The Big Picture from the Small Holding
Welcome to Maggie’s Blog, the thoughts and musings of Maggie Haynes, the director and project co-ordinator of Tuppenny Barn. Since she started Tuppenny Barn Organics Limited in October 2004, Maggie’s drive and determination to create an “organic oasis” and education centre on what was a parcel of rough pasture has guided the project through many ups and downs.
No doubt there are still several twists and turns in the Tuppenny Tale – not forgetting the fun times in the field. Read on and share the experience.
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ContactTuppenny Barn Organics Ltd.
Call: 07977 536684
Fax: 01243 574201
The Site Shop Is Open Every Thursday from 10am to 5pm and Friday from 9am to 4pm.
It was quite a treat to get out and about without wellington boots and thermals, albeit for just a few days before the cold and damp weather returned.
Having endured one of the coldest March for many years, let’s hope that conditions improve and we can look forward to a great fruit harvest later in the year. Last year with an unseasonably hot March, followed by frosts and prolonged rain, the pollination of the fruit was very poor and we had a much reduced fruit harvest.
Optimistically, the signs are looking better for this year but always at the back of our minds is the requirement for adaptability. This is paramount in how we take our growing forward as the weather patterns are changing by the year.
There have been sightings of Red Admiral and the vibrant sulphur yellow Brimstone, both of which hibernate as adults over the winter. The first 'new' butterflies of the year will be Orange Tips, which may start emerging this month
Some 15 children joined us for a lively and fun-packed “Build an Insect House” workshop during the Easter holidays. Our site manager, Iain had made the wooden house kits beforehand but assembly involved much hammering to create probably one of the noisiest workshops we have held.
Sadly I wasn’t able to join the action because on the same day we had our annual Soil Association inspection and, together with a SA inspector, I spent an intensive day going through all our mandatory records including plant rotations, yields, numbers and varieties of all organic plants grown, pests and diseases incurred during the year composting records…. and so on. These are all important data that go to make up how we conduct our day to day working practices at Tuppenny and will give a thorough audit trail from seed to shop. In this age of traceability this gives our customers confidence in knowing what they buy from us is from an accredited source that has been inspected for its standards.
But the hard work was worth the effort with a positive outcome and re-accreditation for another year.
For the next few weeks I have cleared my diary in order to concentrate on grant and fund raising for the education centre build. It is extremely difficult to find sufficient time to do this along with all the other tasks with the organics and educational sides of the business. But we need to keep our fund-raising at a high level if we are to complete the new building by the end of the year.
So it was particularly gratifying to hear in March that we that we were to receive another £30,000 from the Roddick Foundation. This will fund, amongst other items, the bespoke windows and doors that are being crafted for the project.
It will be really good to be able to finish off the main structural parts of the building and be able to shut a main door. We are now completely waterproof and the last of the Rockwool insulation in the roof area is in place.
Finally for this month’s blog, Tuppenny Barn had a stand at the South Downs Education Forum as one of the 30 education providers within the National Park area.
The event was attended by 120 teachers who heard a key note speech by the eminent environmentalist, Jonathan Porritt. His message was one of a stark warning of the disconnect that many children have these days with their natural environment and the dire consequences they will see in their life time if they don't embrace conservation in its broadest terms.
We hope that we can play our very small part here at Tuppenny Barn in showing our young people what a wonderful environment we have here on our doorstep and providing practical ways in which we can engage and interest them in their natural surroundings.
On 23rd Oct Iain Lambert, who has been involved in the education centre build since the laying of 400 recycled tyres in Apr 2011, climbed to the highest point to secure an oak tree branch in a traditional topping out ceremony. Watched by an audience of donors & supporters, Iain placed the branch at the top of the circular cedar roof, believed to be one of the largest of its particular kind in the UK.
As part of the ceremony representatives from Chichester Harbour Conservancy, Chichester District Council & the Roddick Foundation were all presented with a piece of oak taken from the building in recognition of the great support they had all respectively given to the project.
The pace of life at Tuppenny Barn quickened considerably during September but between the mini monsoons and difficult working conditions there were several welcome golden shafts of good news.
Those familiar with the pattern of life at our organic fruit and vegetable enterprise will know about the ups and downs of our hopes and plans. But I can place on record in this my first official blog on our new website that I have never been so confident – and happy – with recent developments that will greatly enhance our progress towards our aims and objectives for the future.
Sourcing funding has always had a major effect on our education centre building project and resulted in regular reviews of our timetable to match money, materials and labour.
However, we have recently been fortunate to receive important financial contributions from local organisations that will have a major impact on our progress towards a fully functioning education centre.
First came the wonderful news that the Roddick Foundation had agreed to support us with a donation of £30,000 for the roof and floor structure of the quadrant and rotunda. We have conveyed our thanks to Gordon Roddick for giving us the opportunity to start the completion of works required for the education centre.
Then came news that we had secured £30,000 from EDF Energy Ltd towards the renewables such as our rainwater harvesting system, underfloor heating, the air source heat pump for heating & solar photovoltaics that form such an essential part of the energy-efficient, low carbon nature of the new centre.
And finally for our funding, we are extremely grateful for the £5,000 grant from the Sustainable Development Fund, Chichester Harbour Conservancy towards the build project.
