Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Fern Verrow

Crab apples
at Fern Verrow

Like many people I find I'm eating more and more fruit and vegetables these days so I thought it was time to write about some of my favourite places to buy what I can't grow.  I'm lucky to have a small biodynamic allotment.  It's impossible to explain biodynamics in one sentence but both organic and biodynamic gardening has an emphasis on the soil rather than, as in conventional gardening, the plant.  The idea is to work with nature rather than try to dominate or subdue her. Biodynamics goes further than organics in that, as the Biodynamic Association puts it, practitioners believe "vital soil = vital food".  Follow the link to the Association if you want to know more.

at Fern Vera

I know from talking to friends there are many good independent greengrocers in London, so if I'm going to tell you about some they had better be pretty special.  I'm starting with the cream of the crop, Fern Verrow.  Before I got my hands on an allotment where I could put my enthusiasm into practice, I bought from Fern Verrow every week.  Back then they set up stall at London's Borough Market on Saturdays.  The 16 acre farm, in the foothills of the Black Mountains in Herefordshire, is farmed by Jane Scotter and Harry Astley to biodynamic principles.  Truly seasonal, almost everything is outdoor grown with one greenhouse for tomatoes, cucumbers and some salad leaves. The farm produces over 300 varieties of vegetables. Pigs, cattle, sheep and poultry are reared. These days Fern Verrow harvests on a Friday and makes the round trip to London setting out their produce on Saturdays at Spa Terminus  in Bermondsey.  Almost everything you will find is grown on the farm.  Anything that isn't is carefully selected from like-minded organic and biodynamic producers.

'Custard' Pattypan squash
at Fern Verrow

As a biodynamic grower I can appreciate the amount of effort that goes into the produce harvested from this system.  If you are in any doubt about biodynamic growing being worth the effort, just take a look at the produce here. Squeaky-fresh cabbages follow the seasons from pale green Spring to autumn/winter's spectacularly beautiful green/purple January King; heads of super-fresh lettuce keep for days, not because they've been kept cold in bags pumped with gases but because they are bursting with real freshness and goodness; summer sees sweet soft-necked Florence Red onions and courgettes, straight and crook-necked; soft fruit arrives in the form of raspberries, strawberries, loganberries, jostaberries and, if you're lucky, their own farm-grown peaches.  From late summer, potatoes make an appearance and several varieties take the season right through into the following year.  In autumn/winter squash and pumpkins take centre stage along with leeks, parsnips, chard, and brassicas.  These are joined by apples and pears.  Apart from a scant few weeks in mid-winter, the seasonal bounty keeps on coming all year round.  Some excellent meat from the farm's pigs, cattle, sheep and poultry also makes it to the table.  From spring to autumn there's a stunning selection of flowers thanks to a cutting garden and meadow.

at Fern Verrow

Seeing what Fern Verrow grow has inspired my own planting over the years.  I almost wish I didn't grow quite so much myself so that I could sweep up the bounty from those laden trestle tables each week.  Growing biodynamically is as labour-intensive as cultivating can be. Food of this quality doesn't come cheap but Fern Verrow really is as good as it gets.  Even though, or maybe because, I grow some of my fruit and vegetables biodynamically I am in awe of what Fern Verrow achieve.  I do  grow a fair proportion of what my household needs but, sometimes, a few special things still find there way into my shopping bag on a Saturday.  If you want the very best, it's definitely to be found in this little corner of Bermondsey.

Fern Verrow
Tel: 01981510288

Fern Verrow trade Saturdays 8.30-2pm at:
Spa Terminus
Unit 10
Dockley Road Industrial Estate
London SE16 3SF

Spa Terminus map