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Home composting – the breakdown!

Here at the farm, we are BIG fans of compost!

We save all our food scraps and tip them into our garden compost heap.

There are lots of ways to bring compost into your life, even if you’re not feeding an army of vegetable fiends twice a day…

Good compost is made from a mix of ingredients – the wider the diversity, the better the compost. You can’t just put veg scraps in a place and expect compost. This makes the ‘not good’ bacteria and not the ‘good’ bacteria.

For a compost pile to work its magic, it needs a balance of carbon-rich ingredients and nitrogen-rich ingredients. Carbon-rich material is normally old and woody whereas nitrogen-rich material comes from fresh, new growth and softer plant matter. 

As plants develop, the nitrogen from the new growth travels down the plant into the roots. That’s why it’s good to leave the roots in the ground! This way, the nitrogen returns to the soil and the soil food web is undisturbed.

We add carbon into our mix by using… Hemp! 

Hemp straw bales are perfect and we also use it as mulch on top of the beds as this adds organic matter to the soil.

Last year, Tom and Alfie had the wonderful idea of building an outdoor shower using a hot compost technique to heat the water. Hardwick Estate is a working woodland, so there’s a lot of wood chip going to waste from the tree surgeons around the farm.

We created an account with Arbtalk and now we get deliveries of fresh wood chip once a month or so! We pile this on top of the piping and it heats the water to a whopping 50 degrees.

With the smell of pine in the morning and a fresh breeze to dry off, the shower is a real composty treat!

There are two main methods of composting. Here’s how to compost in your garden:

1. Short term

Also known as the “Berkeley method” or the “18-day compost”

Normally the compost pile will need more than 18 days as this is accurate if all the material is perfectly chopped up and prepared. That’s not really our composting vibe! The pile needs to reach 55/60 degrees in order to kill off any pathogens (such as powdery mildew), and to properly decompose any weed seeds or roots (like nettles or rhizomes) to avoid spreading them around your garden. 

We don’t always get around to turning our piles quite as often as is necessary for this method, so our compost can take a little longer to finish brewing! Some people are very accurate in getting the right balance of fresh green nitrogen rich materials to old dry woody carbon materials. We’re learning as we go along to get the balance right.

2. Long term

With this method, there’s a lot less to worry about. Moisture isn’t as big a deal because the pile is out in the open. The balance is more forgiving but you still need to make sure there’s lots of carbon in the mix. 

This 6-12 month cold composting technique will not destroy the pathogens, weed seeds or roots. The heat comes from the activity of thermophilic bacteria which will happily do its composting thing as long as they have the right environment. 

How to make your own hot compost:

Make a pile of about 1 cubic meter. We use 1 tonne bags but you can use a wooden bay or pig wire. The balance of carbon to nitrogen needs to be just right. In total, it should be 25-30:1 of carbon:nitrogen. 

Old, woody materials have a higher carbon concentration.

For example, wood chips and cardboard are around 350-400:1 and will take a long time to decompose on their own.

That’s why wood chips are perfect for the compost shower!

Grass cuttings are around 20:1, cow manure is 16:1 and urine is 1:1 which is why it’s good to wee on your compost! 

For the pile to work, it needs to have plenty of air flow to stay aerobic. To do this, you need to turn the pile regularly. For the 18 day compost method, you should leave it for 4 days then turn every other day until it’s ready.

How do you know when it’s ready?

When you have worms!

These little fellas are a great indicator that the pile has cooled down enough as they don’t like the high temperatures. The mixture should also be dark brown in colour and smell like a woodland floor. 

Be careful if you’re using ingredients that are lumpy or sloppy (like cow manure) as this will inhibit the airflow in your pile.

You want to have all the ingredients chopped up small – but not too small! If you’re getting closer to sawdust size, it can also become sloppy and make your pile anaerobic. 

Once the material is nicely broken down and soft, the compost goes back onto our veggie patches in the polytunnel to help the new vegetables grow. What a satisfying cycle!

Composting is an amazing way to use food and garden waste, as well as feeding the soil food web and the microbial life. In healthy soils, more water is retained and the microbiome is more diverse. This reduces desertification and keeps the soil where it should be – on the ground!

Do you have any hot composting tips? Let us know!

