Are you happy in your work? And by that we mean really, really happy? We know four people who are. We met them for the first time on a glorious Forest of Dean day on a small parcel of land rented to them by Matt Dunwell of Ragman’s Farm. These four young entrepreneurs Ben Hanslip, Danny Fisher, Natalie Baker and Jon Goodman have grasped the opportunity to fulfil a shared dream, to grow a delicious and nutritious range of herbs, salads, cut flowers, veggies and fruit. They have grasped the opportunity with all of the vigour that passionate and enthusiastic young people are capable of and they are happy! They are growing produce of the finest quality, in an organic and sustainable way in one of the most beautiful part of the south west – what’s not to like? Together they are called Ragman’s Lane Market Garden.
These young tenant market gardeners share the modest farmhouse on the plot, work (very hard) in the fields, eat from the plot and sell the very best of their produce locally to make a modest living. All still have to take work outside of the market garden at the moment, but they all hope that as sales improve they will be able, finally, to work that little patch of land full-time. It could all be a romantic documentary on a bygone rural idyll, but it’s not – it’s today. And this partnership of four young people with a dream is making it all come true for a new generation. Due in part to soaring land prices the average age of UK farmers is 59. The “Fab Four” are working hard to put a dent in that scary statistic.
The genesis of all of the tasty green shoots is a great story, of serendipity, recognising opportunities and seeing the possibilities, in its own right. Jon and Ben studied together at SOAS University – The School of African and Oriental Studies http://www.soas.ac.uk/. Further inspiration came from the four WOOF-ing together (the exchange system for worldwide opportunities on organic farms as well as volunteering on community market gardens).
Jon spent two years as a Soil Association Apprentice and Danny has some previous experience of handling working horses – the prospect of seeing a Suffolk Punch at work in Lydbrook is just a tantalising dream though, unfortunately. Jon met Freya Davies of Ragman’s Farm when he visited their Permaculture Open Day at the well-known and award winning juicing orchard. There he saw (buried in the wild greenery) several poly tunnels in a sea of rampant undergrowth. Freya had mentioned in passing that Ragman’s were on the look-out for any takers to bring the land back into production and here they all are!
So, on the thinnest of shoestring budgets, but with the whole hearted support of Matt Dunwell and full use of whatever was already on the land in terms of infrastructure and equipment – they began. The plot comes with the use of a two wheeled tractor to ease the burden which, wouldn’t look out of place in the finca’s of the Spanish countryside, but which is exceptionally efficient for small scale market gardens like these. There is also a very practical and also very beautiful irrigation pond to provide water for the crops and habitat for the wildlife. The resident mallards and geese help to keep the slug population suppressed whilst the cute black and white cat heads up the pest control department.
The value of this support to a brand new business such as this can’t be underestimated. To have had to invest in that equipment and infrastructure at start-up would have been a death toll to the very germ of the “fab four’s” dream. That support, from an existing successful business, acted as an incubator for the new complimentary adventure and we think is a message lots of local businesses should think a little bit more about.
Spade met ground in February last year with frantic work by all four to turn an overgrown corner of a larger landholding into something where they could start to plant and grow both their crops and their fledgling business. Jon told us, “The ethos is to provide some job security for ourselves; to do work on something that you believe; to be able to feed yourself and do it in a way that’s sustainable, organic and FUN!”
Walking around the market garden is an absolute pleasure. Although, if you ever do see the approach road to the farm, you’ll understand why visitors are dissuaded at the moment! The four tend their “cut and come again” salads to reduce waste and extend the life of the crop without reducing taste. Wild and cut flowers punctuate the market garden with vibrant colours and large Comfrey patches provide the raw material for organic, farm made, plant feeds. Natalie handles the flower department with an eye to supplying florists and designers with wild and cottage garden flowers to add an unusual twist to bouquets. This pollinator’s paradise place is just a-buzz with the sound of insects and birds – It’s how agriculture used to look in that respect.
You can buy Ragman’s Market Garden produce, all picked fresh on the day, via the Dean Forest Food Hub. Popular and informal Walford foodie pub, The Mill Race buys from the fab four and Hayley Coombs of the Mill Race told us “We are committed to using local quality produce and the majority of the ingredients we use come from within 30 miles of the Mill Race. Ragman’s Lane supply us with amazing vegetables and is less than 3 miles away – you can’t get more local than that!”
If you are a local chef who demands freshness and quality produce and you like local suppliers – this one is for you. Why not talk to the “Fab Four” or better still visit. If you do we’d love to cover the story and Ragman’s partnership with you.