One year on….

A year ago here at The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm we were fighting for our future, and the global village came to our rescue thanks to the success of our Save The Oak Tree. If you were one of these lovely people then, once again, thank you so much.

Even in the midst of the crisis we were planning for the future. Now seems a good time to look back at what we have achieved since then.  Of course, no plan survives contact with reality, and indeed we have adapted to many challenges, while still very much looking to the future!

Down on the farm, there is both good, and less positive, news to report.

Our fruit trees and bushes are thriving, and I am just now launching our first “fruit shares” for our members on a pick your own basis!

We’ll soon be appearing on an episode of “Escape to the Country” following a fun day of filming a couple of weeks back.

Our animal feed costs have plummeted thanks to a local bakery generously giving us its waste bread, no longer fit for human consumption, for our pigs and chickens!

We are producing more meat than our members can eat! Please do support the farm by buying a pork share when it next becomes available (sign up for our occasional newsletter to be  notified of this, and other, happenings on the farm)! It is excellent, and while it is a “less convenient” way to buy pork, it is friendlier, and the pork is unlike anything you’ve ever tried!

Our harvests so far this year have been good, despite the wet and dark weather which has caused even Bob Flowerdew to report that his tomatoes are on the drag! And we have a wonderfully positive community of members at the moment who are supportive and hardworking, which gives the farm a lovely atmosphere.

We’ve also had a quite remarkable soil improvement results thanks to Richard’s work with Dr Elain Ingham’s Soil Food Web methods. His blog post on this is well worth a read!

Amazing improvements thanks to Elaine Ingham's methods

Amazing improvements thanks to Elaine Ingham’s methods

On a less positive note, we are really struggling to retain staff because of the low wages that we are obliged to offer due to the farm’s fragile finances. As a result of this, we have had to scale back our cut flower operation this year, we’ve only been able to offer flowers for sale to farm members. We now have just two growers, myself and the wonderful John (who works three days a week). The resulting reduced wage bill means the “Save The Oak Tree” cash can be eked out for longer, but it does leave the farm at risk if either of us suffers from ill health, and it is a real struggle to develop new enterprises alongside the everyday work of feeding our members and caring for our livestock.

Also, while we are making steady progress on our farm building feasibility study, progress is slow. I get the impression that our local planning department is simply overwhelmed by work. While they try to help us, they are very slow to respond to questions which we need answered before we can put in an application for planning permission with any hope of success. This delays the day when we can apply for the grant funding that we so desperately need to develop the farm to its full potential, as significant grants would be dependent on planning permission.

In summary, we are working to reduce costs as much as possible (not that we ever wasted money, we’re just being even more careful than usual!) and working as efficiently as we can to bring in extra cash through fruit, meat and egg sales – with a view to reducing our loses as much as possible.

We hope we’ll be able to keep going for long enough to get planning permission for our building so we can apply for grant funding  to “subsidise” the many social, environmental, educational and health benefits that we’d be then able to offer to even more people. A couple of grant giving organisations have expressed a serious interest in helping us at that stage, both in paying for the building, and helping with paying proper wages, so for now it is time to grit our teeth and keep going!

Life post Brexit looks uncertain to us all (in case you are wondering, I voted to remain, but we are where we are) and these uncertainties are keenly felt here at The Oak Tree. Will we see big food price hikes, given our currency has plummeted in value and we import much of our fresh fruit (90%) and veg (40%)? Will there be any significant change in government policy concerning agriculture?

Every household in the UK pays, on average, around £250 each year to the EU Common Agricultural Policy which dishes out enormous subsidies to already rich landowners who don’t even have to farm the land to qualify.

Here at The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm we receive no subsidies at all, (we’re “too small” – everything is geared up to megascale, and mega capital investment) yet the current shortfall in our finances is just about £200 per year per household that we feed – less than the amount UK households pay towards EU subsidies!

We invite you to help us to hold the line until we get planning permission for our building. Please do support us with a donation (call it an “ecological & community farm subsidy”).

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Escape to… The Oak Tree Farm!

It was a real pleasure to welcome BBC 2’s Escape to the Country to the farm. We’ll keep you posted on when our appearance gets broadcast, in the meantime, here are some pictures!

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IMG_6897 IMG_6904 IMG_6909

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Very simple Swiss chard and/or beetroot leaves

A very simple method of preparing Swiss chard and/or beetroot leaves (they are very similar, you can mix them) is:

  1. Fry a chopped onion gently in butter with a little salt in a saucepan or deep frying pan.
  2. Wash the leaves carefully then chop them up.
  3. Add to the onion and cook gently until soft, stirring from time to time.

Nice as a side vegetable, or served with eggs.

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Beetroot and Broad Bean salad, suggested by Dave

“I think that we will be getting these ingredients soon in our boxes so here is a recipe for a Beetroot and Broad Bean Salad”, Dave.

This is taken from this website.

Ingredients (Serves 8):

For the dressing:

    • 1 tbsp Red wine vinegar
    • 4 tbsp Olive oil
    • A pinch Sugar, to taste

For the salad:

    • 500g Beetroot, trimmed and scrubbed, skin on
    • 300g Podded broad beans
    • 2 Salad onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
    • 15g Tarragon, chopped

Method:

  1. Boil the beetroot in a pan of salted water for 20–30 minutes until tender. While still warm, drain and peel them under running water. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, boil the broad beans for 3–4 minutes in unsalted water until tender; drain and refresh them under cold water, then drain once more.
  3. Peel at least half the broad beans – particularly any that are larger than your thumbnail
  4. Mix together all the ingredients for the dressing; taste and season.
  5. Slice the beetroot in half, then cut each half into thin wedges about ½cm thick; place the wedges in a mixing bowl.
  6. Pour the dressing over the beetroot, season and toss.
  7. Add the broad beans, salad onions and half the tarragon and toss again.
  8. Transfer to a serving dish and scatter with the remaining tarragon.

