Hidden in the depths of St Werburghs is a rather magical small farm. Head up past Boiling Wells, and you’ll soon spy a polytunnel on your left, a pond bursting with life and a row of farm buildings. This is Purple Patch.
Purple Patch is part of Watercress Farm, “Which has been here for donkey’s years!” Mary explains as she pulls up a couple of chairs for us to sit on. Four years ago, she started growing veg on the site under the name of Purple Patch. “Then we started getting involved with the animals too,” she explains, telling me about the pigs, cows, and the chickens whose constant clucking accompanies our conversation. “It’s a little paradise,” she points out, smiling. The whole site is around four acres, but she’s currently cultivating around 1/3 of an acre for her vegetables. She has use of half a field across the other side of the footpath, and a large polytunnel bursting with produce.
“I’ve always had an interest in plants and a love of gardening,” she tells me as we sit down next to the pond. “Originally I was going to set up a plant nursery, but it seemed crazy not to grow vegetables too because I also love doing that.” She pauses for a moment, looking around at the site, vibrant with the bounty of summer. “And then that kind of took over!” she explains, “It seemed like people were more interested in buying vegetables than plants so I just went with it.”
“Farming is loads of fun,” she tells me, smiling. “I feel like the luckiest person in Bristol… but growing vegetables is really hard work,” she continues. “When you spend the whole day planting out beetroot and the next day it’s all gone, it’s really demoralising. It’s a massive battle; nature has got it in for us,” she points out, laughing. “Sometimes it just feels like the odds are really stacked against us. But then it’s amazing when you actually succeed in growing a crop!”
As she takes me on a tour of the farm, passing by the beds of potatoes, garlic and kale in the field, Mary tells me how each week two women come and work for a day on the farm, (“It’s girl power!” she jokes), and they’re just starting a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme for the first time this year. Previously Mary has sold her produce through the Food Assembly in Easton, but now feels like it’s time to switch to direct sales from the farm. “We’re just starting small; people are committing to supporting the farm for a period of time in exchange for vegetables.” They’re busy building a stand where people can pick up their pre-ordered food, but they’ll also have a little shop with an honesty box so they can sell eggs and any additional produce. “We sell to a number of local restaurants too,” Mary points out, explaining that’s where a majority of their salad ends up. She shows me the polytunnel, packed with the aforementioned salad leaves, beans and a beautiful grape vine that winds its way across above my head.
The tour continues, passing by to see the Gloucester Old Spot pigs, and stopping at the chicken coop to see the new chicks who have just hatched, peaking out from under their protective mother. So what’s next for Purple Patch? “At the moment we’re at capacity on our CSA, but in the future I’d like to increase that,” Mary says. “I’d like to start selling some meat too,” she continues. “It’d be great to set up a meat club, and maybe just provide more of a rounded food supply,” she explains, before going on to talk about her dream of having monthly events at the farm too, running farm-to-table style meals.
I leave Mary to her afternoons work and amble back through the farm, stopping to look at the nursery where her seedlings are shooting up, reflecting that food doesn’t get much more local than this.
More info: https://www.facebook.com/purplepatchbristol/