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Another year, another licence

As many of you may remember, in July 2019 the licence here at Path Hill Farm to grow hemp was revoked by the Home Office, leading to the destruction of a crop worth £200k. We were faced with a decision: to grow or not to grow?

Since then, we have continued partnering with farmers across the UK to support hemp growers while we decided what would be the most effective solution to the issues we were facing.

As of last week, we have officially submitted our new application to grow hemp in our fields! It’s a very exciting moment in Hempen’s journey but we’re not celebrating just yet…

Why apply now?

Applications for licences are accepted from the beginning of January until the end of February. An answer does not have to be returned by the Home Office until the end of April, posing a significant problem to farmers planning their rotations for the year. 

In times of crisis, it is understandable to feel fear, judgement and anger. When faced with the most serious challenge to our business since we began, we chose to focus on solutions and worked to fulfil our mission to provide hemp solutions for the health of people, community and planet. 

Although our capacity to bring hemp products to our customers was threatened by the licence reversal, we believe in the power of community and collaboration to build resilience. Our belief may have been tested, but the results were clear: we’re so much better when we work together.

What’s been happening since the licence was revoked?

We connected with farmers across the UK who had an interest in growing hemp, supported them with their own licence applications and shared our industry knowledge and farming expertise to help them produce the best environmental impact and yields possible for their land and resources.

Our commitment to buy hemp seed and stalk harvests from them provided the stability of a return on investment, and we intend to develop new and existing partnerships regardless of the outcome of our current application.

More hemp was grown in the UK in the past year because we supported other farmers to grow it. That means more carbon was removed from the atmosphere, more nutrients returned to the soil and more ecological alternatives to outdated products were available for the health of our consumers. 

How have the processes at Hempen been affected?

To comply with UK law, we have been importing CBD from Europe, despite the significant financial and environmental costs involved compared with harvesting from the UK if that were possible. 

We have been diversifying our seed and fibre product range so that you – our incredible support network of volunteers and customers – continue to have access to UK-grown organic hemp products at a fair price.

With more seed and fibre products, we are less reliant on CBD, but to do this requires further investment. We are seeking additional finance to bring more of our processing in-house, to reduce our carbon footprint and create a production loop that is as local as possible.

Many hurdles remain for the UK and European hemp industry. All around the world, legislators are waking up to the potential of this booming industry. Hemp offers solutions to so many problems including the ecological crisis, job scarcity, food sovereignty and soil health. 

We are hopeful that our application to grow this most wonderful of plants will be accepted in time for us to plant this year’s crop. Our community continues to grow with more producers and industry partners each year. Show us your support for us by telling us why you think we deserve to be able to grow hemp here on the comments or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

When life gives us lemons, we make lemonade…

When life gives us hemp, we make Hempen!

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How can hemp seed oil help my health?

UK-grown organic cold-pressed hemp seed oil, oh how we’ve missed you!

So luxurious, with your emerald tones, nutty flavour, and heaps of nutritional goodness.

Omega oils galore! We hear your brains and muscles crying out with joy.

Just in the nick of time to start training for that marathon…

Where’s it been hiding?

Hemp is a relatively new crop in modern agriculture, even though it was one of the first crops cultivated by humans.

Somewhere along the way, we went from seeing the ease and versatility of this plant to losing sight of all the benefits it offers to the soil as well as the people.

Now we’re on a mission to bring it back! The health benefits of this wonderful seed just keep on coming. With a perfect balance of omega fatty acids, plus phytonutrients and vitamins, this oil is a must for anyone focusing on their nutritional health.

We are currently applying for a new licence to grow hemp on our farm*. Over the past year, we’ve been partnering with other farms across the UK to help them grow hemp all over the country.

We believe that cooperation and collaboration builds resilience. By supporting each other, we can build an ethical industry from the ground up!

Our organic cold-pressed oil is a deliciously simple way to consume hemp seeds.

Drizzle some over your warm meals, mix into a sauce for salads, or keep it pure as a tasty and vibrant dipping oil. What a treat to have in the kitchen!

Very few plants are as climate friendly as hemp. It’s a fantastic rotation crop, regenerating soils and trapping carbon from the atmosphere.

Hemp removes impurities from the soil, so it’s really important to buy organic. That way you know you’re getting all the benefits with none of the toxins!

We bring all our freshly harvested seeds back to the farm to be processed into products for you lovely folk.

