Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Interview vith Robin, an organic blueberry farmer in the UK!

I stayed with Robin and Wei-Wei on North Harton farm for two weeks this summer for my first WWOOFing experience. It was two great weeks with hard work, a fantastic communal feeling and with truly picturesque surroundings. Growing organic blueberries is not an easy task, and I thought I’d let Robin tell you his own story about being a small scale farmer in the British countryside.
Wei-Wei and Robin
My parents owned North Harton farm. As a child we had 3 farms on and around Dartmoor. My grandfather had a farm close to Haytor. When my mother died she gave the farm to the National Trust. I was able to buy some of the farm back and decided to live here 5 years ago. I am rather reclusive and do not promote publicity or advertise our blueberries.
A blueberry field in the sunset.
There is no clear reason why I chose to grow blueberries; perhaps it was some divine inspiration, who knows - but I guess the blueberries are organic because I could not afford to be anything but organic what with the expensive tractors, trailers and fertilisers that non organic farmers have. Now we are fully certified organic with the soil association who are a great organisation and we sell to ethical and family distributors like Riverford Organics. I like to think that as blueberries are a super-fruit and very good for your health it makes sense to eat them in their purest form. I can testify that they are good for your memory and make you young because Wei-Wei my dear lady says I only look 40 and I always remember her birthday!  And as for Wei-Wei she only looks 30!
To have an organic blueberry farm you need to be able to work throughout all the seasons, and you need to work hard. There is no escaping; if you can't get yourself up early in the morning then you had better find a normal nine to five job. And working on a farm means working in the rain, snow and freezing cold. The only holiday I have is walking to the top of the farm to see my Dartmoor ponies. On average I work about 18 hours a day seven days a week and sometimes longer. So you could ask "Why do you do it?" The answer is that when you have a passion for something you just do it no matter what. That's what makes Dartmoor blueberries the best blueberries in the world. Royalty, film stars and Jo Blogs down the road all seem to like genuine British organic blueberries. We have 17 different varieties that fruit from July to the end of October, so each punnet will have different tasting berries. We are in the business of making people happy, and we are always happy when we hear people who buy our blueberries say "Wow!"
Of course being organic is not for your average farmer - all our plants, 25,000 of them, would stretch 20 kilometers if laid out in one long row and they have to be weeded by hand; pruned by hand, in fact everything is by hand including the picking and labeling. We are grateful to all the wonderful people who come from all over the world to help us produce the best blueberries in the world. The WWOOF organisation has also played an important part and Wei-Wei and I are always delighted to meet new young people with so much enthusiasm even though many have had no farming experience - they simply love staying on an ethically minded farm with other likeminded souls. It is certainly a great life on the farm, and if you like the fresh clean air of beautiful Dartmoor then why not visit us!
The farm is situated in the Dartmoor National Park - quite lovely!
Where can you buy Dartmoor blueberries? Well if I could I would give them away. I am an anti-capitalist so I try and sell them to the nicest people I  know! We stay well clear of supermarkets which are the main reason for the demise of town high streets. Supermarkets in being economically efficient are tight fisted toward the farmers that supply them.
So you can buy Dartmoor blueberries from Riverford Organics. They do a vegetable and fruit box scheme that you can order to your door, and in the summer the chances are they may well be selling our blueberries! They are an ethical company like ours so if you care about the planet, the universe and where we are heading then why not buy from your friends rather than bad guys?
Wei-Wei my dear lovely lady makes some great recipes with blueberries including apple and blueberry pie, blueberry juice, blueberry muffins, blueberry jam, pavlova with blueberries... the list is endless!
Thank you Robin for sharing! If you missed out, I did an interview with a cranberry farmer in Washington earlier this summer, check it out here!

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