Growing food the natural way

Ali Beckett (left) and Maggie Haynes
Ali Beckett (left) and Maggie Haynes
From left, Jacob Kennard, Gavin Moon, Ian Doyle and Sarah Talboys-Smith with Shanon Rees and Rodney Watson at the front
 at the Southsea Village in Palmerston Road Picture: Habibur Rahman

Children in Need: Pub raises money with 12-hour ping pong game

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It’s almost 10 years since Maggie Haynes spotted a horse pasture off a busy road and dared to dream.

Her vision was to turn the two-acre field into a thriving smallholding to provide organic fruit and vegetables for the local community, as well as help educate young people about the value of home-grown food.

With a background in the army intelligence corps and never having grown a carrot or turnip in her life, it was a tall order.

But she took a leap of faith and spent every penny she had to buy the field.

Fast forward to 2014 and it’s clear the gamble was worth it.

Tuppenny Barn, off Main Road, Southbourne, is a hive of activity, with volunteers working the land, greenhouses, an orchard, and the finishing touches being made to a £300,000 eco-friendly education centre.

Inside the centre is a feast of colourful produce and a steady stream of locals turning up to buy it.

‘I had never grown anything before,’ says Maggie, a mum-of-two who lives in Hambrook, near Emsworth.

‘But I knew, having been in the army, if you have a goal, you just get on with it.

‘It took me three years to find this land but when I found it and approached the owner, the deal was done in 10 minutes.

‘From the beginning, I decided I wanted to do it organically because I’m really keen that kids learn about growing fruit and vegetables without using pesticides and chemicals.’

At the beginning, Maggie worked the land single-handedly and spent a year converting the soil over to organic production, according to Soil Association guidelines.

In January 2006, schoolchildren from nearby Chidham planted 30 fruit trees, which eight years later are overflowing with plums, apples, cherries and pears.

Maggie says: ‘We know exactly what child planted what tree, so it’s a bit of a legacy.

‘What you see today is an orchard with 135 trees with 55 different varieties.

‘We selected heritage varieties – the ones you don’t see in the supermarket – to keep them going.’

One of the trees hails from the windswept island of Bardsey – off the coast of North Wales – and was donated by Maggie’s late father.

‘It’s something special to me now,’ says Maggie.

‘He drove down because he saw an article in the Telegraph about this apple tree called Bardsey Island that was going to become extinct because nobody was growing them.

‘He thought he would go off and get one and that was my Christmas present in 2008.’

The ‘Good Life’ has been also been a tough life for Maggie.

‘There’s absolutely no money in growing,’ admits Maggie.

‘Four years ago we looked at the books and we knew we would never succeed as a business.

‘It’s more like a charity. I had to make a decision four years ago – do I continue or do I sell the land? I could be a very rich lady now.

‘It certainly crossed my mind because I haven’t had a wage since the project started. I survive on my little army pension.’

Yet Maggie’s ambition to try something different overrode any niggling doubts.

Dozens of schools from across the area have since visited Tuppenny Barn and learned about how food gets from the ground to the table.

Nothing goes to waste here. One greenhouse is made of fizzy drink bottles and was put together by Lyndhurst Junior School in North End.

An old summerhouse that was being thrown away from a lady’s garden in Emsworth was rebuilt by volunteers from Southern Co-operative and now serves as a drying shed for sweetcorn and apples.

Hard at work on the day I visit is Rebecca Theed, 43, who swapped her design job to work at Tuppenny Barn seven years ago.

Now the horticultural manager, she explains it’s much more than just a small farm.

‘We are reminding people about the importance of food and how you are getting it,’ she says.

‘People become so detached they think it’s there forever and an infinite resource.

‘It’s not if you look at the bigger picture of how we are going to get our food in future.

‘People have got to start taking responsibility of their food sources.’

‘I absolutely love avocados – but I am adding to a problem.

‘It’s being shipped in from god knows where on some massive container. Is that sustainable? Probably not.

‘Maybe within our lifetime it is, but that’s not us being conscious about future generations.’

But growing your own is nothing new. Before the modern supermarket, onions, potatoes and carrots were being cultivated in gardens up and down the land.

Rebecca explains: ‘My grandparents might have said that’s nothing new, but I think we have got a little bit out of touch in the last 30 years.

‘I think it went out of vogue, post The Good Life series.

‘It hit the 80s and people said “I don’t want to be scrubbing around, getting dirty, I am going to make loads of money in the city”.

‘And why wouldn’t you? Who doesn’t want an easier life?

‘People are now wanting to reskill themselves in basic skills like growing, sewing, baking – it’s brilliant.’

Things are certainly looking up at Tuppenny Barn and it is hoped more and more children from less privileged areas, such as Leigh Park and Somerstown, will be able to visit and learn about organic food production.

The education centre is the cherry on the cake and will allow large groups to visit, whatever the weather.

Maggie says: ‘We hope the centre will become the beacon of sustainability.

‘It’s not about making big changes in people’s lives, it’s about the little steps. We have suffered for many years being the consumer society. It’s trying to get people to not use the earth’s resources and recycling what we have got.’

And locals are clearly loving the flavour of organic food and embracing the ethos.

Harriet Driver, 28, from Emsworth, is pushing around a pram and visiting for the first time.

‘I love buying local and supporting local things,’ she says.

Nick Brown, 66, from Prinsted, is also a convert.

He says: ‘I don’t have to get in the car and I know it’s all local. I use it as my main vegetable supply.

‘There are no food miles in it at all. It was being inspired by this that we bought the bottom of our next door neighbour’s garden and we turned into a vegetable plot.

‘It’s the approach of living healthily and properly. It’s about a way of life.’

A CROWDFUNDING campaign has been launched to complete the education centre at Tuppenny Barn.

Maggie and her team need to raise £25,000, which will buy IT equipment to help children learn more on their school visits, expand the wildlife pond, establish a proper shop and a coffee-making facility.

The centre is a beautifully designed building with some interesting sustainable features.

The foundation is 400 recycled car tyres, straw is stuffed between the walls to insulate the building, and it features the largest cedar shingle roof in the country.

This will act as a rainwater catcher to flush the centre’s toilets.

Like everything at Tuppenny Barn, the centre grew from humble beginnings.

Maggie explains: ‘I had no money for a building.

‘We had to make a decision and Chichester Harbour Conservancy said they would kick off our fund by giving us £5,000.

‘I hadn’t a clue how we were going to raise the money and at that time, the estimate was about £300,000.’

Despite an uphill battle, they managed to raise the cash through fundraising, private donations, and grants from local groups such as Havant Friends of the Earth. The biggest chunk of cash has come from the Roddick Foundation.

Gordon Roddick, who helped to found The Body Shop in Brighton with his wife Anita in 1976, visited the smallholding two years ago and was inspired by what he saw.

The foundation initially donated £30,000 and a further £60,000 was later handed over.

Maggie says: ‘We were very lucky because when he gave the £30,000, we were down to our last £20 in the bank.

‘He said he thought it was a fantastic project and wanted to support us.’

Maggie has another 18 days to raise the cash and £2,500 has been raised so far.

A number of courses and events are being run this autumn, including cookery classes, wildlife talks and wine-tasting.

Next week, a cake competition will see people challenged to bake an organic cake to share with colleagues and family and ask for donations towards the Crowdfunding appeal.

Pictures of cakes can be sent to Tuppenny Barn’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

To make a donation, however small, visit buzzbnk.org/tuppennybarn. For more information on events and getting involved visit tuppennybarn.co.uk.