Food & Garden
Regenerative Farming & Seasonal Eating with The Modern Kitchen Garden
Francesca and Oliver Cooper met at The Royal Agricultural University where they were studying to become Rural Surveyors, careers that they later followed in the Cotswolds for five years before deciding to relocate back to the Isle of Wight. With Francesca’s brother Christy Morley, the three run a small scale market garden and pastured egg business. Here they share with us their ethos behind regenerative farming, the importance of eating seasonally, and their daily sustainable rituals.
“If you eat with the seasons you cut your food miles, reduce plastic use in the food chain, and reduce energy use.”
How does your day start? Tell us a bit about your morning routine.
The morning routine is always pretty busy with chickens to be let out and fed, our house cow to be milked and sourdough to be baked. We mob graze our cows and chickens, moving them around the pasture to develop the grass which means that every other day we also have to move their electric fencing and mobile chicken house.
How do you interact with nature when it comes to the food you grow/prepare/eat?
We believe in ‘land sharing’ rather than ‘land sparing’. This means that we make sure that we grow food and manage pasture in a way that supports and encourages nature right into the garden. We do this by using no chemicals and using no-dig principles in our garden which means there is minimal soil disturbance so the natural ecosystem of the soil can develop. We have also planted trees and dug ponds in the garden to encourage natural predators into the vegetable beds. We recently put up an owl box in the hope that they would move in and help us to control the voles and mice which like to eat our beetroot, and we have resident grass snakes who live in our compost bins in the summer!
Best part of your day in terms of food?
Every day we come in with fresh milk from the cow and fresh pastured eggs from our chickens is a joy. We also harvest twice a week from the garden for our suppliers and seeing the bountiful produce with its gorgeous fresh colours and smell is second to none!
Favourite season or month for food and why?
Summer! The garden is bursting with vegetables and herbs and the grass is growing which gives our eggs extra special taste and colour!
Where do you source your food from?
We grow and raise most of our own vegetables, meat and eggs. But we also buy from local farm shops, whole food wholesalers such as Suma where we buy our bulk ingredients, and British food from our local supermarket.
If you garden, what is the hardest aspect of gardening and growing your own food that you didn’t foresee? How have you overcome it?
We have been really sad to see that Climate Change is already a real and pressing issue. We have experienced three years of spring droughts which means we have to irrigate for long periods of time and our winters are getting warmer which means that pests are not killed off by frosts meaning that there is greater insect pressure earlier in the season.
If you garden, what are your favourite crops you are growing right now? What you would like to grow that you currently don’t?
We each have favourite crops so depending who you ask it will be Chard, Beetroot or Leeks. But if you ask our customers they will say it’s our signature salad mix which is full of different leaves and edible flowers. In order to keep up with demand we are planning on honing our salad growing skills to focus in on different leaves that grow in different seasons to make sure we have a steady supply. Keeping our supply steady is the biggest challenge of market gardening.
Who and or what is your guiding inspiration when it comes to food?
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is our food hero. We regularly re-watch River Cottage and his River Cottage everyday is our go-to recipe book. Simple, honest, seasonal food with great ingredients! Our farming inspiration has come from various sources, we were initially inspired by Abbey Home Farm which is a market garden and farm outside Cirencester where we lived before moving to the Isle of Wight, research into this type of farming soon led us to Jean-Martin Fortier, and Richard Perkins who we have learned so much from through their masterclasses and online content.
What’s an average weekday dinner for you?
It really depends on the season, right now we have a shepherds pie on the stove made from left over home reared mutton which we will serve with purple sprouting broccoli from the garden.
Favourite vegetable to cook with and why?
We love to use big bunches of herbs. Whether it be in a pesto, generous buches chopped into salads or as a bouquet garni in winter stews most of our cooking starts or finishes with herbs.
As the sunset begins, how do you close your day?
Sunset at this time of year will usually find us drinking a cold beer in the garden while watering the plants. We like to brew our own beer using grain kits and hope one day to grow hops and grains to make our own signature brew!
“We feel passionately that food production and care of soils will help us to make high leaps in tackling not only climate change but also biodiversity and human health.”
Best advice you have for someone looking to eat more sustainably?
Eat seasonally! I get so frustrated when I see chefs recommending recipes with courgettes, peppers or cucumbers in the middle of winter. It can sometimes be a challenge when trying to find 101 ways with potatoes and parsnips in the middle of winter, but if you eat with the seasons you cut your food miles, reduce plastic use in the food chain (many hot weather crops are grown under temporary polytunnels in Spain and North Africa) and reduce energy use (for heating and lighting of crops). Plus food tastes better when you eat with the seasons!
What are your latest efforts towards living a greener life?
We feel passionately that food production and care of soils will help us to make high leaps in tackling not only climate change but also biodiversity and human health. We are hoping to grow our current projects to steward a greater area and help more people to get access to great nutrient dense local food.
In your opinion, what is the most important food item to make sure is organic?
Cucumbers and tomatoes, both of these crops have high water content and if they are grown in other countries it is hard to maintain the traceability.