Next generation food growers

Jo Yeoman and Jed Forward
Jo Yeoman and Jed Forward
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Meet the apprentices who are doing things differently. These young people are developing their skills as part of the Incredible Edible Todmorden network, which now boasts an educational programme covering every school in town and its very own farm.

Incredible Edible Farm in Walsden, near Todmorden, was built for the purpose of teaching small scale commercial food growing and marketing skills to young people. It is home to two horticulture apprentices, Jo Yeoman and Jed Forward. Their task is to set up their own food production businesses, help run the farm and share their knowledge with its many visitors.

Nick Green, director of Incredible Edible Farm, says the project is a seed bed for businesses as well as plants: “We’re aiming to explore and model the idea that it’s possible to make a career in growing food. We’re teaching youngsters the skills they need to do that.”

Nineteen-year-old Jo’s apprenticeship is supported by Together Housing, formerly Pennine Housing. She started in January, bringing with her experience at catering college and as a chef and gardener.

“One day I’d like to get my own place with land. I’m really interested in trying to offer people an alternative way of living where they can be sustainable.

“I think more people should be doing things like this. At the moment there’s a huge generation gap between people who’ve got job in horticulture and there’s no-one to take their place.”

Both apprentices were selected because of their passion for food. “We’re all really interested in food,” says Nick. “We’re selling to chefs and the public. They often ask us what to do with it. We have to know, as well as being able to add value to it.”

The farm, a not-for-profit company, makes around £3,000 each from salad, fruit trees and school visits. It has received a total of around £30,000 from Community Foundation for Calderdale, the Land Settlement Association, Calderdale Council, Todmorden Town Council, Tudor Trust and the Esme Fairburn Foundation.

To keep costs down it was designed and built by unpaid volunteers, helped by community payback workers, who spend three days a week on the site.

Current funding runs out in 2015 and the team, which includes two paid staff - grower Mike Smith and site manager Beth Osman - has its sights on financial sustainability. The apprentices could help make that a reality by developing viable products which add value to the business.

“Part of the apprenticeship is developing a business,” Nick explains. “We’re working on creating models for how it might work, for example how it divvies up between the farm and their own business.

“ It could be that we do that as a farm business that Jo’s in charge of, so she does it in work time but it’s her project.”

For her first foray into business, Jo is experimenting with growing, processing and packaging oven dried tomatoes. She is currently perfecting the product and exploring what it would take to get it to market.

The farm’s other apprentice, Jed Forward, 23, is exploring raising geese for sale and is speaking to other producers in the area to learn about husbandry and marketing. His apprenticeship is supported by the Ernest Cook Trust and he began work at the farm last February.

Faced with the choice of a job strimming motorway embankments or the apprenticeship, he jumped into horticulture head first.

“Since I was small I’ve been learning about global warming,” he says. “We can’t survive without learning how to live off the land. We have to know these things. I didn’t even know about the stages of a plant. You go from not knowing anything to being able to teach about it.”

He has since proved a hit with school groups who visit to learn about food and how to produce it.

Jo says: “I’ve learned an awful lot about plants in a short space of time. Something I’ve always believed in is that we should grown more of our own food. This is community based, which is refreshing. It gives people a chance to interact with each other.”

The farm’s top merits

Incredible Edible Farm has a growing area with three commercial polytunnels, outdoor beds, ponds, ducks, chickens, beehives and 160 fruit trees. It supplies salad, herbs and vegetables to local pubs, shops and cafes, including Holt’s Greengrocers in Hebden Bridge, the Bear in Todmorden and Great Rock Co-op, Blackshaw Head.

The farm also hosts a farm shop on the first Saturday of each month and on Wednesday and Friday mornings it has a limited range of produce for sale on site.

More than 600 apple, plum and cherry trees are sold online each year and to Gordon Rigg Garden Centre next door, which donated the land it sits on.