"By growing food in a loving and natural way and regenerating broken farmland, we hope to illustrate how vital it is for our wellbeing and the health of the planet."
Picking our own veg, toasting marshmallows on a campfire and enjoying homegrown food cooked outside whilst learning about bats and moths. Sounds like a Passenger visit to Four Acre Farm…
Four Acre Farm is a 'Community Interest Company' (CIC) in Ringwood, local to Passenger HQ. Everything they do benefits the local community in some way, from weekly veg box schemes to educating local schoolchildren on no-dig and regenerative farming methods.
We were blown away by their no-dig market garden, orchard and habitation project, and the passion Kate and Mollie have for making it all a success.
Here we chat with Four Acre Farm's Market Gardener & Director Kate Forrester, about their mission and why regenerative agriculture is so important.
Kate, what is Four Acre Farm’s mission?
Our mission is to reconnect our community with the land near them and inspire people to enjoy and care for the natural world and learn skills related to land stewardship.
By growing food in a loving and natural way and regenerating broken farmland, we hope to illustrate how vital it is for our wellbeing and the health of the planet. We want to share the passion for growing your own, and creating spaces for nature wherever possible.
Why do you do it?
Mollie and I didn’t come from a growing or land stewardship background and weren’t taught anything about it at school. Luckily we both found our path, but so many don’t know how wonderful it can be or that it’s even missing from their life!
We want to share this knowledge so that more people can benefit from the joys of connecting with the outdoors, natural foods and the incredible species that cohabit our beautiful Mother Earth. If we can help people fall in love with nature, there’s a better chance of us changing the current trajectory.
What have you done to the land since getting hold of the four acres?
It’s been two years since we signed the 15-year lease. By magic (via a living angel named Colin Andrews) we received funding from The Tree Council. They supported our vision to take the barren, over-ploughed farmland and plant a perimeter hedge of 4,000 native mixed saplings, a new mixed fruit orchard and a rabbit and stock fence to protect the saplings from deer.
We crowdfunded and used our own money to acquire polytunnels, a shipping container and a shed to support the market garden operation. We built by hand over 100 no dig beds with local old horse muck and woodchips, with incredible volunteer support. We sowed a two-acre wildflower meadow and created three small ponds for wildlife.
Now we produce veg boxes and flowers for the local community and restaurants and have hosted workshops and open days for local schools and groups.
This summer a lottery grant provided us with a field kitchen shelter to enable us to host harvest and cooking workshops, nature crafts, species ID information days and herb crafts. All coming next year!
Can you explain to us simply what regenerative agriculture is?
As a society, we have taken carelessly and greedily from the land without giving back for so long and it is seriously suffering as a result.
Regenerative agriculture simply means being thoughtful and kind to land and soil, observing the natural ecosystems and working alongside them in order to repair land yet still cultivate it. Some aspects involved are:
Removing the use of pesticides, herbicides or fungicides which kill more than just the targeted plant and are damaging to our health, soil and pollinators.
Limiting the amount or depth of ploughing soil as this destroys the soil ecosystem and releases carbon. I.e. ‘no dig’.
Planting or thickening hedges and giving spaces on farmland over to wildlife to encourage the ecosystem to regenerate below and above ground.
Permanent roots in the soil by using cover crops over winter or creating agroforestry to keep the soil microbes alive.
Crop diversity; growing different crops instead of a monoculture (where one crop is planted and ploughed over and over on the same land).
How do you find moments of meaningful escapism?
For me, growing up down here it’s the New Forest or the sea. As much as I love Four Acres, I see all the jobs I need to do!
Just being in the forest brings me peace and joy, walking or sitting under a tree plus the sea never fails to fill my heart with awe.
For Mollie, rock climbing in West Dorset. She’s a badass ! (I think so anyway…)
Top 3 tips for winter gardening?
Number 1, you don’t have to put the garden ‘to bed for the winter’. Check out Charles Dowding's sowing timeline on his website for August and September sowings so you have some veg to eat in the winter!
Number 2, if you miss a sowing or have a gap in a bed, direct sow a cover crop in the ground in September. Mustards are great. If it's too late for this then mulch with compost to feed and protect the soil.
Number 3, try not to tidy up too much! If possible, leave old flowers standing and ‘messy’ edges around the garden as a habitat for insects over winter.
Can we plant any veg in December?
Aquadulce broad beans can be sown in seed trays that you can transplant into beds when they have true leaves. Garlic can still go in the ground.
What’s your fav recipe to cook with your own produce?
The favourite changes by the season! Currently, I’m obsessed with roasted winter squash in all sorts of dishes . An easy lunch is roasting thin slices of squash with salt, pepper, olive oil, cumin and paprika.
You can buy a delicious harissa these days if you haven’t made one yourself and simply mix it with vegan or organic yoghurt to use as a dressing.
I have it on a salad of winter leaves and radicchio dressed with cider vinegar and olive oil. For extra deliciousness, toast pumpkin seeds with salt in a dry pan until they pop and then scatter over. Optional feta cheese crumble is good and I put homemade kraut on every meal!
And finally, top 3 soundtracks while you garden?
We both listen to a lot of audiobooks or podcasts. A favourite for both of us is the ‘You’re dead to me’ history podcast!
Current music we're loving…
Tinariwen - ‘Toumast Tincha’
Robert Wyatt 'Pigs..(in there)’ - so funny.
Mac Miller ft. Anderson Paak - ‘Dang!’
Keep up with Kate and Mollie on Instagram @FourAcreFarmCSA