Forging ahead

Feb 1, 2024

By Greg Klaes of Forge Farm / Clattercote Wharf

My late wife Kate and I bought 2 hectares along the Oxford Canal where there was a canal loading wharf and several derelict 18th century barns in the early 1980’s. Sarah, our daughter, was three when we moved our narrowboat up to the wharf from a lock-keepers cottage we had restored and prevented from being demolished. Kate and I were both teaching full time so the long holiday breaks gave us time to start working the fields and restoring the buildings.

We planted loads of oak grown from acorns and a decent size orchard with plums, pear, and lots of varieties of apples. I rebuilt a cast iron saw table bought at scrap value and started producing firewood for our wood burners for heating, cooking, hot water, and drying clothes; we needed the wood ashes for the fields & crops. We built some hen arcs and had fresh eggs to add to summer salads in the small hut by the canal for passing boat trade. A bee-keeper found us who had no land so we struck a deal with him over a supply of raw honey and planted a very heavy clover hay mix in the fields during rotation. This has now evolved into a regenerative planting scheme that seems to be much better in terms of soil sustainability and production.

It was the mid- 80’s when we registered the farm with The Organic Food Federation. A slow relationship with organic shops in London then restaurants and then wholesalers brought us into a firm relationship with Natoora. They are one of the largest organic wholesalers in London.

We had decided from the beginning to concentrate on producing culinary pumpkin (we do not grow Halloween pumpkins) and 1st Nation (Native American) types of squash and Hopi sweetcorn. The squash varieties we grow come from seeds that were sourced in the American south-west and the Hopi sweetcorn came from a visit to a reservation in New Mexico. All the original seeds were sourced many years ago and now we simply recycle seeds from one year to the next ourselves.

Most of the sweetcorn goes to either Natoora or Langridge wholesalers. The squash and culinary pumpkin goes to high end gastro-pubs in London and Michelin starred restaurants. Some examples are River Café, Murano, St. John, Rovi, Bouchon Racine, Clove Club, Rochelle, Andrew Edmonds, KOL, Canton Arms, Bar Douro, Carousel, French House, etc.

We continue to gather seeds from the trees we planted and produce small potted examples that I take to festivals like Glastonbury and Wilderness to raise funds for canal maintenance via The Banbury Canal Partnership-North.

Kate passed on a few years ago and Sarah is now a Forest School instructor and uses the farm for some of her courses. The largest stone barn ( originally a threshing barn ) is a warm and comfortable home …..WITH AN AGRICULTURAL TIE. We continue to be committed to growing wholesome food and restoring the lands that sustain us all….

This video was made by WWOOFer Jade Lamy, a musician and singer from France, who stayed at Forge Farm in November last year. Yet again we are awestruck by the creativity and talent amongst the WWOOF UK membership – both WWOOFers and hosts – we think you’ll agree that this is a beautiful video which we hope will inspire people to follow in the footsteps of the intrepid WWOOFer Jade and dedicated and committed steward of the land such as Greg.

We’d like to say a big thank you to Greg for writing this article for us. If you’d like to find out more about WWOOFing at Forge Farm, here’s the link. We’d also like to give thanks to Jade for making this video and to Olivia Thompson at Natoora for the photographs (apart from the first one which is thanks to Forge Farm website.

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