Blog: Down at the farm

Catherine Sleep | 12 October 2005

I had the pleasure last week of visiting Ashlyns Organic Farm in Essex. I was there to meet Jeanette Orrey, the school dinner lady who was campaigning for improvements to school meals long before Jamie Oliver got involved. She’s a feisty lady with a passion for good food and educating children to eat it.

You can read more about Jeanette in an article I wrote, but the farm itself was a revelation. After lunch we journalists piled onto the back of a tractor which lumbered off for a tour of the farm.

I’ve never been to an organic farm before, so it was an eye-opener. It was strange seeing so many weeds growing up among the vegetables – you really can’t fight them off without pesticides, so organic farmers have to learn to love, or at least live with, their weeds. I was taken aback when farmer Jim told us that only half of the crops he grows ever makes it onto the shelf. My initial reaction was sympathy, but Jim was philosophical; the overriding cost of growing produce is in the picking and handling, he said, so leaving the second-rate stuff where it grows, to be ploughed back into the ground, isn’t a big deal.

The real oohs and ahs started when we arrived at the chicken fields. These were happy chickens if ever I’ve seen any, a far cry from the footage of battery farms we’ve all seen on the telly. If I had to be a chicken, and after much deliberation I probably wouldn’t choose it, I’d want to be one of these, wouldn’t you?

Ashlyns Organic Farm


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