Report of Meeting on March 25 2013

Speaker Maggie Haynes from Tuppenny Barn Organics

Maggie, with no previous professional background in Horticulture, purchased a 2.4 acre field with a dilapidated barn in Southbourne, a village near Chichester, a few years ago. She now has an organically certified small holding growing high quality affordable produce for sale to local people.

Also through her educational activities she promotes sustainable working practices and teaches young people how organic food production works in harmony with all aspects of nature.

Everything the venture earns is invested back into her business. She has 2 staff and many volunteers from the local community. Their working methods mean that everything possible is recycled.

As most of the COGS members are well acquainted with the background to the Tuppenny Barn Project Maggie concentrated on giving us an update on progress both on their horticultural activities and on the building of the new natural structure which they have built for educational and social events.

The problems encountered this last year have mainly been biological ones due to the weather. The very large, yellow, carnivorous Spanish Slug has decimated their field crops. They have appeared in overwhelming numbers and seem resistant to all known methods of keeping them at bay.

The Harlequin Ladybird threatens to wipe out our familiar indigenous species of small red and black ladybirds.

Out of the 135 trees in the orchard only 17 gave a full crop last year, due to the excessive rainfall and low summer temperatures.

In keeping with permaculture ideas all trees have been mulched and in the mulch bee-friendly plants and herbs that guard against pests and diseases have been planted. Garlic works well apparently, in addition nasturtiums, borage and comfrey.

Bees have been an interesting and important topic for the school visits. Children from the more deprived areas of Portsmouth have enjoyed learning about the life cycle of bees and how they produce honey. Maggie herself has had to master the arts of bee keeping and now has 2 or 3 hives on her land. Last summer there were many swarms of bees gathering in their orchard and local bee keepers often dropped everything to try and gather them for rehoming. Maggie showed us pictures of the work going on in their huge solar tunnel and explained how a large inexpensive propagator could be made from an electric blanket; and another picture of a donated living dome made from willow giving a pleasant place to sit. We also saw the delivery of a new mobile cabin to replace the former shop structure.

The work of the centre is not just about horticulture, it is a welcoming place for all ages of people to come and work, learn and grow. Work experience teenagers, volunteers from local businesses such as John Lewis IT department who made raised beds, and school children who have made bug houses, dug up potatoes and discovered wildlife in the environment have all benefitted from the centre. Adults with learning difficulties also made a valuable contribution.

In order to remain viable the centre has had to diversify its activities and courses have been set up, for example there was a Christmas course where dried material from summer was used to make decorations and wreaths. There are also courses on the use of herbs for winter remedies.

The new circular building, based on the designs of old round houses, is the major ongoing project. With the help of a consultant, Maggie finally obtained planning permission after her second attempt and in April 2011 the foundations were laid, part funded by a grant from the Chichester Harbour Conservancy Trust.

Three generations of one family worked on the roof using their special skills to lay cedar wood shingles, and local farmers donated straw bales for the walls and the underfloor was constructed from recycled paper resting on car tyres. Maggie hastened to tell us that the whole place is rat proof.

In the future the building will be used for courses, workshops, to help adults with learning difficulties, and all year round school visits. There will be a reference library, a local art and craft show case; it will be able to be rented out for community groups and for events such as green weddings. Children will be able to harvest the vegetables and then cook them in the kitchen.

Maggie and all those involved with the Tuppenny Barn Project deserve every success and support in the future. The finance to complete the barn has yet to be secured. Their website address is: www.tuppennybarn.com

and more information on the new building is on the following website: greenbuildingsolutions.co.uk/straw-bale-building-tuppenny-barn/

Report by Susan Sinnett-Jones