Last week the two Hannahs of Good Food Oxford dodged the rain and visited the highly principled FAI Farms in Wytham
. FAI is a commercial farm conducting research and consultancy in sustainable agriculture, working on innovations in farming within a framework of three benefits – ethical, environmental and economic. It often works with commercial partners on a large scale, tackling ethical and environmental problems in the global food supply chain, with a resulting economic benefit to the farmer. So for example, they are currently studying the effects of forage-based rations on the growth and development of piglets – the piglets are floor-fed a grass-based diet, which encourages their natural foraging tendencies, leading to low levels of stress and tail biting amongst the piglets.The feed is produced locally, which is cheaper, and aims to eliminate soya from their ration, with environmental and ethical gains. It's a win-win-win.
How does that translate to little old Oxford? Well, FAI is certain that the global and the local are intrinsically linked, and are interested in focusing down on real benefit at a local level. FAI hosts the Farm Inspiration Trust (FIT), whose programme FarmAbility provides work experience and training for adults with autism and learning disabilities within the farm’s egg business. Farm Ability’s co-farmers help to look after the animals and sort and grade the eggs, which make their way onto Cultivate's VegVan and into North Aston Organics' veg boxes. It was great to meet co-farmers on our visit, and find out about the work experience they were doing.
FAI’s newest experiment is with ducks and carp – they live on the same (huge) pond, with the pond’s ecosystem supporting both the ducks and the carp, which means that both need less feed. It's still in the early stages – at first, there were some carp losses to the local cormorant population! Now the ponds have wires across the tops to stop the cormorants from being able to dive into the water.
But where does online shopping come into this? Well, FAI Farms wants to find a market for their ducks – which are of course free range and benefit from the most natural life I've ever seen – but at this stage they can't approach a mainstream retailer, as they are in a developmental stage and can't guarantee a regular supply.
Enter Cultivate! Their online platform is the perfect mechanism for FAI to trial their new product, and for you (lucky you!) to get your hands on it. That's the beauty of Cultivate's online shop. We have fantastic farmers innovating like crazy across Oxfordshire, and (once it's all super safe to eat of course) they need a quick and simple first route on to your table. And you want delicious, seasonal, interesting food you can trust. Especially if it comes with a story about carp!
I can't see a better way for farmers to get their products to you first, and regularly. Farmers' markets are great – I help to run one – but a lot of farmers can't afford the time to take a Saturday out of their schedule to sell. And FAI Farms don't sell direct – aside from turning up at their door, I don't think you'll get one of their ducks any other way.
So here's to the huge value of Cultivate Online! I personally believe they have a little way to go to make it as user-friendly as possible – it takes effort to remember to shop online between Monday to Wednesday, and logging on to start adding to my basket is less convenient than I'd like.
But that's what it's like to be part of something significant – it takes a while to make it work. Cultivate are committed to improving their user experience as part of the business development work they have just succeeded in crowdfunding for! So here’s to ducks, carp and new routes to market for local farmers.
You can now buy the ducks from Cultivate’s online shop! https://shop.cultivateoxford.org/
open Mondays to Wednesdays.