Sue Mackinnon talks to Mandy and Bob Swainger from one of the original families who started the project…
It’s hard to believe that just over ten years ago Bramble Farm on the Northern Slopes was an overgrown piece of land.
But six local families with the help of celebrity chef and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall started in April 2008 to completely transform the plot – cutting down the mass of brambles which gave the farm its name.
They were part of the River Cottage Spring and Autumn series which followed their journey. Today the urban smallholding is run by a collective of eight families – and Mandy and Bob Swainger are from the only original family who have stayed the course.
The 2.4 acre site now has flocks of chickens and ducks, pigs, goats and vegetable plots – and the members have worked hard to keep it going.
Mandy (47) says: “We’re like a little community, we share everything. We have a crop rotation sheet so we don’t all plant the same things. We have a week’s rota for feeding the animals and watering and a Facebook page…
“Ten years ago I had no experience at all. I started with the Carbon Makeover project at Knowle West Media Centre and then someone rang me up as River Cottage Spring were looking for local families… I wasn’t interested in growing or farming. I didn’t even know who Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was!”
Once they had cleared the land and built raised beds, Hugh advised on planting up. The next step was to make a chicken pen and buy some chickens, followed by a pig pen and ark – and Hugh donated four pigs.
Mandy says: “It was hard to think you were feeding them, smoothing them and giving them a belly rub and then you were going to eat them…
“I do like meat though – and you do get used to it. We plucked our own chickens and gutted them and we’ve also had our own turkeys for Christmas…”
Once the film crews left, they were down to three families and at that time, Mandy and Bob considered “jacking it in” but they felt guilty – so carried on and found other locals to join them.
Bramble Farm achieved a Level 4 -‘Thriving” in the Royal Horticultural Society It’s Your Neighbourhood award of the Get Growing Trail – and with sheer determination the collective has made it a successful enterprise.
Bob (56) says: “I have enjoyed the animal side of it the most and driving the trailer, cutting the grass and trimming trees and making the pens. I reckon it’s a hobby. We didn’t know anything at the beginning …but we’ve been doing it for so long we know how it works…”
Mandy says: “It’s been hard work but I’ve enjoyed it most of the time…It has stood the test of time, although we both work we go there evenings and weekends. The veg and meat tastes different from the shops – it really does…”
Bramble Farm is part of the Get Growing Trail in June, running an open weekend on 23 and 24 June from 11am-5pm, with volunteering opportunities on the Sunday. Visit Facebook: Bramble Farm Bristol.
Main image: Bob and Mandy Swainger with the farm’s new cross saddleback pigs.