Shillingford Organics

Best Box Scheme

Shillingford OrganicsShillingford Organics was winner of Best Box Scheme with its Medium Organic Vegetable Box.

Martyn Bragg, in partnership with Tim and Jan Deane, set up Shillingford Organics in 2001. Martyn tells the story of the business...

"I was a conventional arable and sheep farmer, by 1997 I realised that the only way for an arable business to survive and flourish was to get larger, take on more land and become more intensive. I was in my late 30s and the thought of going in that direction filled me with dread.

"My brother was organic and I had become engaged in environmental issues. I realised that as our farm is on very good land and close to Exeter, the most environmentally beneficial thing I could do was to become organic and to grow organic vegetables, supplying them locally.

"I went into partnership with Tim and Jan Deane in 2001 with their organic box scheme. Tim taught me many of the skills I have now. By 2005 I was employing 4 staff. Now Tim has retired and I employ 10 full and part time staff.

"We have expanded the vegetable area each year, to over 40 acres of vegetables, salad and apple trees, using the most fertile ground closest to the farm buildings. The vegetables are grown in rotation with grass, clover and sheep. The rest of the farm is in an arable, sheep rotation.

"With the growing of the vegetables we are trying to strike a fine balance between working in tune with nature and being commercial growers, producing at a scale and cost that makes the business sustainable financially as well as environmentally and ecologically.

"To this aim, we leave strips across the fields for insects, for example, phacaelia, parsnips, kale and leeks left to go to flower. We have clumpy grass 3m field margins and beetle banks around all the fields. To minimise impact on the soil, we use a No-Dig system in the seven polytunnels and a small outdoor area. We are experimenting with a min-till system for some of the crops and yet still plough and power harrow the main growing areas. We also use green manures diligently.

"We have established an agroforestry system in a 6 acre field, using rows of apple alternated with nitrogen fixing trees, rows of cob nut trees and rows of hybrid willow for fuel. All the rows of trees will act as windbreaks for the crops, which are grown in-between.

"The box scheme accounts for approximately 40% of our sales. We only deliver within a 6 mile radius of the farm. The freshness of the produce is so important to us in getting the local and organic message across. Wherever possible we pick all the fresh produce on the same day we pack and deliver the boxes.

"We operate 52 weeks of the year, using 90% of our own produce. If the situation arises we endeavour to buy in other crops as locally as possible. We are fortunate to be in a mild part of the country, on early ground and we have become good at growing a wide range of produce through the 'lean' times, as well as the peak season."

Our judges said, "Excellent box, vibrant, totally speaks of the season; very high quality: basil & tomato together lovely touch; shining example of how to combine good business sense with ethics."

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Runner up - Purton House Organic

Purton House Organic was runner up with its Variety Vegetable Box.

Our judges said, "Foodies delight. Excellent variety of seasonal produce. Pot of Greek basil the icing on the cake. Heart-warming commitment to local community and the organic movement as a whole. Worthy gold and close runner up."

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Runner up - Higher Hacknell Farm

Higher Hacknell Farm was runner up with its Mixed Meat Box

Our judges said, "Neatly put together, well presented and packed box. Good and varied selection of meat. Excellent topside and chicken breasts. Well balanced range between expensive and cheaper cuts. Good value for money. Excellent salt beef, excellent mince beef (not too fatty). Good flavour and moist, prime quality."

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