Our little plot has the honour of becoming a Permaculture Land Learner site, with the help of our tutor, Southend’s permaculture guru, Graham Burnett of Spiralseed. As part of the learning process we need to visit some other Land Learner sites. So on Sunday we set off on our jaunt ( ahem! serious learning experience) to Hawkwood Nursery @ OrganicLea, in Chingford in the Lea Valley.
OrganicLea is a workers’ co-operative growing food in what was called “the bread basket of London”. They started in 2001 at the original I acre site, and in 2010 got the opportunity to take over the nearby 12 acre site at Hawkwood Nursery, a disused council nursery. They also have another site called The Hornbeam Centre. Read more at their friendly website….http://www.organiclea.org.uk/
A small, but keen, group travelled in style in the vintage camper van (available to hire for any occasion – Duncan 07866 362247) Here she is posing at the Cliffs. We had a slight delay as our driver (naming no names) forgot the changing of the clocks.
We arrived at site, a truly wonderful place. It is situated at the top of an ordinary suburban street, accessible by bus and a 5 min walk, on the edge of the ancient Epping Forest. The original greenhouses and infrastructure have been renovated and are productive and covetable. But, as we learnt, a lot of hard work was put in to get to this stage.
The day was the monthly Sunday Open day and the place was busy with families and people attending the talks or volunteering opportunities. A family bike tour arrived back… it was lunch time! After a warm welcome we queued for our bowls of homemade soup to have with our sandwiches. The sun was shining, we were in a magical place full of happy people, what more could you want?
Our personal tour guide was Hannah, she is a member of the co-operative and her knowledge and love for the place shines through. We set off, full of enthusiasm and questions, just taking in all in …. land learners indeed!
The nursery had been badly neglected, there was no topsoil, some areas are still waterlogged, the shed and green houses needed major work. A lot of thinking, planning and consulting had to be done before a spade was even lifted (sounds familar). But the results….well, see for yourself….
They are gradually putting in drainage ditches at the top of the site on the edge of the forest. The field on the left was the first to be cultivated.
The next photos show the newest field that took a year of work to clear. Hannah is showing us the cockney forced rhubarb. Can your see the tower blocks of London in the distance?
Then onto the vineyard. The first harvest was last year, but not much. They got all the local grape growers to bring their grapes for pressing as well, and everyone will get a share of the final produst when it is ready, cheers!
The orchard has a variety of trees and there is a successful ” adopt a tree” scheme. This was a key element in convincing the council to extend the original lease, they could see the co-op was in it long term and the public had a emotional investment in the place, they like to come and visit ” their” tree. Still a year or 2 for a harvest.
We caught up with Shaun the Beekeeper who was giving a talk, and then moved onto the bottom field with fruit bushes and salad beds.
The greenhouses are the major asset, as Hannah said, they are very blessed.. last year they sold 1.5 tons of salad!
The nursery is host to a number is different learners, they have horticultural students from the local college, an 8month trainee’s programme and an apprenticeship. They also have 50-80 volunteers a week from all sectors of the community. We got some valuable advice about how to help volunteers get the best from the experience.
Is’nt this the most organised tool shed you have ever seen…
The Veg box scheme supplies 250 a week, to local households, cafes and restaurants. They run it on a crop share basis with themselves, local growers and 60% of the produce coming from local farmers who would otherwise struggle to find a market. Two local market stalls are also supplied,and run by volunteers.
After the tour it was time to relax and enjoy a cup of tea and some homemade pastries from our own pastry chef. A good opportunity to chat with other visitors and share stories as well as get even more information from Hannah.
Then homeward bound filled with the possibilities …. what if?