Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: "What Mark’s been doing at Otter farm is inspirational. What he’s planning to is one of the most exciting things in British horticulture. I’m delighted to add my support to such a far-sighted and well-thought out project."
I’m Mark Diacono, and I’m lucky enough to spend my time growing, cooking, eating and writing about food. Otter Farm is where my family and I live and grow the most delicious food we can think of, in the ways which excite us most. Alongside the best of the familiar fruit, vegetables, herbs, nuts and spices, you'll find find things such as pecans, sansho pepper and Carolina allspice, that you’ll struggle to find anywhere else in Europe. If you can eat it and it'll survive in the UK, it's likely to be here at Otter Farm.I've written seven award winning books based around what I grow and cook here, including A Year at Otter Farm (Food Book of the Year 2014), the recent The New Kitchen Garden. and three books for River Cottage, including the Veg Patch, Fruit and Chicken and Eggs Handbooks.Now, we want to open our doors and share what we do.To do that, we need a building - a place where not only can we turn our produce into wine, spirits and other delights, but somewhere we can also welcome visitors to a whole host of cooking and growing courses - everything on the journey from plot to plate.We've had huge support in getting this far: over 140 letters of unanimous support from around the country and the local community played a big part in convincing local planners to get behind our project. And now we need your help to take us over the final hurdle…
About Otter FarmOtter Farm started almost accidentally. A decade ago, on the way back from being married, we went to see a house with 17 acres attached to it – a few months later I was putting together a list of food I liked and wondered how much of it might grow here. I’m part way through finding out.It has become somewhere special and unique.Peaches, apricots, almonds, quince, mulberries, medlars and pears ripen their fruit in young orchards, while a young forest garden is filled with everything from white cherries to Asian pears, Chilean guava to creeping Japanese raspberries, and kiwis to Szechuan pepper.There’s a kitchen garden, vineyard, forest garden, orchards and nutteries, perennial garden, and much much more, all cared for organically. Many of the plants we grow are risky - gambling that the warming climate will make them viable: the idea is beautifully sustainable – if we can take advantage of climate change to grow delicious food usually sourced from overseas, without chemical/high carbon inputs, we will be helping arrest the acceleration of climate change in the process. Growing green manures, mineral accumulators and nitrogen fixing plants to naturally build soil and fertility underlies what we do. As a result, Otter Farm has become known as the ‘Climate Change Farm’.
Why would you want to come to Otter Farm?We are uniquely dedicated to the whole journey from plot to plate and beyond.So, if you want to grow some of your own vegetables, get better at cooking, or learn about permaculture, natural beekeeping, fermenting, real bread making, distilling, smoking, designing food forests, edible flowers, charcuterie, preserving, growing your own pepper, sea kayak fishing, garden cocktails, sustainable building, plot-to-plate days celebrating a single ingredient such as mint or chilli, writing, photography, and much much more besides, this will be the place to come.We'll also be hosting cooking demos, festivals, feasts and other events.And if all you fancy is wandering around eating dwarf kiwis, sweet cicely, chocolate vines, Japanese wineberries and Vietnamese coriander, or picnicking in orchards of pecans, quince, almonds, Szechuan pepper and rare apples, we'll have open days where you can do just that.The building will be a creative hub for the Otter Farm team to share our skills and knowledge, but it will also be a place of collaboration: we will host an ongoing calendar featuring inventive cooks, innovative growers and other creative minds.
The building itselfThe design of the building is beautiful and innovative. Green in build and energy, the original design was (as shown) to be clad in wood, but rather than export the subsoil excavated for the basement, we are using it to create the walls - mixed with straw and a little sand, the subsoil becomes the traditional Devon building material, cob. The beautifully angular roof will become an edible garden too.While we will host some small courses and events in the kitchen of our house (also onsite), this building will provide the multifunctional space for large gatherings, processing and selling our produce, while the basement will be used for distilling and creating other fermentations.
Creating opportunitiesWe are dedicated to putting opportunity in everyone's path. As well as sharing practical skills and knowledge in cooking, growing, sustainable building and other creative life skills that enable people to live pleasurable, involved, ethical, healthy lives, we will offer courses on a pay-what-you-can-afford basis. We will also be taking on apprentices and creating other openings we hope will upskill and enable. We already have a team from the Exeter Chiefs HITZ programme - young people outside education and employment - working on the build, learning new skills and becoming engaged with sustainable building. And we will be continuing and increasing our work with schools, including making seeds available free.
The rewardsI’m hope you find the rewards appealing. We have something for every budget, whether it’s for you or a business: many mean you come here and enjoy the farm, which is exactly how we’d like it.Everyone who pledges will be named on our Supporters wall in the building and online - a permanent reminder (and thanks from us) that you were part of making this happen.If you are a business or group and would like to discuss being a Friend of Otter Farm, supporting our work with schools and other groups, there are two rewards in particular that might appeal, but please feel free to email me.
Thanks for being part of it - it will help make a difference to a lot of people.