Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Essex PYO Farms - 3 Reviews

I love the summer and the growing season, giving love and attention to my little plants which grow into big plants. Then in return for my nurturing they give me back some wonderful produce which has no comparison to that from the supermarket.

After watching Jimmy's Farming Heroes and seeing his visit to the Pea farm in East Anglia i realised why my sugar snaps taste so much sweeter than those bought from a shop, not just a supermarket but markets and farm shops too. The Pea Co-opperative (a group of farmers who all work together for the harvest) have just 2 hours to pick, shell, wash, blanch and freeze their peas to keep the flavour and also the vitamins to a high enough standard. When i buy sugar snaps from a shop, who know how long they've been there yet last night i picked my peas at about 6.30pm, steamed them for literally a minute as i like them very crisp, about 7pm and had finished eating them by 7.30pm! You can get fresher than that.

However with limited space in the garden, which is pushed to the limits as it is, there are certain things i don't have room for and certain crops that you need a fair amount of plants in order to get a decent yield and crop. With soft fruit and sweetcorn being the main 2 of these, this is where PYO farms play a key role in food freshness for me (and potatoes too but i don't know a PYO that does potatoes!)

I'm lucky enough to have a PYO within 10 minutes driving distance from me, and having visited 2 others in essex i've realised how good my local farm really is, so i'll save the best review until last! The other 2 i've visited are both about a 40 minute drive however they had different fruit that i wanted to try. The 3 Farms are Cammas Hall Fruit Farm, Grace's Farm Shop (brief details here) and Lathcoat's Farm.
Lathcoat's - from their website i could see that this farm was fairly large, with a farm shop on the site too. When i eventually found the place, after giving myself a tour of the out skirts of chelmsford (it is easy to find i just forgot to print the map). They had a blackboard by the little hut which had details of what was currently ripe, or too ripe and how much was left and which patch to pick. When i went, in season were strawberries, raspberries, there were a few redcurrants, the gooseberries were extremely ripe (too ripe for my taste), the boysenberries were starting to ripen, as were the blackcurrants and the first line of plum trees were ready and finally the cherries were pretty much finished.

I was looking for the boysenberries, as i hadn't tried them before, but decided to pick up some plums for mum, as i know she loves them, and some strawberries to keep me going on the long journey home.....

After looking at their map, i set off in search and managed to find what i was looking for quite easily. The boysenberries didn't really wow me, but then thats not the farm's fault - that's just my expectations! What i was amazed at thought was the amount of fruit ripe and ready for picking but not only that the amount that was going to waste. There just seemed to be a distinct lack of organisation and timing. All the varieties of strawberries were ripe at the same time and there seemed to be no rules as to where you should specifically pick. The strawberries were on tables which normally means that they don't go as moudly as when they are on the floor because the ripening berries can hang over the sides. However here there were so many ripe strawberries there were more than people could pick. They also didn't appear to have a team of pickers here to pick for the farm to then sell on to shops and businesses.

They also do a rent-a-tree scheme here with 4 apple varieties but even tho they guarentee you a quantity, there's no guarentee over the quality....

Overall verdict - Too much fruit and not enough people to pick it. Prices were reasonable but seeing all the moudly fruit made feel a little sad that there was so much waste.

Grace's Fruit Farm - turns out they only have 4 fruits for PYO here although they sell more in the shop but you can't PYO. Fruits available for PYO are strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and loganberries. I went here to try loganberries, and although i could certainly taste a different flavour (unlike the boysenberries which just tasted like giant blackberries to me), it still didn't capture my tastebuds enough for me to want to specifically get them again.

The canes were on a 2 hillsides with loganberries and blackberries in one field and strawberries and raspberries in another next to a wild flower field (i presume to help with pollination), The rows were a little untidy, with thistles and weeds growing well in between, which made it rather difficult to get to the canes. There also seemed to be large gaps in the canes, especially in the raspberries which seemed to just trail off and fade out towards the end of the rows. The other thing that put me off here was that the strawberries were on the ground which meant a lot of moudly ones with the damp weather we've had - in fact more moudly than ripe i think! The overripe fruit was not just an issue on the strawberries but also the logan berries too.

It made me realise how much easier strawberries on table are to pick and how used to it i have become. The last time i picked from the floor i just have been about 8 when i was closer to the ground myself! Not only that, but i also thought the rows were extremely close together, meaning there was no room to step in between because the strawberries were hanging down into the furrows were you are supposed to step, so unless you pick from the outside row - which of course most people have already done - you are treading on mouldy mush and trying not to squash any decent strawberries.

overall verdict - lack of organisation, more of a side line business to the farm shop which had more nick nacks than food at any rate. not somewhere i'd rush back to.

and now saving the best until last.....

Cammas Hall Fruit Farm

To get to the fruit you have to enter through the barn where they have the tills and scales and also a supply of ready picked fruit in case you don't have the time (or energy) to PYO. There is local apple juice, last year there were local plums when in season and this year they have also had their own homemade jam. Cammas Hall has both fruit and vegetables for PYO, increasing their different produce each year. The only item that is only available ready picked and not PYO is the blueberries which are under cages. The strawberries are divided into section with about 3/4 rows of tables per section, and they normally have one section set for picking at one time, which gives the other sections chance to replenish and means there is little waste - however it can also mean that supply can be low when the weather is sunny or when the conditions mean they aren't ripening as quickly.
The same strategy applies to the raspberries, however there never seems to be a lack of crop with them. There are a couple of rows of blackberries, blackcurrant, half a dozen rows of gooseberries, a field of sweetcorn, half a field of broad beans and this year they have introduced onions and also french beans.

They also pick, pack and sell to other companies in large quantities which means less waste. The pickers start at the far end of the rows but due to the length of the rows the pickers and the public never seem to meet! the staff also keep the grass cut, they cut off the runners and generally keep the farm extremely tidy and neat.

Having visited those other 2 recently, i realize how wonderful cammas hall really is. i can only hope they keep growing and increasing the types of produce they have, however the main field is now full but i'm sure they own more of the land around - maybe i should suggest they introduce PYO beetroot!!


Everyday Moments said...

I love your blog! Very interesting content even though I don't live in the UK :). Going back through your previous posts really inspires me to go out there and plant my garden (or at least make some solid plans for a garden next year) :).

Jenny said...

thank you! veggie gardening is so rewarding when you get a nice harvest at the end.