Sunday, 10 August 2008

Smallest Smallholding (England)

The SmallestSmallholding is a blog from England, and the project of Lucy and her partner Rich together with our flock of 4 rescued ex-battery hens and resident cats.

The ‘Smallholding’ is a patch of land adjacent to the original garden, sited on an old unusable building site (lack of access meant that there could be no more building) that was bought up over 10 years ago by Lucy's parents. Like their garden, it too had the remnants of an old orchard, so it was turfed over and left as a large garden extension, fruit trees intact.

Lucy's blog was, like most of the blogs on Farm Blogs From Around the World, recommended to me, and she was kind enough to write to me.

"I shouldn't be surprised," Lucy wrote to me "when people message me and refer to my 'smallholding' - after all, my blog is called The Smallest Smallholding. But really, it's just a larger than average suburbanite garden with a sprinkling of fruit trees (the remnants of the market garden that stood there before our house was built circa 1919), ex-battery hens, naughty rabbits and lazy cats. "

"I fell in love with gardening and vegetable growing about three years ago. It was a gradual realisation and connection that had mostly come about through my frustration with supermarkets. I wanted clean, hearty produce. I was interested in food metres and not food miles. I wanted more control over what I put into my body, and the only way I felt I could really do that was to grow my own. It also helped that I am an avid fan of baking and cooking - the thought of producing a meal that was entirely my own produce was an attractive prospect."

"My partner Rich and I currently live in the house that I grew up in.

When it was just me, my parents and my sister, Mum and Dad bought an extra bit of land that had been lying vacant next to the long, thin garden. It had fallen into the hands of the Treasury, as it was once intended for building land, but a lack of access from the road meant that no planning permission could be granted. It was like a small secret island of brambles and bindweed. I didn't even realise that there were fruit trees in there until it was turfed over a decade ago."

"When my parents and sister moved out, Rich and I moved back in as I was studying at uni and needed somewhere to live. I didn't pay much attention to the garden, but over time began tinkering with the idea of growing vegetables after my cousin and I resurrected my late grandfather's vegetable plots. I looked at the space Rich and I had and thought it was madness. I had this land and I wasn't using it properly.

So I started digging in earnest and a few months later had removed what seemed like a tonne of builder's rubble (left over from the build that was part of the original larger plot). It had obviously been used as a dumping ground, which made my life quite difficult. But I persevered and started with two small veg plots that yielded some successes in their first year. I was hooked.

Each year I'm turning over more and more space to my veg-growing exploits."

"I'd also wanted to keep chickens for a while. Just before Christmas 2006 we rehomed 4 ex-battery hens, and it was then that I decided to create The Smallest Smallholding. This was my chance to make a stab at the Good Life. I'd idealised about it for so long, and suddenly I had the chance to make it work in my larger-than-average back garden in a semi-rural commuter town.

I wanted to be able to reach out to people, to prove that no matter what age, what income you're on, how much space or time you've got, you can do it.

I'm 25 and initially struggled to find peers that are interested in my sort of lifestyle, but through my blog have found that I'm far from alone. For a long time I'd lingered on sites like Facebook and hankered a bit after the life that my old school friends had - seemingly endless parties, cute little central London flats, jobs in PR and media in The City, fabulous dresses and countless holidays abroad. I had been destined for Oxford Uni and beyond - I'd chosen a different route and wondered if I'd made a mistake.

But looking at it now, I realise this is me. I still like sparkly dresses, but I love getting into my wellies and rummaging around in my veg plots. I love growing flowers that I know the bees and butterflies will take full advantage of. I adore stuffing my face with a big hearty soup made from my own home-grown ingredients. Watching my ex-batts enjoy their new life has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I don't feel like I'm missing out anymore, I'm feeling more complete."

"So I suppose at the moment, with a few veg plots, a small flock of hens and a lot of plans, the Smallest Smallholding is more of an ongoing, growing project that is more of an ethos than a fully-functional micro farm at the moment.

But I'm trying to swing the balance so that all my plans come into fruition eventually.

I'm a vegetarian and Rich eats meat less often than he used to (and always of the highest welfare standard), so I don't think we'll ever raise anything for the table. He says he gets more enjoyment from watching our hens flourish from the listless robots they were than he would eating a few meals of chicken.

But there's definitely lots of plans afoot to become more self-sufficient with each month and year that passes.

My blog is a way to share the journey and experience with others."

"What's the plan for the future then?

More vegetable plots and fruit bushes, ploughing onwards and upwards on this learning curve by experimenting with home-made produce - making my own jams, preserves, cheeses and bread just to start with.

Learning how to properly store veg, grappling with planting successively and less reliance on supermarkets for food are also on the list.

Perhaps planting a tiny coppice so we can provide our own winter fuel.

The possibilities are endless, it's just a case of find a way to fit it all in and manage it properly.

I'm also a keen wildlife enthusiast, so finding ways to let nature flourish and The Smallest Smallholding to regulate and take care of itself is another aim.

Sometimes it's a joy and sometimes it's nothing but boring, hard work. But ultimately, it's a journey that I've started and will continue on, and one that I'm sure I will reap the rewards from."

Thanks Lucy for a great introduction to you and your blog. I was particularly struck by her initial struggle to find peers following the same life style as her (she is 25, and has taken the road less travelled) but her blog, and I hope this blog, will help her and others to make connections with hundreds of thousands of people in the developed world who are interested in where their food comes from and producing much of it themselves.

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GooseBreeder said...

Great story and good luck with the future workings!

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