Today was strawberry day! We spent the entire tour near Dover – we visited 3 farms, one in East Malling which was an agricultural research station, that had some interesting apple, pear, and strawberry trials going on – such a huger scale than we’re used to, but completely interesting; growing strawberries on benches into a peat/compost mixture in plastic bags. They call this substrate farming or table-top farming; with the strawberries up on tables, growing out of peat-filled bags. The berries cascade over the edge, and there’s a wire to hold the leaves up. This makes them extremely easier to pick – doubled the picking rates of their crews. It is quite ergonomic – you can just walk through and pick
standing up. We kept trying to think of something that you could grow under the benches… Interestingly, they can reuse the bags 3 or 4 times, which is less wasteful than I originally thought. The focus on sterilizing soil and spraying for every kind of pest is so far out of our purview – such a different way to farm! We’re seeing the Haygrove farm tomorrow, which has some organic growing, so that will be eye opening, I’m sure. At this farm we also met up with a scientist doing research on stressing plants with the irrigation system to reduce water use and improve the taste of various crops without losing yields – essentially the same idea as dry farming,
as far as we could tell. Their tests were promising, they found that with strawberries, they cut water use tremendously (from 70 tons of water per 1 ton harvested fruit per season, to 10 tons water per 1 ton of fruit!), which reduced leaf growth, but didn’t affect the fruit set at all. Pretty neat work being done there – they were also looking into the technique of deficit watering, which stresses the plants further, but tends to make the fruit taste even better. We went to another farm mid-day that also did a lot with strawberries as well as blueberries. They are the primary growers of strawberries for Marks & Spencer, the upscale grocers in the UK. We got to see their packing house, and cold-chain system, which was so eye-opening, mostly because of the amount of
energy these types of operations must take – let alone the time to organize the labor, maintain the equipment, order all of the containers for shipping, then deal with the actual shipping! It boggled our minds! There is certainly a lot to be said about direct marketing, from our perspective, at least! It was fun to share with people that on our operation we do all the planning, ordering, marketing, harvesting, washing, packing and selling – AND make a living on just the two acres. The general consensus here in Britain was that you simply cannot survive without at least 200 acres, and an immigrant workforce (most come from Poland). It is such an interesting mindset and focus here – on big farms. We talked a lot with folks about the local movement in Britain and
everyone said that it is only starting to take hold, and even so, in very small pockets of the country. There is almost no focus on vegetable production here at all – most farmers focus on fruits; cherries, strawberries, blueberries, and apples. We had a fantastic lunch at The Dog Inn at Wingham, our first real pub experience – it was really good! We had fancified normal pub fare, tempura fish (fish & chips), and house-made sausages on a bed of herbed potatoes (bangers & mash). It was quite delicious, and gave us good energy for the last leg of our day. The last farm of the day that we visited today grew cherries with a system called VOEN covers as well as the Haygrove tunnels. His assessment was that growing in the Haygrove tunnels was easier and better, though the
VOEN system used a lot less steel. It is sort of a curtain system that self-vents; great for orchards. This was a long second day, but really informative and gave us something to look forward to tomorrow – seeing the Haygrove farms!