COUNTRY PURSUITS

Christopher Baker, organic grower
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Christopher Baker, organic grower

I was brought up in London and worked for the Post Office before the War. When the War came they wanted to transfer me to the Ministry of Defence, but as a conscientious objector I didn't want to go. I'd always hankered after an outdoor job so I volunteered for land work and went to a pacifist community farm in Norfolk. They weren't completely organic but they were organically inclined, which was unusual in those days.

I spent five years there as a horseman. After the War, I was a bit under the weather and not sure whether I could continue full-time farm work, but I wanted to have a partly outdoor life so I got a job in agricultural research, where I stayed for 34 years.

By 1980 I was 62 and my children had left home so I didn't need so much money. Looking back, I decided that what I had enjoyed most was growing vegetables for the family. So I gave up my agricultural research job to grow vegetables organically full-time. I've been doing it ever since.

I have two acres of vegetables, with two glasshouses and an acre of orchard and grass. I grow apples, artichokes, aubergines, beetroot, cabbage, chard, chicory, cucumbers, leeks, lettuce, onions, parsnips, peppers, radishes, spinach, tomatoes - and more. For fertiliser I use dung. I used to buy it from a pig farm but now I get it from someone who keeps horses and gives me dung in exchange for vegetables. The dung has to be tested to see whether it is organic - this depends what the animals have been fed on. The Soil Association comes to inspect everything once a year.

I've never had any difficulty selling all that I can produce; I can sell in half a day what I can grow in the other six and a half days of the week. For the last 12 years I've had a stall on Saturday mornings outside a wholefood shop. I tend to sell at lower prices than most other organic vegetable outlets. What's more, everything is very fresh, and usually sold within 24 hours of being picked. I can't sell direct from home or I would never have time for growing.

I get great satisfaction from finding that people respect the work I do. Keeping the prices low contributes to this and makes it easy for me to sell what I produce.

I don't make much money - about pounds 1.50 an hour for a 50-hour week. I don't think anybody could make earn a great deal out of small-scale organic growing. When I started I said that if I could make 50p an hour I'd carry on, and I've always made more than this. I don't actually have much time to spend the money, and I find the work extremely satisfying, both the growing and the selling. I rarely have a day off, apart from 10 days in January; there was a time recently when I didn't have a whole day off for two years. Before I retired I kept goats and cows so I got used to getting up early to milk them.

I don't think I will continue to work on this scale by the time I am 80, but I don't want to give it up altogether. I would like more leisure and less pressure, but I would prefer not to give up work entirely while I can go on doing it. I wouldn't want to stop selling direct - it's the contact with the customers that I find most rewarding. This is certainly the most satisfying thing I've ever done in my life.

Christopher Baker was talking to Tony Kelly

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