At the Natural Store we are particularly proud of our suppliers. They are part of who we are.
I travelled to Cusgarne Organic Farm to talk to one of our longest standing suppliers for the Falmouth store of fruit and veg.
I arrive in a small courtyard with polytunnels to my right and the farm shop on my left. Curiosity getting the better of me, I peer inside the polytunnel. It is filled with plants of all shapes, and a well organised irrigation system. Clearly, they use the space well.
I steer my footsteps towards the farm shop. I am due to meet Zennor, Greg and Theresa’s daughter at 1pm, and I have a few minutes to look around. The centre of the shop is taken up with a large display of fruit and veg. Carrots, peppers, apples, onions, potatoes, courgettes; all the regulars, and a few curiosities, are there in abundance. The variety of colour looks great; it doesn’t get much fresher than this.
Against the walls are beautiful glass cabinets displaying all manner of things, from eco cleaning products to the latest raw maca powder and chia seed bars. There are also coolers for meat and chilled produce. I’m impressed. For its size, it offers a lot.
My curiosity alive, I meet Zennor to find out more.
NS: Thanks for meeting me. Can you just say a bit about who you are?
Zennor: I’m Zennor, Greg and Theresa’s eldest daughter, the 7th generation on the farm.
NS: Seven generations on the farm?
Zennor: Yes, it’s been in the family since the early 1800’s.
NS: How many of you in the family now?
Zennor: There are 5 of us now, Greg, Theresa and three daughters. I joined the farm properly about 5 months ago. Before that I was a sailor 10 years.
NS: Is that why you have written family run farm on your website?
Zennor: Yes, family is at the heart of what we do. Good food for families.
NS: Have you always been an organic farm?
Zennor: No. Greg and Theresa decided to go organic around 28 years ago, around the time I was born. Dad took over the farm when he was in his early 20’s, but he was never very happy as a conventional farmer. Even back then he tried to use non-chemical fertilizers, that sort of thing. Mum had been travelling around the world as a nurse and when she came back, she gave Dad the confidence he needed to go organic. In those days it was quite a brave thing to do. Everyone thought he was nuts.
NS: What does it mean to be an organic farm?
Zennor: It means a number of things, the most important being we don’t use any chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or GM ingredients. In the news recently there has been a lot of talk about neonicotinoids, and the effect they have on bees. That is exactly the kind of thing we avoid.
We have an inspector come from Demeter in order to be certified organic.
After Greg switched, the farm went into a period of conversion for a number of years. Growing conventionally, if you have a problem with bugs you just spray them. What isn’t so great is that those chemicals go into the soil, the rivers and of course our bodies. There is a lot of knowledge that goes with organic farming. For example, instead of just spraying pests with chemicals, we go and find their natural predators. We also treat our animals differently. It’s about working with nature, not against it.
NS: You must need a large workforce?
Zennor: Yes that’s true. The farm has been incredibly busy over the last year with projects like putting up a new tractor shed, installing a biomass boiler and rebuilding a cob barn, all these alongside the maintenance of the farm. Projects sometimes take longer because we try and do things as sustainably as possible. To give you an example, for the barn conversion at the bottom of the farm we used all eco products for the insulation and did our own research on lime plastering. It’s always interesting but it can take longer.
We have a few full time staff but we also rely on volunteers. They are a really key part of the farm. We have links with agricultural colleges in France and Germany and a lot of people come through wwoof.
NS: You mentioned you treat your animals differently, what does that involve?
Zennor: We source non-gm feed for starters, that is surprisingly hard to get hold of. The chickens are allowed to roam freely, and when they pass their optimum laying age, we don’t just dispatch them, we keep them because they help us too.
And with the cattle, it’s a very low intensity lifestyle. They are grass fed and have plenty of space to roam. In the winter we house them in a big shed, not in individual pens. They might fatten up slower, but we make sure they are eating things that they are meant to eat.
It’s not just the animals though. We try and keep the land as best we can. We make big boarder strips around the fields and leave all the borage out for the bees we keep. The hedgerows are always full of life.
NS: What do you grow on the farm?
Zennor: A little bit of a lot really. At the moment we have a lot of berries in the fruit cages and other than that it is horticultural. We also make our own honey and preserves. We have an orchard and press our own apple juice.
One of the challenges of running a veg box scheme is keeping the boxes interesting. But that is Greg’s passion, trying out new things. I don’t know many other farms our size that have such a large variety.
NS: How long have you been running the veg box scheme?
Zennor: It started 20 odd years ago, with Mum and Greg driving around Cornwall in our old van, with the daughters in the back. It’s grown considerably since then and we now have over 6 options ranging from a single person or couple to a whole family. One of the boxes we started is a juicing box because I like to keep up with what’s going on in the health food world.
After the interview, Zennor takes me on a short tour of the farm. I’m curious about what looks like an abandoned lorry trailer in one of the fields. I find out it houses the chickens. It has been reclaimed from a depo in Cornwall. Yet another effort to reuse and recycle.
At the bottom of the farm she shows me the renovated barn and points out the lime plastering.
Wherever I go I see signs of taking care. It seems that in all areas the farm uses the long term approach, with regards to the land, the animals and the plants. As Zennor told me, family is at the heart of what they do, and keeping the farm in the best possible shape for the next generation is their toil and their passion.
For more information visit:
N: 01872 865922
A: Cusgarne Organic Farm, Cusgarne, Truro, Cornwall, TR4 8RL