Sunday, 28 February 2016

2016 Memberships Now Open!

If you've ever thought about joining FoodSmiles, now's the time! We have several new memberships open for the 2016 season, and we're looking to fill them as quickly as possible, as we've got seeds to sow and beds to prepare to get our crops growing for this year's weekly harvests!

We have two open afternoons just for you on Wednesday 9th March and Saturday 12th March, from 2pm until 5pm. Just turn up, and we'll show you round the farm, tell you a bit about what we do, and answer any questions.

Alternatively, you're welcome to email our secretary at foodsmiles.info@gmail.com for more information or to arrange an alternative time to visit - or to enquire about membership if you've been to the farm before.

You can find us at Hammonds End Farm, Hammonds End Lane, off Redbourn Lane, Harpenden, AL5 2AY. When you enter the farmyard, turn left after the barn on the left and find us through the wooden gate. Please drive very slowly in the farmyard area. 


Thursday, 3 September 2015

Polytunnel Progess

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The FoodSmiles team has been building a new polytunnel! When we moved in to Hammonds End Farm, we were fortunate to be offered the use of three polytunnels that were on the space... although one of them had lost its skin, and another had an acacia tree growing through it! With a bit of TLC though, we managed to recover and repair all of them and made really good use of them in our first year, growing tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.
However, at the end of last growing season, on a particularly windy day, 'polytunnel 1' finally gave up and blew away in the wind, so since then, with the help of some fundraising through members, supporters and grants from a County Councillor, we bought a new polytunnel and decided to build a new one ourselves. For the last two months, we've been working really hard to get this built and ready for crops next year.
We first prepared the site for the new polytunnel - it's in a different place to polytunnel 1 - by flattening the ground as best we could. We then needed to dig two rows of eight holes, each hole two feet deep, that were perfectly parallel, evenly spaced and at right angles to one another - a throwback to GCSE Pythagoras!
The next week we constructed the hoops, and fixed them together and strengthened them with a centre rail, storm stays and side rails using a ratchet spanner.
After that was building the doors and door frames for each end of the tunnel, which we did from scratch using timber, screws and nails. We needed to dig more holes at either end of the polytunnel so the doorframes could be sunk into the ground in the right positions.
This bank holiday weekend was the final push; we planned to build the timber side rails (which will help us to harvest rain water), aluminium base rails (to attach the polythene to) and to fix the polythene. We encountered a few challenges though - the pressure treated timber side rails were a bit too much for our cordless drills to cope with, so we couldn't bolt the rail to the frame. We also discovered pieces from the kit were missing! The connectors that fix the base rails to one another were missing so the base rails couldn't be constructed. Also, in typical bank holiday fashion, it was raining so the polythene couldn't go on.
Despite the setbacks we made significant progress by building the timber rails (see the photo) and preparing the aluminium in position, so a huge thank you to everyone involved, who has donated and gave their time and energy to get to this stage! We have also enjoyed many picnics together over the last few months getting to this point where we shared food and had a good laugh about the progress we've been making (or lack of)!
We're very excited by this new build as it means our members will receive even more in their veg boxes next year. We're also pleased to know that 'Polytunnel 1' can be recovered, and our dedicated member Richard has done a fantastic job in getting this ready. This means next year we will go from having two polytunnels to four, significantly increasing our growing capacity.
Next weekend, we're having our second annual Harvest Festival, where we will be celebrating another year of success and growth with all our members and supporters. If you're interested in seeing the polytunnel or anything else on the site, do pop down any time from 12-6pm on the 12th for a picnic, barbecue, music and games. We look forwards to seeing you there!

- Tom Carman

Friday, 21 August 2015

Grow It, Cook It, Eat It!

We're delighted that FoodSmiles will be part of the St Albans and Harpenden Food and Drink Festival this year, with our joint event with the Transition St Albans Home Grown Food Group; Grow It, Cook It, Eat It! Unfortunately you won't find us in the festival brochure, due to an error, but that's not stopping us and we do hope you'll join us on Wednesday, September 23rd, for a harvest-time celebration of all things homegrown. There will be displays of produce and pictures of what we've been up to this year, there will be tasters and produce to take home, there will be seeds and seedlings available in return for a small donation, and members of both groups will be on hand to answer questions and give advice about growing your own at home. The event will take place in the yurt at the Blacksmith Arms so drinks, including a range of real ales, will be available at the bar. The event is free and you're welcome to drop in at any time between 8pm and closing time. See you there!