How should I use it?

Hemp seed oil is affected by high temperatures so it’s best to avoid frying with it or overheating it. 

Did you know you can also apply this 100% pure hemp seed oil directly to your skin, hair and beard?

Our Hemp Seed Moisturising Oils have added fragrances (as well as one with CBD extract!).

You could even get creative and mix your favourite essential oils for a personalised scent.

All in all, this wonder oil is tasty, versatile and packed full of nutrients.

With a spoonful of hemp seed oil, you won’t need to help the medicine go down!

 

 

*Our licence was revoked in 2019 and we had to destroy our crop worth £200k:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-49082533

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Why Farming Matters

farming is public service

Last Wednesday, the UK Agriculture Bill was debated in parliament and despite an impressive campaign forged by the Landworkers’ Alliance and more than 5000 letters sent in support of amendments seeking to recognise farming as a public service and incentivise UK farming that is ecologically and socially sustainable, the amendments to the Bill were defeated.
 
It is entirely possible to produce all the food we need in ways that benefit people, community and planet. Big farms are not the solution.
 
COVID-19 is rattling communities and economies alike, and is exposing the fragility of the food systems that we all rely on. We urgently need to change the ways that we produce and consume and recognise the foundational role that farming plays in the wellbeing of us all. 
 
@rosannaprints

The words of Soul Fire Farm, located upstate New York, resonate:

This outbreak reveals the interconnectedness of our world in a very personal way. It is showing, conclusively, that the health and well being of one is intimately bound to the health and well being of all. We must take action to protect the most vulnerable who will be hit hardest: those whose health is already compromised, those who are denied access to medical care, those who bear great risk in asking for help and those on the frontlines of poverty and pollution.

We stand with the immigrants who are demonized, and the people in prison who are denied the tools to protect their health. We stand with our elders and neighbors with compromised immune systems. We stand with the workers in healthcare and service industries, who are at the front line of financial and health risks. We stand with the farmers and landworkers whose livelihood is at stake.

Here, Now.

Waiting to be served at the counter of a local corner shop the other morning, I glanced down at the shelf stacked with tempting snacks – crisps with familiar flavours, and weird ones, jelly snakes and sweets shaped like emojis, classic kit-kats and chunky ones with peanut butter in them, it was all there, arranged invitingly. Amid the spread of cheerful colours and fonts I spotted a label which read:

 

“Sorry! No brazils.” 

 

On an “Eat Natural” cereal bar, an innocuous looking information bubble explained that failed harvests have led to a worldwide shortage of brazil nuts. My mind whirred. Stumbling across yet another disconcerting example of the impact environmental changes was no surprise to me. What felt so stark was the way this reality had crept into a routine activity. Marketing companies expertly avert our attention from the convoluted and unfair supply chains of land and labour; and the impact climatic fluctuations have on essential supplies. This label felt as though the marketing mask had slipped. The label was a glimpse into a situation that doesn’t look as ordered and dependable as a typical wrapper might have you believe. It is so easy to browse the vast range of food on the shelves of brightly lit supermarkets and not give a thought to the people or environmental conditions that brought it there. 

 

Though it is the backbone to all our lives, the tireless effort of farmers is rarely acknowledged and given the respect it deserves. Nor is the land and it’s complex ecology and interactions from which our food, and many other essentials, are derived. It is labels like the one at the cornershop that morning that, for me, jolted our collective complacency into a new perspective. When we take our food, and all else that we derive from the land for granted, we do so at our peril. Even more so when we overlook the labour involved. The work that farmers do to meet our needs has far reaching implications. Both globally and at a UK level, many farming practices are not good for the land, for farmer wellbeing and security, for rural communities or for us as consumers, and the systems are not set up to incentivise practices that are. 

 

The brazil nut shortage is a reminder that farming practice impacts the quality of what is grown, the soil, the ecology and the climate – as one article put it, the shortage is “a canary in the mine of climate change. There is an urgent need for widespread change which honours the vital role that farming and farmers play in the survival of us all. 

Sorry! no brazils

Big problems need big solutions

The challenges we face are global, but can we do anything on a local or national level? And how can this slot into a global picture?