It has also been a busy couple of weeks in terms of events at the smallholding. We welcomed the Chidham and Hambrook Sustainable Network ‘Grow Your Own Group’ on one evening for a tour & shared supper followed by two days in Chichester at the local Food Fayre. Lots of interesting stalls and a real “buzz” within the stallholders area.
Despite uncertainties about the weather we were able to host visits from Southbourne Brownies and pupils from Westbourne Primary School. It’s only as the education centre nears completion that we realise how important it is going to be for our schools and local organisations to be able to visit without being beholden to the vagries of our British weather affecting our educational programmes.
Our most high profile event, certainly in terms of local press coverage, was the WemsFest picnic on Sunday 23rd October when it soon became apparent that we would not be able to operate outdoors.
Torrential rain and a thunderstorm greeted our guests, including two famous actors, Albert Finney and Tom Courteney, who are recent supporters of Tuppenny Barn. The education centre was made weather-tight through the use of straw bales and tarpaulins and the picnic and entertainment went ahead as planned.
Visitors tucked into a sumptuous picnic lunch that was provided by the talented Lawrence and Julia Murphy from Fat Olives restaurant, Emsworth. using Tuppenny Barn's fresh organic produce. They were accompanied by music from the Chidham Ukulele Junction band who invited the audience to sing along and also try their hand at playing a ukulele.This was the first time we had been able to use the education centre for an event and set the scene for the education and local community events to come so we were thrilled to see so many enthusiastic supporters turn out on such a dreadful day.
Later this month we will start to build the straw bale walls as a permanent feature of the centre and we were pleased to welcome Mark Saich to the smallholding. Mark is an expert in straw bale and lime rendering and will be passing on his skills at a course in mid November. It is our intention to use one of the centre’s walls as a perfect practical way of course attendees gaining experience in this traditional art of building a natural wall.
Anyone who is interested in attending the course can get in touch for further details via firstname.lastname@example.org
We have come a long way since the Tuppenny Barn project started in 2005. Our fruit and vegetable production is properly established and the yield has increased considerably year on year. We never stop learning and are keen to embrace new methods and to trial different ways of growing and improving our production rate.
The vegetable bag scheme offering weekly supplies of fresh, seasonal produce has steadily increased in popularity since it began in 2007 and we have a lovely, loyal group of customers who call in every week to collect their orders and are very supportive of everything we do at Tuppenny Barn.
Despite a general decrease in the supermarket uptake of organic fruit and vegetables over the past couple of years, we feel that our own customers recognise the benefits in eating locally produced organic food. To this end we have benefitted from the decision by some major supermarkets (not Waitrose who have added Duchy products to its range) to decrease their organic fruit and vegetable lines.
Our Portacabin shop now opens two days a week on Thursdays and Fridays to try to give local consumers an alternative to the supermarkets – freshly cropped produce grown on our doorsteps with no food miles to add to the environmental impact. We hope that our current customers spread the word to others in the community to increase sales and support the viability of the business.
But it has not been easy. Our journey since 2005 has been extremely hard as, like many small business, we have had to work hard to survive in such austere times. If the truth be known we have nearly been a failed business statistic on more than one occasion – it was a case of holding one’s nerve and staying optimistic. The business operates on a shoestring on a daily basis and we rely heavily on the support and involvement of a wonderful group of volunteers to see us through such a difficult time.
We believe that once the education centre is up and running we will get the stability we need to ensure we become a truly sustainable business in the long term. Without our support team the situation could have been very different. Tuppenny Barn Education now has five Trustees who do an amazing job in supporting the social enterprise, and I feel indebted to each and every one of them for what they have done and continue to do for the project.
We are also very lucky in having a small team of volunteers that help out with tasks at the field on a regular basis. Lindsay Hopper is our chief volunteer and she comes to us once a week come rain/snow or torrential rain! She and all the other volunteers are hugely appreciated for all that they do for the project.
Our school visit programme has gone from strength to strength and this year, as well as our regulars, we are hoping to attract new schools who haven’t visited the project before. We are also hoping to arrange more visits from community groups so they can view first hand how an organic horticulture smallholding operates and learn our sustainable working practices.
Work has started on the education centre and we feel very proud that it is taking shape now on a daily basis. The main oak structure was completed and the roof infrastructure is finished. Next came the cedar wood shingles – all 25,000 of them - followed by the flooring. Everyone asks for a completion date. I respond by saying we are building according to the bank balance. We still have to raise in excess of £80,000 to see it properly finished so we are working hard on fund-raising and securing grants.
We have been very fortunate to have the support of West Sussex County Council, Chichester District Council, the RDPE Leader fund and Chichester Harbour Conservancy as our major fund contributors to date. Without their support we certainly wouldn’t have got to where we are at now and we are extremely grateful for all the support received.
This year as well as stepping up our Sponsor a Straw Bale scheme to raise funds for the build, we held an extremely successful open day on 24th June to coincide with the ‘Southbourne Celebrates’ weekend.
More details about events and projects at Tuppenny Barn can be found on our new website. We decided to create a fresh look at our enterprise in view of the number of things happening and we promise to issue regular updates on news and events, in particular progress on the education centre.