Grow It, Cook It, Eat It
The Yurt at the Blacksmiths Arms
Wednesday September 23rd, 8pm-11pm
Entry: Free!  
FoodSmiles St Albans and Transition St Albans' Home Grown Food Group bring you a harvest-time celebration of all things home-grown; an informal social evening, with tasters of some produce and seeds and seedlings to take home. A range of real ales are available in the pub and members of the group will be on hand to share advice and answer questions about growing your own.

Monday, 20 April 2015

FoodSmiles is Fundraising!

Polytunnels are an important tool for growing food throughout the year, but ours are very old and in poor repair, and part of our polytunnel space must currently be used as a veg-box packing area. We're raising money for a new polytunnel and a dedicated packing shed. This will enable FoodSmiles to raise seedlings safely and grow warm-weather crops and more winter crops; to care for our harvests better and provide higher-quality produce; and to keep promoting and producing local, seasonal food in the St Albans district.


FoodSmiles aims to supply local food for local people in the St Albans district. We started in April 2014, farming organic vegetables for our 25 members, and produced an amazing 980kg of food in our first season! This year and over the next few years, we hope to increase our membership significantly and become a bigger and better source of locally-produced food.


When we started up last year, we were very lucky to find a piece of land that already had on it three polytunnels we could use. They were in bad repair, but we patched over the holes and the tunnels were crucial in our first season for raising seedlings and growing warm-weather crops such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.


However, our repairs to the tunnels are not standing up to windy weather well; polytunnel one completely lost its cover in recent winter winds, and we've had a constant struggle to keep polytunnel three intact through the winter; it is unlikely to last another year. We urgently need to replace at least one of them; polytunnel companies have advised us that the tunnels are so old it would not be economical to refurbish or repair them. Furthermore, we have realised that the tunnels are far from ideally positioned; tall trees shade them all morning in the summer, which means our tomatoes didn't get as much sunshine as they needed and our yield was poor. Polytunnel three is by far the worst for this. 


In order for FoodSmiles to continue to thrive and grow, we urgently need a new polytunnel in a brighter position, to raise seedlings and grow warm-weather crops. We will also repair polytunnel one ourselves as a temporary measure for this year, and continue to use polytunnel two as it is – this tunnel is in reasonably good health and gets just enough sun.

 


We also need a dedicated space for packing the weekly vegetable boxes and storing equipment – our tiny 6x4ft tool shed is simply not enough, and packing vegetables in a polytunnel means they wilt in hot weather and freeze in cold weather! This shed will be placed where polytunnel three is now, under the trees, since this tunnel doesn't get enough sun to produce a good crop and will not last much longer without refurbishment or replacement.

So we are seeking a combination of small grants and donations to help us fund these improvements, and if you have an interest in the St Albans area, in local and organically-grown food or in sustainability we'd like to invite you to donate to this project. No donation is too small - any contribution, any size, will be gratefully received!

£1050 will enable us to buy a basic 14x35ft polytunnel, which we will put up ourselves.  
£1250 will allow us to add crop bars and bracing to our tunnel, for better efficiency and security.
£2500 would also fund our packing shed, which we will build ourselves from a kit.  
£3000 would also fund the shed foundation and much needed interior shelving.
Any additional money raised on top of this will go towards repairing polytunnel one, and getting electricity to the shed for lighting and refrigeration.

If you would like to donate to keep FoodSmiles thriving and growing, you can do so via PayPal by clicking the 'Donate' button below. (You do not need a PayPal account to do this.) We don't have much to offer in return, but we will thank you publicly on social media and add you to our mailing list (let us know in the 'instructions to seller' box if you don't want us to do either of these things), plus donors will be very welcome to visit the site by appointment and see what we're up to, and you will receive an invitation to our Harvest Festival in September. And of course you will have the pleasure of knowing you are helping us to bring food production back home to our community!


Remember: please let us know in the 'instructions to seller' box if you do not want to be added to our mailing list or receive a public thank you on social media.

You can also donate by sending us a cheque – please email foodsmiles.info@gmail.com for the address.