Sustainable, environmentally friendly and local: Little Marcle Farm Shop, on the outskirts of Ledbury, is where John Davenport farms 26 acres. Started in 1991, the organic farm enterprise has been through several transformations, the latest in response to the recession which led to significant downsizing and a re-evaluation of the business. John now runs the farm on his own together with his dog, Pip. His use of casual labour is restricted to times of peak production.
Initially supplying organic produce to large supermarkets such as Waitrose and M&S, John now focuses on the local market, supplying restaurants and businesses. He runs a vegetable box scheme which he distributes singlehandedly to around 30 customers covering Ross-on-Wye, Gorsely, Upton Bishop, Newent, Ledbury, Colwell Eastnor and Malvern. Diversification has also helped the business remain viable. Whilst the largest farm enterprise is organic field vegetable production, John also has 100 chickens of the Black Rock variety, and 25 Wiltshire easy care sheep. In addition, there are horses, geese & ducks. Oh, and let’s not forget the recently acquired beehive assembled from a flat pack supplied by the National Beehive Centre at Maisemore. The bees will enjoy the red clover which is used as a rotation crop.
Throughout the 35 years, John has adhered to the organic philosophy of growing produce in as friendly a way as possible without chemical input. A model of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, John has done away with his cold store and extended his barn for storage. The farm shop and barn extension have been built using recycled hop poles. John has invested in a sustainable watering system, whereby all the run off from the polytunnels is fed into a large pond at the bottom of the field. A system of pipes then irrigates the 6 x 90-meter plots thus significantly reducing overheads. Always seeking to innovate and improve efficiency, John is a partner in an EU irrigation trial designed to inform watering to individual needs. Management of the orchard is accomplished courtesy of the sheep, removing the need to mow. Corn produced on the farm is used to feed the chickens.
Produce is seasonal, though, in times of shortage, organic vegetables are imported to ensure a continuous supply to his customers. A longstanding practice, Britain has been importing vegetables from abroad since the 1800’s. Currently under polytunnels are rocket, butterhead lettuce, beans, and radishes. Outside, broad beans and onions are making good progress. John produces his own seed potatoes, with the addition of some bought in to ensure the vigour of the crop.
John’s commitment to organic farming and his robust and resilient approach is clearly evident. This together with the support of his family, all of whom have ‘proper’ jobs, has resulted in one of his proudest accomplishments, a 35-year unbroken endorsement from the Soil Association. We left John putting the final touches to his beehive, supervised by Pip. Remarkably affordable, you can buy produce directly from Little Marcle Farm Shop where an honesty box is in operation. Produce can also be bought from the Kempley Produce Market, where John is now a most valued ‘regular.’