Roots to Work: The Market Gardener
Chrissy Harrison is an urban market gardener, growing amazing salads and crops for veg box customers, after having to pivot from a focus on restaurant sales, during the pandemic. Here she talks to Hannah Crump about life as a city-based farmer.
Tell us a bit about Keats Farm?
It’s a small scale ‘bio intensive’ farm with nature, that focuses on building healthy soil and building biodiversity to support a productive growing space. We mainly grow salads, leafy greens and herbs with some seasonal vegetables. We sell to restaurants and recently set up a box scheme for which we grow some of the produce and buy in some of the bulkier vegetables.
What motivated you to pursue a career in food growing?
I was partially driven by a desire to do something positive for myself, for my mental and physical health. I was also driven by a desire to have a positive impact on my surroundings and food growing seemed like an obvious choice in this respect too, although I had quite a naive understanding of the ways in which farming, food, environmentalism and social justice intersect.
What challenges have you faced?
Building a farm that is sustainable requires a lot of start up money and it’s not a quick process. That money and time gets tied into the ecology of the land and the health of the soil. So farming on rented land, especially when long term tenancy isn’t assured, can seem like a precarious activity.
What has helped along the way?
I wouldn’t have the ability to purse a career in a financially insecure and low paying sector without the privilege of some security. It’s hard to accumulate wealth growing food on rented land. Otherwise, I had a excellent mentor type figure at the start of my growing journey - Jack of Urban Organic. We started the farm together, which made it less scary for me as I was quite a novice grower at the time. When he moved on my wife stepped up as a source of support and brings complementary skills to the farm. I probably would have quit ages ago without her.
What is the most rewarding thing about what you do?
I love it when customers are excited and inspired by the quality of the produce that I present them with. I’ve got a direct relationship with all of my veg box customers so I get to have that experience regularly.
Do you have any advice for women wanting to go into farming?
Woman are constantly receiving subtle and sometimes blatant messages that they are somehow less capable than men, especially when it comes to physical work, because of body size or stamina or whatever. But women have been agriculturalists since the beginning. A lot of the most widely recognised market gardeners are cis white het men who have a whole other unseen person - a wife - doing a lot of the work.
Where’s your favourite place to eat in London?
I eat at home a lot. Home is my favourite restaurant! My wife loves to cook and so do I. But the best thing about eating out in London is having access to delicious food from lots of places. I’m quite partial to a lunch time golzeme or samosa chaat, or a dinner time falafel wrap.
Hear about other the incredible women who chef in our hot-off-the-press feature from our forthcoming print magazine.