In recent decades, farming has become increasingly industrialised. Small farms are being swallowed by larger ones – in the UK, 30,000 small farms have closed in 10 years, and along with them, knowledge, skills and rural culture have been lost. Supply chains and local markets are being swept out of the way with big business taking their place – 95% of food retail is controlled by supermarkets

The diverse and dynamic form that farming can take is being hampered and shut out by the government and DEFRA’s market-based approach, which rewards intensive and industrial scale farms. Power is being removed from the hands of small-scale producers and communities with it. 

Furthermore, currently less than 1% of the population owns over half of all agricultural land. Land is opportunity: opportunity to grow food, opportunity to produce energy, opportunity to build homes, opportunity to access to nature. With land in the hands of a wealthy few, only a tiny minority of people get to decide how land is used and farmed, and who benefits. Access to land needs to be fair, it needs to be a resource for the many, not a vehicle to entrench power and privilege. 

The hurdles and obstacles that farmers face have heartbreaking consequences. In the UK, one farmer a week takes their life. Farm work conditions are not easy; work is often hard and repetitive and farmers work in environments that they have very limited control over (increasingly so in a changing climate). To top it all off, farm work is undervalued in society: farmers are key workers too, where are their claps? Farmers are forced between a rock and a hard place. Either they have to opt for corner cutting; or industrial scale production which threatens the health of land and compromises the quality of what is produced; or take on large financial and personal risk if they choose to opt for a smaller scale, ecologically gentler approach to production. 

Time for change

As it stands, it is not easy for farmers and rural communities to challenge the state of affairs that prioritises the interests of corporations and international free trade agreements. We, as land workers, need to  reclaim the farming system so that policy and practice accounts for the needs of all of us – anyone who grows, prepares, distributes or eats food is represented and has contributed to the answers. We need distant policy makers to recognise that we operate in the finite limits of the earth, and as such, we need policies that promote a system of using land within its means.


Could a return to farming through a patchwork of smaller holdings offer a way out of the multitude of challenges we face? Research suggests it could. A recent report points towards the ways in which small farms promote diversity and innovation in the farming sector, offering meaningful, skilled work and the opportunity for training; as well as reducing supply chains to allow for a more responsive way of working that connects farmers to consumers –  good news for rural economies and communities.

Developed by the LWA, Global Justice Now, the Ecological Land Co-op, The Centre for Agroecology and the Permaculture Association.

This involves incentivising and rewarding work that promotes on-farm biodiversity, practices which promote healthy and well structured soil, and practices which look after the people who work on the land and in connected work. In her book, Farming While Black, Leah Penniman centres the oppressive impacts of policies and structures. She centres the disproportionate affect these have on people of colour, impeding access to land and good food.  When we take a socially and racially just approach to these issues, the strategy for how to challenge oppressive policies and structures will be enriched.

Where does hemp fit?

Though the problems we face are vast, complicated and difficult to untangle, local scale farming practices and innovation offer us exciting possibilities to address these challenges. At Hempen we’re excited about hemp for its manifold possibilities; from social to economic to ecological. Recognised worldwide for thousands of years for its versatility in providing societal and economic benefits to people and community, hemp offers a promising stepping stone on the path out of the entrenched extractive practices of modern industry, towards regenerative ones. Hemp can provide us with much needed resources while also giving back to the land. 

Hemp is easy to grow organically because the dense canopy it forms eradicates weeds and is naturally resistant to insect pests. Its strong root networks can restore soil health by preventing erosion and promoting bioremediation. At Hempen we have used hemp in our crop rotation, replenishing land which is used by us or other tenant farmers. Bees love hemp flowers for their pollen which they use in nest building and feeding their young.  Small birds and mammals such as ground larks and deer, enjoy the shelter the plants provide. 

Hemp is also effective at sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere, for every ton of hemp grown, it is estimated that 1.63 tons of carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere – an indispensable tool in combating the climate crisis.

From the perspective of rural livelihoods, hemp is also powerful. It is said to have more than 25,000 uses, including as building materials, plastics, energy, and for health and nutrition. At Hempen, we are harnessing the plant to promote economic and social opportunity in our community. The small-scale production and processing methods that we use for our products provide reliable communal work in our community and form part of a varied and meaningful week. 

There are considerable and unjust barriers preventing the expansion of hemp farming in small scale farms in the UK. Hemp licencing is outdated, based on legislation created in the 1960s. Hempen is working with other farmers and activists to educate and lobby decision makers within the Home Office  to challenge current legislation and push for reform.

