Vegan honey and ‘no-dig’ veg: meet Suffolk’s super-sustainable farm
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Applewood acres is producing vegan goodies and sustainable local produce in an all-natural approach to farming
Have you ever heard of ‘no dig’ farming? It may sound like a strange way to go about harvesting crops, but it’s actually a sustainable practise that is growing in popularity among farming circles. The idea is simple: fertile ground is full of goodness, and digging around only disturbs this delicate ecosystem. By leaving nature to work its magic, crops can thrive – without the need for chemical fertilisers or other nasty stuff.
Set just outside of the village of Bentley, Applewood Acres is one farm that is fully embracing this ‘no dig’ method. The beyond-organic farm is a new venture for couple Jo Hull and Dave Carney, who recently moved to Suffolk from the Midlands to found Applewood Acres.
“We’re both first generation farmers, meaning that this is new for both of us,” Jo told us when we visited the farm last month. “I was working as a receptionist and Dave was an electrician up until three years ago, when we decided that we just wanted to take the plunge and start growing food. We volunteered on community farms for three years in order to gain the knowledge and experience that we needed, and then in August last year, found this plot of land and moved down to Suffolk.”
In just a few short months, the farm has already begun to take shape. One polytunnel is home to a wonderful array of microgreens and other seedlings, many of which are being readied for planting in the ‘no dig’ beds outside. Walking into the polytunnel, you are met by a sea of leaves and greenery – but it’s the unusual plant pots which really caught our eye. Some of the seedlings were happily growing away in Starbucks Christmas cups, which, Jo explains, were going to be thrown out before she rescued them and put them to good use.
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“One of the main aims of this place is that we reuse and recycle almost everything. Apart from the polytunnel, nearly everything else on the farm has been donated to us to reuse, or we’ve found on sites such as Freecycle.”
This eco-conscious attitude even extends to the water used for watering the crops. Jo and Dave collect rainwater to use on their beds instead of tap water, which not only saves plenty of water, but is also better for soil health, too.
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Outside, Jo and Dave show us their ‘no dig’ beds, the first of which is home to some freshly planted lettuces. The ‘no dig’ beds are created by laying cardboard onto the ground, covering it with around 8 inches of mulch, and then Jo and Dave can plant directly into that.
“We just let the ecology of the ground and the microorganisms and earthworms do the work for us,” Jo explains. “To harvest the lettuces, we just take the outer leaves off, and then we let them grow again. We’ll get four or five harvests out of them before we need to take them out of the soil and start again.”
These organic lettuces are destined for a gourmet salad bag – alongside some tasty edible flowers. Jo and Dave are committed to harvesting top quality, organic food, all while keeping prices affordable for local customers. And it doesn’t just stop at salad bags and microgreens. There’s much more to Applewood Acres than that. Indeed, the farm has started to make a real name for itself thanks to its delicious range of vegan goodies – think sweet, sticky honey, tangy lemon curd and even smoky plant-based bacon. Made in the onsite kitchen and sold at Suffolk Food Hall and farmers markets around the county, the products have proved a hit among vegans and meat-eaters alike.
“When we went plant-based a few years ago, I found that honey and lemon curd were two things that I really missed,” says Jo. “Our vegan honey is made with apple juice, and is sweet and runny, a bit like acacia honey. The lemon curd is completely dairy free, too, so it’s also suitable for vegans. Although we’ve actually found that it’s normally non-vegans who are buying these goodies!”
For now, as farmers markets are being temporarily suspended in order to comply with social distancing measures, Applewood Acres is offering home deliveries and collections from its farm in Bentley. Even in these testing times, Jo and Dave are positive that we can get through this together.
“People have been so supportive since we moved here, and the people in Bentley village have just been fantastic,” says Jo. “When we came down from the Midlands, we didn’t know anybody, we didn’t know the area and we had never even been to Suffolk before. It was a massive leap of faith, but we love it down here and the people are so nice.”
There’s still plenty of work to be done on the farm to get it ready for summer – including planting some colourful flowerbeds.
“This is going to be a flower and vegetable garden, so it’s going to be very pretty,” Jo told me as she showed me around the plot of land. “We want this to be a place for anyone who needs a bit of space to relax, anyone who might be struggling or depressed, perhaps. This will be a great place to come and enjoy in the summer, and it will be open to absolutely anyone.”
If you are interested in placing an order with Applewood Acres, please telephone 07927 820946 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can browse the produce on the website here.