Tell us a bit about yourself
I am Rosanna Catterall, joint manager of Knepp Market Garden a 1Ha diverse, organic, vegetable production supplying wholesale and private customers. Knepp are well known for their re- wilding project but they are starting to use land on their estate that cannot be part of the re-wilding project to produce food. It’s an exciting space to examine how a future landscape of Northern Europe with a mix of re-wilding linked by nature corridors can intersect with agriculture.
We established the market garden in Spring 2022, going into our second season this year gives us the chance to finish the bulk of the establishing work and refine the production to our market. We have three main ambitions with the space, to make it break even as a business, to build biologically abundant soil to grow vegetables from and to make it a beautiful and exciting space to work in.
What made you choose this career?
I worked on farms as a way to travel and loved the satisfaction of working outdoors. As I got into market gardening the power of being part of a more resilient food system feels empowering and motivating. I’m really passionate about providing fresh, delicious, and exciting vegetables for our customers. I also love what the scale of our production offers us in a typical working day which is a mixture of different tasks throughout the day that keep rhythm, pace and motivation high. Both the bigger picture of the food system, long term goals of the farm and the attention to detail required to run a market garden successfully work really well for me.
Did you go through formal education? If so, what did you study and where? If not please explain your journey. I studied at organic farm school in Denmark called Kalø on the “global organic farmer” course. This was a 3.5-year practical education that included 3 seasons of work on farms of my choice with study at school in the winter. The meaningful learning for me came from learning by doing during internships on farms.
Did this have a positive or negative impact on your chosen career?
This had a positive impact on my career as I’m not from a farming background, what I learnt during my education gave me a good background in typical organic and conventional land management which has informed career path. I would stress that a formal education is not essential to enter farming but experience learning on good farms is invaluable.
Who inspires you?
Leah Peninmen of Soul Fire Farm in the US, Jayne Arnold of Oxtons Organic in the Cotswolds, Ian Tolhurst of Tolhurst Organic in Reading, Daniel Mays of Frith Farm in the US. These are all pioneering farmers either in how they grow, manage their farms or support their community.
What’s the scariest thing about your job and how have you overcome it?
The weather and unpredictable nature of growing as well as burnout from working too much in peak season. With the unpredictability of growing we try to build weekly crop analysis and quick decisions into our work to try and flex as much as possible around different scenarios. This requires a good weekly schedule to consistently respond quickly to issues as they arise. One of main goals this season is to mitigate burnout through being strict about working less hours in peak season (May – September). We also need to delegate and ask for help more often so, we are increasing our team by an extra member to help with this.
What do you want to change about your industry?
The farming sector has a long way to go to have a diversity of people working the land. Improving access to land and access to land skills is something that is essential if we are to find agricultural solutions that are sustainable, carbon negative where possible, and to create and protect land culture.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your field?
Get experience working on good farms. This could look like a small amount of time each week volunteering and evolve into a paid internship (which many market gardens offer each season). If you’re able to commit to working a whole season with farmer whose methods you admire that experience will keep teaching you in seasons to come. The land workers alliance has a great youth movement: https://landworkersalliance.org.uk/flame/
Following organisations like the Landworkers alliance, the organic grower’s alliance and Land In Our Names will help you find successful commercial growers to get in touch with and learn from. If a paid membership to either of these organisations is not an option get in touch with them directly to see if you can receive the weekly/monthly mail outs as these contain lots of useful and up to date information.