Stepping Stones

Just as growing hemp can be a stepping stone in the route towards a farming industry that is more in harmony with the wellbeing of people and planet, so is small-scale, agroecological farming. In the UK, the Land Workers Alliance (LWA) is working to assess and reform the way that farming is legislated, to include the voices of… Land Workers! In their post-Brexit policy recommendations, LWA are focusing on making sure that small-scale farmers have a ‘seat at the table’. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) does not reward small-scale farming, there is a democratic deficit in how farming is legislated, meaning the government is failing to ensure that producers and consumers can meet their needs. Reforms can revive family, community and co-operative based farming for high quality and healthy produce, while “enhancing the environment, strengthening communities and supporting good livelihoods for farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk”. Farming should be recognised and valued for what it is. Just as as healthcare workers look after us in times of need, and educators support us to learn, farms nourish us,  and farming is a public service. 

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Growing hemp at Hempen in 2020

And now, in other non-virus-related news…

Hemp farmer in a field of hemp

You may have seen our news from July 2019 about losing our ability to grow hemp. Since then, lots of you have been keen for an update, asking us whether we’ve got our licence to grow hemp back. Well, it’s been rather a long and complex process of legal advice, back and forth with the Home Office, debates and scenario planning to get us to the point where we can give you a proper update. So sorry about that.

And unfortunately, for now, the short answer is no – Hempen are not growing hemp directly this year.

But don’t worry, it’s not as straightforward as that! 

Why aren’t Hempen growing this year?

Before I explain properly, just to clarify a detail. Technically, “Hempen” the organisation can’t hold a licence. Again, not as simple as it sounds – hemp growing licences are held in the name of the tenant farmer on the land or landowner, as growing hemp is a farming practice (we’ll ignore the fact hemp is regulated by the Drugs & Firearms division for the purposes of this point!) – in our case, this was the very brilliant, experienced organic farmer James, then one of Hempen’s directors.

OK, back to the main point.

Rest assured that our long term vision is still very much rooted in the cultivation of hemp. And that’s what we’re still doing on a daily basis. The only change is that there’ll be no plants growing on this farm, this season. 

The main reason is one of the complexities around growing hemp in the UK: in this case, the Home Office’s request for a compliance visit to the farm before deciding whether to issue the licence. Not only is this costly, it is also a challenge for James, who would hold the hemp growing licence. Here’s why:

Most arable cereals (e.g. wheat or barley) are sown in March. Hemp is generally sown in the UK in early May (after last frosts). Usually, organic arable farmers will grow more than one crop in their rotation (part of organic principles and maintaining soil health). In order for the farmer (in our case, James) to decide whether they can sow hemp that year, they need to know if they’ll have a licence to do so by March. Because if not, they will, quite logically, choose to sow another crop, rather than risk having their fields lay bare.

Hempen farmers prepping the hemp seed drilling

The Home Office requested their visit for mid-March. The risk was, that if the application was turned down, James would have missed his chance to sow other crops, leaving empty fields and losing all potential revenue. And no-one wants that, when it’s already such a challenge to be a farmer. So the decision was taken to sow other arable crops instead.

No hemp?! What are you doing instead? Where is all the organic hemp for your products going to come from?

Though it is a little disappointing that we won’t have beautiful acres of hemp flourishing here in our part of south Oxfordshire in 2020, it won’t have any negative impact on our business, and we’ll still be helping acres of hemp grow!

It gives us the chance to focus more on our goal of increasing the amount of organic hemp grown in the UK. Alongside our own harvest, we’ve been collaborating with other organic farmers around the UK since 2016. And while we’re not growing here this season, we will be continuing to collaborate – to help more farmers grow and develop, and also source our seed-to-shelf UK organic hemp, so we can keep up with the rising demand! And our aim is to have hemp blowing in the breeze here at Path Hill again next year.

Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to continue produce locally-grown, organic nutritious foods like hemp to bring food security in difficult times. We’re grateful to keep having that opportunity. Love and peace to all.

We’re always looking for new partners, so if you're keen to grow hemp, do get in touch - email us! And follow us on social media for all sorts of goings on - links below.
#SaveUKCBD saveukcbd.org