Bon appétit!

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Purple Sprouting Brocoli with Chorizo and eggs

This recipe has been tried and tested by Juliet!

It is from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the “River Cottage everyday” book.

Ingredients (Serves 4):

    • 200 g cooking chorizo
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    • 4 medium eggs, at room temperature
    • 500g purple sprouting brocoli
    • Sea salt and ground black pepper

Method:

  1. Skin the chorizo and cut into chunks.
  2. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the chorizo over a medium heat. Turn regularly until stating to crips up (approx 10min).
  3. Put the eggs in a pan of hand-hot water cover and bring quickly to the boil. Boil for 4 minutes (or 5 min for extra large eggs). When cooked, run them under cool tap water and peel them straight away.
  4. Cook the brocoli in a large saucepan or boiling salted water for 3 to 4 minutes, until just tender. Drain well.
  5. Add the warm brocoli to the chorizo pan and toss it in the host, spicy fat until well coated.
  6. Divide the brocoli and chorizo between 4 plates and add a boiled egg, cut in half, to each.
  7. Season with salt and pepper and serve straight way with some bread.

Bon appétit!

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Joanne’s simple braised lettuce

lettuce from Elene

(thank you to farm member Elene for the photo!)

Just wash a lettuce or two when then are plentiful, chop into sixths or quarters, and cook slowly in a deep pan in butter with nice salt until soft. Some people add peas, but I don’t bother.

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Wild Food Walk and Lunch 2016

Last Saturday members of the farm Community Supported Agriculture Scheme enjoyed beautiful sunshine for our now traditional annual Wild Food walk and Lunch. Wild food is a great way to help survive, and thrive in, the hungry gap of April/May.

Wildfood walk 2

It was a bit too early for elderflowers, so no elderflower fritters, but we did make a particularly delicious vegetarian nettle soup! And of course, our usual wild leaf salad.

Wildfood walk 1

For more details, including videos of Ellie and Maggie saying what they thought of the nettle soup, and Tom demonstrating how to make delicious sauerkraut, please visit (& follow!) our Facebook page!

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Cardamom Carrot Bread, By Nadia

“I have been looking at a variety of yeast-free, gluten breads and came accross this recipe in “The Complete Coconut cookbook“. I have shared it with friends and family and it has proven very popular. Many have asked me for the recipe, so here it is. Note that I have adapted it slightly based on taste.”

Ingredients (Serves 10 to 12 slices):

    • 2 tbsp psyllium husk
    • 1 cup coconut milk – Note that I have also made this bread with 1 cup almond milk and it was really good too.
    • 1/3 cup water (or coconut water) – I only use water.
    • 2/3 cup chickpea flour
    • 1/3 cup patato starch
    • 2,5 tsp baking powder (gluten free if you need to)
    • 1 tsp ground cardamom.
    • 0.25 tsp salt
    • 0.5 cup coconut sugar
    • 1,5 cups shredded carrots
    • Oil (coconut, butter etc) to grease the loaf pan.
    • optional: 1/3 cup raisins
    • Optional: 1 tsp vanilla extract

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degres Celsius.
  2. Mix wet ingredients: Mix together pysllium husk, milk (coconut/almond etc) and water (or coconut water if using). Let stand for 5 minutes, it will thicken.
  3. Mix dry ingredients: Mix together the chickpea flour, coconut flour, potato starch, baking powder, cardamom and salt.
  4. When the milk/psyllium mixture has thickened, add the coconut sugar and vanilla (if using) and stir well.
  5. Mix together the wet and dry mixtures above into a batter.
  6. Add the grated carrots and raisins (if using) to the batter and fold gently.
  7. Grease a metal loaf pan with oil (coconut, butter etc). Spread the batter in the pan.
  8. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes to an hour, or until it is browned and cooked inside.
  9. Remove from pan and let the bread cool on a wire rack.

Bon appétit!

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Elderflower Fritters

This is the recipe of the elderflower fritters that we prepare at the Oak Tree Farm yearly wild food walk when the elderflowers are available.

Ingredients (Serves 6-8):

    • 100g plain flour
    • 200ml water
    • A pinch of salt
    • Vegetable oil, for deep frying
    • A large bunch of unwashed elderflower heads

Method:

  1. Whisk together the water, salt and flour to make a light batter that coats the elderflowers, but drips off.
  2. Heat the oil until very hot.
  3. Using the stem as a handle, dip the flower heads in batter, and let the excess batter drip back into the bowl.
  4. Deep fry until golden brown, then place on clean kitchen paper.
  5. Sprinkle with icing sugar.
  6. Eat everything except the unbattered stems, which you can compost.

Bon appétit!

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Vegetarian Nettle Soup

Nettle-soup-recipe-3

This is the recipe of the popular nettle soup that we prepare at the Oak Tree Farm yearly wild food walk.

Ingredients (Serves 4):

    • 1 onion, chopped
    • vegetable oil, for frying
    • 500ml water
    • 1 bay leaf
    • Salt and black pepper
    • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
    • 2 large handfuls of stinging nettle tips and young leaves
    • Sour cream, to serve

Method:

  1. Fry the chopped onion for 5-10 minutes in the oil or fat in a saucepan.
  2. Add the water, bay leaf, seasoning and potatoes, then cook for another few minutes.
  3. Wash your nettles carefully in fresh water and add them to the pan, stirring, then simmer for 5 minutes, and season.
  4. Remove the bay leaf then liquidise the soup with a small handheld blender. Add water if it looks too thick.
  5. Return to the heat for a couple of minutes, adding further salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Add the sour cream once it has been taken off the heat, mix well and serve.

Bon appétit!

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