Farmers who feed London: Forty Hall Farm and Vineyard
Muna Reyal explores the inspirational Forty Hall Farm, Orchard and Vineyard with good food and community at its core.
Forty Hall Farm is a truly unique enterprise. An organic farm in Enfield, North London, it is run by Capel Manor College and nurtures many rare breeds, including cattle, sheep, ducks and goats over its 170 acres, as well as a Market garden, Orchard and Vineyard. The land has been farmed organically for over 10 years and its produce is building a strong local customer base.
Enfield Veg Co., its veg bag scheme, fills 200 boxes a week and delivers them to pick up points around Enfield, growing an impressive 70 per cent of the contents itself. The box scheme is the core of the Market Garden’s business but the veg is also sold locally to an award-winning local bakery, the local theatre and to the council canteen, where all Enfield Council employees based at their head office get to eat their amazing local produce.
The Farm shop is the other major outlet for the Farm’s produce and where the organically reared meat is sold as well as eggs, vegetables, and flowers.
Farm Manager, Angelika Hauses, explains that the relationship with the college is one that has been built over time creating an educational farm for students to learn about organic food production and the opportunity to work in a commercial setting.
Veg for the People
The Market Garden occupies 8 acres of vegetable growing space and is run by a head grower and two assistant growers. However, to be able to supply 200 households in Enfield with veg, they are supported by a small team of volunteers, who come every week to help with harvesting as well as other horticultural work that needs doing, including weeding, bed prep, and planting.
“This small team is the backbone of the market garden and gives people space to support their local organic vegetable grower, as well as the opportunity to learn a bit more about organic agriculture and issues around sustainable food systems. The group is passionate, hardworking and a key part of the vegetable growing team” explains Seeta Rajani, Grower and Enfield Veg Co. Coordinator.
Now firmly rooted in the farm, Forty Hall’s orchard was planted back in 2011. Once a field, the land is now laden with heritage varieties local to London and Middlesex, including many non-commercial varieties of apples, cherries, quince, figs, and crab apples. Run and carefully cared for by volunteers, the precious acre abounds with biodiversity, thanks to over 130 carefully planted fruit trees and 300 fruiting hedgerows.
The diversity of the orchard is as much a haven for people as it is for the wildlife. The volunteers at the orchard come from a myriad of backgrounds, Angelika tells me, “Older people are often regulars, who come to enjoy the company, spend time outdoors and keep fit. All believe in the circular, sustainable food culture we are cultivating and many come to learn about organic farming”.
However, younger people also visit the orchard regularly and take part in the fruit care that makes a good Orchard produce well. The monthly volunteering day is different every time, with pruning work in winter and other lighter tasks in summer, a day out with fresh air meeting others in the local community.
To Good Health
The Vineyard has had community at its core from the beginning. Receiving Big Lottery funding when it started over a decade ago, enabled the project to establish itself as a social enterprise. Emma Lundie, Head of Operations at Forty Hall Vineyard, explains how the profits from the winemaking are invested straight back into the project.
An innovative venture from the start, it is no surprise that the Vineyard was one of the early adopters of an approach called Green Care, or as they call it ‘ecotherapy’. Greencare heralds the mental and physical benefits of working outdoors in a creative, green, and social environment for those with a physical or mental health condition. People have the opportunity to work alone or in groups with trained therapists on hand to offer a listening ear as well as complementary activities such as yoga and pottery.
Knowing that more people could and should benefit from their activities, Forty Hall Vineyard decided to reach out to more people, rather than relying on referrals. Thanks to further funding for its Flourish project, refugees and people from other minority communities are among those who contribute and benefit from the beautiful and productive environment everyone has worked so hard to create.
As one volunteer told me, "To have somewhere I can go to talk to someone is of great comfort and not many can experience side stepping sheep to get on with a job! I've laughed there and cried there. I just love being there.”
It is a reciprocal relationship. Emma tells me that it would be impossible to run the Vineyard without the volunteers. Organic winemaking needs a lot of people power as most of the work is done by hand. “With over 140,000 vines over 10 acres, we simply couldn’t afford to employ the number of staff required” explains Emma. There is a small part-time team who support the volunteers and ten years on, many who helped to plant the first vines are still giving their time, skills and knowledge - something the team just couldn’t do without.
Emma is clear on its dual purpose – to grow the best organic grapes and make quality wine with a social conscience. She is clear, however, that Forty Hall wine is not a novelty. They are serious about their award-winning product and work with acclaimed winemaker Will Davenport of Davenport Vineyards in Sussex, to make organic wines using traditional methods. Emma explains, “there is a synergy between the community, the winemaking and the special environment that filters into every Forty Hall bottle”.
At the heart of Enfield’s community, Forty Hall Farm and Vineyard has become a place where people work with the land and each other – the embodiment of a circular and sustainable local food system. Cheers to that!