Work Experience on the Farm

Goldhill Organic Farm – Child Okeford, Dorset

My time at the farm

Lewis Coombes

Goldhill farm is renowned for its organic vegetables and they have had a successful history in the farming community; from starting out as a dairy farm it has developed into an organic food specialist with the help of Sara and Andrew Cross who run the farm and inspire a positive atmosphere within its 50-60 acre boundaries.

Clearly Sara and Andrew cannot run the whole farm without help and this is why they invite overseas visitors, foreign students and people like me to visit and work on the farm. Students arrive here for many reasons, simply for a new experience or to gain an insight into the farming way of life and broaden their knowledge on the environmental factors surrounding the farm plus the principles of maintaining a sustainable farm. This is why many students that come to the organic farm are either doing agricultural courses at college or university and would like to get a feel of a proper English organic farming experience and they write a report on what they have endured with their time at the farm.

My time at the farm was an influential experience and made me think about the hard work organic farmers go through to provide us with our vegetables on a daily basis. My time at the farm was fairly short but I learned a lot and felt like I had been there for a lifetime, in a good way!

On the farm I was working with two French students Charlotte and Oliver, and one German student Ronya they were very enthusiastic about what they were doing and this had a positive influence on me. The day I arrived I stayed in the house with the family the ‘Cross’s’. They welcomed me into their home and went through what jobs and tasks I would take on in the time I was there. At the house they have many green guidelines they follow and are very environmentally friendly in what they do, for example we had to use our teabags twice and the energy in the house is powered by solar panels to heat their water etc. All the leftover food goes into the compost box so wastage in the house is at a minimum.

When I wasn’t at the house I slept in my shepherd’s hut, they’re a good size and give you a feel of independence knowing that you are on your own. Altogether there are three shepherd’s huts, two are for students and one is owned by a woman named Rebecca who works on the farm and uses her experience to guide the students with their tasks.

My jobs at the farm were widespread and gave me a lot of different skills needed in farming. My first day of working involved planting lettuce and cabbage plants, we did this by sitting on the back of a tractor on a 5-seated plant dispenser which is a lot faster and efficient than hand planting. We planted many vegetables such as celery, leeks, carrots cabbage and lettuce.

On my second day of working we went to the fields about ¼ of a mile away from the farm where they plant a lot of their produce, what we did here was hoeing weeds from the passage ways between the lines of vegetables and this was a physical job but after a while you get the hang of it. Every Thursday they have a weeding party where friends and family help us hoe the weeds which shows you how tight knit the community in the area is.

In an average day at the house we have breakfast at 8ish then go to work for 3 hours. My favourite part of the day is ‘elevenses’, then back to work for another 2 hours, lunch, work for an hour or two then a siesta before dinner around 7. The food is mainly from the farm shop which is situated at the farm and is run by Sara and Andrew, it is all organic produce and we had a lot of vegetables, fruit and other healthy conserves.

My third day at the farm involved firstly me going to give the sheep their water because the weather was fairly hot and humid, also I had to check they all looked healthy and that none had croaked it. Next I went to the domes, where they grow all different types of vegetables, herbs and fruit, for example tomatoes, cucumber, fennel, cabbage, beetroot, melon, parsley, carrots and green beans. On this day I went to the tomato tunnel where I had to tie the tomatoes to the bamboo sticks because they were almost ready to pick and where getting to heavy for the plants. Also I pulled a number of carrots from two beds and put them in crates ready to be packed in the farm shop. Any bad carrots go to the cows which they enjoy. The farm has 16 cows and are very well looked after. While I was staying on the farm a cow escaped through the gate in the early morning and unfortunately I didn’t wake up in time but luckily Rebecca did and guided the cow back into the field before it went onto the road nearby, apparently she was shouting my name but I’m a heavy sleeper so she was not impressed.

On Sunday they always have lunch around ‘Granny Anny’s’ and she makes a very good roast indeed which I remember because it was one of the best meals I had there. Also on Sunday I sowed cabbage and lettuce seeds and stored them in a dome. They take around 4 weeks to grow into plants with the help of the summer temperature. The rest of the day was a long break getting us all ready for the busy day ahead.

On Monday I chose to do some hands on electrical powered work. I used hedge strimmers to cut down the passageways between the domes because they were full of stinging nettles and weeds. Many of the jobs at the farm are tiring and hard work but it keeps you fit and after I had finished my time there I felt my back was a lot stronger and my core had strengthened considerably, and I just felt fitter, along with having healthy organic vegetables every day. So not only did the experience give me a good mental understanding it gave me a physical workout as well.

Tuesday is market day in a town called Caste Cary in Somerset, this is where Goldhill Organics take some of their organic produce to sell. Unfortunately I didn’t have the pleasure of attending the market because Sara went with Charlotte so Andrew needed extra help on the farm and it was a busy day by all means. First we picked the cucumber from the tunnel then picked the rest of the carrots from the two beds and sorted them out into bags, after that we had to go to the field to put a low voltage electric fence up around the newly planted lettuce and cabbage. Sara asked me to drive the Goldhill Farm van to the field which was an experience, we started out in reverse I almost hit into a wall but then I eventually got it going. Then I managed to go the wrong way around the farm which just added to the embarrassment, but I’m glad I gave it a go.

At my time at the farm I was lucky to taste some strange and unusual types of fruit and vegetables, such as a little plant called a pineapple weed or Matricaria Discoidea. It grows in poor, compacted soil either near roadsides or footpaths and tastes like pineapple; that’s where it gets its name but it is actually used medicinally to help relieve sores and fevers. On the last day at the farm Andrew got a call from their wholesaler, they rang ordering 500kg of beetroot which we had to do that day, 50 bags each with 10kg of beetroot. We picked every bed from the main farm and some from the field and eventually finished the task as a team.

I believe my time at the farm was a great experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat. You never bored at the farm, you are always doing something which is a good feeling knowing you’ve worked hard and you can see your progress every day which is always motivating. I’d say to anyone looking for a good team working, knowledgeable, positive experience then Goldhill Organic Farm is the place to be!

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