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Sophie Durnan is our Organic Horticulture Champion

fruit and veg champion
Sophie Durnan is our Organic Horticulture Champion and she runs the Riverside Market Garden, a 5-acre organically farmed plot a few miles west of Cardiff. Now in its fourth year of production, the market garden has around 50 regular box scheme customers and a number of local restaurant and deli clients.

Originally from Somerset, Sophie has previous experience of working on a smaller scale growing project and took up the reigns at Riverside in July 2011, job-sharing with her partner Tim Halewood (who does everything from repairing the tractor to delivering the produce). After a tough season for vegetable growers across the UK in 2012, Sophie is optimistic about the season ahead – buoyed by the sight of four and a half thousand newly planted leeks emerging from the ground.

Riverside Market Garden, whilst a community-owned enterprise, is a commercial venture, which is set to be financially self-funding in the 2014 season. At that point profits will pay the lease on the land, maintain the equipment and pay staff wages. At present, a Welsh Government grant funds one full-time (shared) post and another part time (until the end of 2013). The objective of this grant funding is to spread knowledge about vegetable production.

For Sophie, who holds a degree in Environmental Sustainability from the University of Glamorgan, it is also a labour of love and she also hosts groups of school children who are keen to learn all about how the produce is grown, harvested and delivered to customers.

“As an 18 year old I attended a world summit in Johannesburg and got to observe the world leaders debating environmental policy and that spurred on my journey to sustainability,” said Sophie. “I come from a family of artists and spent my childhood wanting to be a farmer, now I'm living that dream but I can certainly say it's much harder work that I thought.

“This is a fantastic project which has received both local and government support and has massive potential. Demand overtook what we could supply last season and we'd love to add a couple more poly-tunnels to help us supply some bigger commercial customers, but we have never planned for world domination, it will always be local food for local people.

“Our members and volunteers are our lifeblood and it is great that we are able to meet many of our customers face-to-face at our weekly pick-up point in Cardiff. We talk to them about the produce, the organic farming methods we use and how the crops are doing. Lots of them sign up as volunteers after receiving a few deliveries and every week when we pack up our deliveries, it feels like a real team effort.

“The organic principles of farming are a very important part of our ethical, sustainable food production model, as they not only impact on the food we produce but on the wider environment. This is important to our members as a reassurance and to the restaurants we supply, knowing they can give their customers a firm promise that their food comes from a local and sustainable source.”

Steve Garrett, the Chair of Riverside Market Garden's parent company, RCMA, added;
“The incredible energy and dedication of Sophie and her partner Tim have been a crucial part of the development of the Market Garden to this point. They are both passionate about what they do, and are becoming extremely knowledgeable about how to actually run a small-scale horticulture enterprise. They are also both very good communicators, which will stand us in good stead in relation to the “knowledge transfer” element of this project which will see us sharing and extending what we have learned so far with individuals and organisations wishing to set up similar enterprises in other parts of Wales.

“The enterprise is an 'Industrial and Provident Society'. This is a form of co-operative company whereby shares can be issued, and may be withdrawn and re-paid when the enterprise can afford to do so. This helped us raise over £10,000 from within the local community. Moreover, it links us directly to a supportive network of over 120 key supporters.”

Meet the the other champions!
In partnership with
ADAS logo Aberystwyth University logo Organic Research Centre Elm Farm logo
Organic Centre Wales, IBERS, Gogerddan Campus
Aberystwyth University, Ceredigion, SY23 3EB
T:01970 622248   E:
Funding bodies
logo of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural DevelopmentWelsh Assembly Government logo
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