Rural Pathways group spent a frosty but beautiful afternoon recently with us at the Lewes Community Allotment making bird boxes with Jim from the Monday Group
The students learnt new skills, about helping wildlife, and we saw some great teamwork on the other tasks too.
Sarah Rideout, Allotment Coordinator, January 2017
Allotment coordinator Sarah Rideout facilitated a planning meeting last week on a frosty Wednesday morning. We were there to discuss what we wanted to grow at our allotment this year and what extra activities we’d like to do. The St Nicholas Day Centre were kind enough to host the meeting in The Sanctuary, which is well named, and was delightfully cosy, although we were careful not to slip on the ice on our way over to it.
There were seventeen of us in total, including all of the St Nicholas clients who attend, some community allotment members, Flourish sessional worker Felicity Ann and St Nicholas support worker Eleanor.
Sarah mentioned the exercises they’d been doing at the last allotment session to help show how to get the blood moving if people feel cold. Some of the exercises included shaking, rubbing and patting hands. Felicity Ann said she’d done star jumps at the bus stop afterwards!
Sarah talked about how important it is to wear the right clothes at the allotment, particularly at this time of year when it’s so muddy and cold. Waterproof coat, old warm things and sensible footwear all help keep people warm and dry.
Then we got down to the business of planning what we wanted to do and grow at the allotment. Sarah had brought lots of books, Felicity Ann had printed off funny pictures of fruit and veg that could be cut out and stuck to planning pages. We had glue, pens and scissors, and people took turns to cut, stick and write.
The most popular choices were strawberries, peas and different kinds of potatoes. Also lettuces, tomatoes, sprouts, parsnips, spinach, beans, leeks, apples, squash, pumpkin and a ‘pizza’ bed!
There were some interesting and unusual suggestions too, such as water chestnuts, plantain and aubergines. Emma suggested that perhaps, if the conditions at the allotment weren’t suitable for all those to grow, we could bring them up in a dish, so people could taste them.
Also on the wall were possible extra activities we might be able to put on at the allotment. Options included:
People were encouraged to put a sticker on ones they were keen on, and to add more ideas if they thought of any.
Then we stopped for some welcome tea and biscuits.
Finally, whilst some people drew pictures of wildlife you might find at the allotment (such as Hollie’s fox), others did pictures showing the sorts of colours of plants they’d like to see in the beds.Some did an activity matching plant drawings against drawings of the sun, soil and water. The point of this was to encourage thinking about what are the best growing conditions.
Also, Felicity Ann worked with members of the group, one at a time, demonstrating how to safely open and close tools – specifically secateurs and folding pruning saws. Some of us found it particularly tricky to keep our fingers away from the saw blade when closing it.
All in all, it was a lovely and very useful morning. Many thanks to everybody for their contributions.
We had a special January session with a group from Bluebell House Recovery Centre, cutting willow from the bed at Baulcombes Barn. The willow has to be cut by March.
Here’s some more information about growing willow.
The Bluebell House group could stay later than a usual Wednesday morning session, so they brought lunch with them. And secateurs! Owena provided the gloves and we headed out to the willow bed – in wellies – it was very muddy.
First of all, Owena needed to strim back some brambles to make it easier for us to cut the two types of willow growing in the bed, so most of the group left her to it and carried on walking beyond the willow bed in order to go and see the horses and pigs.
We didn’t see the hens, because they are are shut in at the moment, because of the risk of them contracting avian flu from wild birds.
Nicola was keen to see Buster, and so we went to the horse field, via the pigs and the yard to fetch a wheelbarrow, so some of us could clear up poo from the field.
The younger pony Frankie came up to the wheelbarrow to see what was happening, but then put his ears back. This is probably because he didn’t know my face. Horses (and sheep) can recognise human faces.
Oscar was brave enough to approach Buster. Buster is a friendly pony, but this was Oscar’s first time touching a horse. Nicola supported and encouraged him and he did really well.
Then we headed back to the willow beds. We laid a tarpaulin on the ground to put the willow once cut, because the ground was so wet. Then some of us cut the willow, others sorted it into piles of thin, medium and thick stems. Some bits were too short and wispy to use, so they will be burned.
After some hard work, the group headed back to the cabin for lunch around the wood burner to warm up.
We all felt it had been a good day. It was lovely to welcome new people as well as those who had come before. People tried things they hadn’t done before, such as going right up to a horse.
With the willow cutting and sorting and even navigating muddy slopes and climbing under fences, we worked as a team and got a lot done. The fresh air did us good too, as did the company of the animals.
The willow will be ready for weaving in six weeks.
After all their hard work, picking apples at Ringmer Community Orchard in September 2016, juicing, bottling and pasteurising it, designing the labels for the bottles and getting feedback from some professionals – the Plumpton Supported Interns finally got to display and sell their produce at the Plumpton College Christmas Fair. We think they should be very proud of themselves. We very much enjoyed working with them.
We had a lovely time at our Fire and Feast event mid-December. It had been very wet the day before, but we were lucky that it was a sunny and beautiful day for this. The straw bales ‘seats’ were a little soggy and needed sheeting over them.
We had two groups coming along. The St Nicholas Day Centre group in the morning, and Rural Pathways students from Plumpton College in the afternoon.
In the morning, the St Nicholas Day Centre group collected herbs for a bouquet as well as ivy to put on cards. Then we returned to the shelter to admire Sarah’s fire, which had been tended by allotment member Maggie.
Once back at the shelter, with the herb bundles were tied and the ivy stuck to the cards, we stopped for refreshments. We drank apple juice pressed from Ringmer Community Orchard. Felicity Ann had brought some superb mince pies she’d made to share, and Sarah had cooked up delicious pumpkin soup for us all from an allotment pumpkin.
Then we toasted marshmallows on sticks on the fire.
Emma gave out allotment keyrings to all of the St Nicholas Day Centre members, because that’s what they had asked for at the last Flourish user group meeting as a memento of the Community Allotment. The photos on it were of pumpkins, appropriately enough!
In the afternoon, the Rural Pathways students came along and also enjoyed a feast, inclduing toasting A LOT of marshmallows over the fire.
We all had fun. Many thanks to Sarah and Felicity Ann for all their hard work – and to all our allotment members and service users for their many contributions over the autumn.