Sustainability Spotlight

Sustainability Spotlight | October: Shillingford Organics

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Shillingford Organics
Posted on
25 Sep 2023

This October we’re turning our Sustainability Spotlight on Shillingford Organics. They grow organic vegetables and deliver veg boxes to the local community in Exeter and the surrounding area.

We asked owner Martyn, to tell us about the business and his efforts to make it more sustainable.

About Shillingford Organics

I used to be a conventional arable farmer on the family farm and started converting to organic in 1998 and growing vegetables in 2000. I was fortunate to link up with a very experienced local grower, Tim Deane, who already had a veg box scheme nearby and was a great mentor.

The box scheme expanded, supplying the Exeter area through the noughties and we couldn’t produce enough. That is until the recession hit in 2008. At that point we realised we had to find other outlets for our produce and started attending the weekly Exeter Farmers’ Market and supplying other box schemes and shops in South Devon.

We now also have a stall at Topsham market every Saturday and the monthly at Teignmouth market. Today we are a team of 10 all passionate about our work.

What have you done to make your business more sustainable?

Growing good vegetables and salads is our focus, with detailed rotations.  We are lucky to have fantastic red soils with south facing slopes,  so we can produce a wide range of vegetables for 11 months of the year.  Polytunnels help us through the ‘hungry gap’ and also allow us to grow tomatoes, aubergines, cucumbers, etc through the summer and salads in the winter.

We are rigorous in having crops growing in the soil, whether productive crops or green ‘cover’, fertility building crops.  Thus, plants are always fixing carbon through photosynthesis and feeding the soil organisms.  Since 1998 our levels of organic matter in the soil have risen from 2% to 7% .

We have a well-established pest / predator balance with hedges, wide field margins, beetle banks, wild-flower areas and an extensive agroforestry network with over 350 top fruit trees.  This combined with such a diverse range of crops, where there are always flowers for insects, usually ‘weed’ flowers!! This balance and diversity are essential  in our organic system and along with healthy soils is key to producing healthy crops.

We also have 300 layers. We grow some soft fruit and berries and our colleague Rose of Red Earth Ferments, makes Sauer Kraut and Kimchi on the farm using surplus vegetables.

We harvest our crops and take them direct to the farmers markets, avoiding most packaging and refrigeration.  Our customers are fantastic as they all bring their own bags.

The veg boxes we deliver direct by van to people within a 10-mile radius of the farm.

Thus, avoiding most of the ridiculous transport that moves bulky vegetables around the country as well as across Europe!!

What would you like to change in the future to improve your sustainability credentials further?

We need more PV panels and battery storage to optimise the electricity system, so our cold stores and delivery vans are running on solar energy.

Less cultivation is our aim but challenging when producing vegetables at an affordable cost.

We are experimenting with Bi cropping and intercropping as part of an ‘Innovative Farmers’ research project.

We plan to have a programme of events on the farm, themed around growing with nature and seasonal eating.

To be truly resilient and sustainable we need more staff living on the farm.  And an undercover  Exeter Farmers Market location, which would also encourage lots of other producers.  These are things we would like to work with local councils to achieve.

If I could change one thing in the world it would be school meals:
to a healthy, tasty, planet friendly diet.

What tips do you have for other businesses that would like to become more sustainable?

Keep doing what you are doing.  The future will be more seasonality, sustainability and  local produce, if we are to miraculously survive the climate crisis.   Collaborate to create more outlets for our produce, including public procurement.

Good food and drink is healthy and also very tasty!

Find out more on the Shillingford Organics website here


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