Brought to you by


Off-Grid Organics: vegetable box scheme in South Somerset

Weekly vegetable boxes from Off-Grid Organics will be see a variety of vegetables grown to customer's wishes. Photo Camilla Mays
Weekly vegetable boxes from Off-Grid Organics will be see a variety of vegetables grown to customer's wishes. Photo Camilla Mays

Kick the new year off to a good start by ordering a local veg box for home delivery. Grown in Sparkford, South Somerset a weekly order from Off-Grid Organics can support our local economy as well as your immune system.

‘I was on my way to catching a flight to California, and I suddenly thought, what am I doing?! So, I got off the bus and I just knew that I needed to be in Somerset. I just felt drawn here.’ This is Camilla Mays, founder of the carbon-zero vegetable company, Off-Grid Organics, and one incredibly innovative and determined woman. Her life has taken her literally around the globe from teaching English in Japan to developing permaculture farms in Bali and Columbia, from strawbale building in New Zealand to campaigning with GreenPeace across the UK, and now, after navigating through a few twists of fate and a pandemic, Cam finally finds herself settled in Sparkford. ‘In the spring of 2023 I took stewardship of four and half acres of land through the Ecological Land Cooperative. They offer people the chance to lead a low-impact life whilst running a small land-based business; I took a chance/risk but in my first year I sold everything that I grew!’

Great British Life: 'Dangle the carrot!' Off-Grid Organics is a small scale regenerative farm in South Somerset Photo Camilla Mays'Dangle the carrot!' Off-Grid Organics is a small scale regenerative farm in South Somerset Photo Camilla Mays

Cam arrived to her blank plot of land with just her caravan and her dog Aki, ‘The first thing I built was the compost toilet! Then, I knew exactly how I wanted to map out the land; I have had these dreams for so long and looking back, all my previous employment has upskilled me and led me to where I am today. Turning this parcel of depleted pasture into productive growing spaces that are teeming with life has always been my aim.’ The Ecological Land Cooperative believe that land should be stewarded in such a way that new entrants into agriculture can produce healthy and ecologically sound food or land-based products which benefit the local community. As such, Cam is immediate ‘neighbours’ with a nursery, Cider Apple Trees, which is run by a couple passionate about conserving traditional varieties of apple found in Somerset, and a third business intending to grow ingredients such as okra and ginger for their farm to fork kitchen. Together they have built a timber frame barn which houses their solar panels as the whole site and all three businesses operate off-grid. ‘We do have mains water here at the moment, but the pressure is terrible. In time we’ll harvest the rainwater and store it. There’s lots to do and we’re making good headway.’

As Cam and her side kick Aki, lead me around her plot, I can see how industrious she has been; the no-dig beds line up dutifully awaiting the start of the growing season, the poly-tunnels are prepped ready to burst to life with the next seasonal fruits (and vegetables) of Cam’s labours, and the integrated pest management controllers, aka the Indian Runner Ducks are busy gobbling slugs. It looks and feels akin to the Good Life, ‘I’m an early bird, I make a morning coffee and then I walk down here still pinching myself as I look at my land and then I have to laugh really; it can sometimes feel like a half mile trek to get to the loo!’ Cam admits that this way of life might not be for everyone but when we head back towards to the caravan and I see her wood-fired open-air claw-foot bath I can imagine it can be remarkably idyllic bathing under the stars, ‘It is amazing, but there are challenges too. I did nearly cook myself one night!’

Great British Life: Camilla Mays sells her produce to local restaurants and farm shops aswell as direct to the local consumer. Photo Camilla Mays Camilla Mays sells her produce to local restaurants and farm shops aswell as direct to the local consumer. Photo Camilla Mays

Cam’s first year saw her connecting with local farm shops whilst also supplying commercial kitchens at The Story Pig in Sandford Orcas, as well as the esteemed supper club creators, Horrell & Horrell just up the road. ‘I love working with local businesses but I am also really passionate about getting direct to the consumer. I want to connect people to my food and that’s why this year I am launching my ‘Community Shared Agriculture Veg Box Scheme.’ Without having a cold store Cam will supply veg within 24 hours of it being picked, ‘You can’t get much fresher than that! In return, I ask that my customers sign up for the whole season. The majority of my costs are at the start of the year, so again this year I’ll be investing in all the best, organic seeds, and by asking my customers what they would like to see in their veg boxes throughout the year, I can grow to their wishes and then, when I have a bumper crop, they will benefit from a bountiful veg box!’ The aim is to be as carbon-zero as possible so it’s minimal food miles, minimal packaging and everything is grown by the power of the sun and the soil. I’m hoping to push the outer-boundaries of the growing season with solar ‘hot beds’ too which will hopefully shorten the ‘hunger gap’ which is traditionally seen between the end of February and early May.’

Great British Life: Vegetables will be picked and ready for collection/delivery within 24 hours Photo Camilla Mays Vegetables will be picked and ready for collection/delivery within 24 hours Photo Camilla Mays

With a focus on eating seasonally and by growing some slightly more obscure vegetables alongside the usual requests, Cam will create recipe sheets to accompany each weekly box of goodness. ‘Every box will comprise of about 8 -10 seasonal crops as well as a newsletter with updates from the land; there will be invitations to come here for special events and I hope to host my own version of a supper club as well.’ And, as each forthcoming year passes, the land will be maturing, ‘I’ve set aside an acre for my market garden and a further two thirds of an acre for a perma-culture mixed fruit orchard so expect veg boxes to also include apples, pears, plums and cherries in the future too. Alongside the hundreds of trees she planted this winter with local volunteers, Cam will see this previously unproductive piece of land turn into a hive of bio-diverse activity. ‘I’m keen to get the community involved, I’m looking forward to welcoming local schools here in the spring and so I suppose it’s a little like myself; Off-Grid Organics may be small (in scale) but it has big ambitions!’

Great British Life: Camilla Mays is leading a low-impact life whilst running her small land-based business, Off-Grid Organics Photo: Camilla MaysCamilla Mays is leading a low-impact life whilst running her small land-based business, Off-Grid Organics Photo: Camilla Mays

Sign up for 2024

Off-Grid Organics aims to be an example of how small-scale ecological farming can be viable in today’s economy. Small boxes to feed 1-2 people are £15 per week/£400 per annum. Large boxes to feed a family of four are £23 per week/£620 per annum. Sign up with Cam at offgridorganics.co.uk

 



BROUGHT TO YOU BY…

Somerset Life Read more

Latest articles

More from Somerset Life

BROUGHT TO YOU BY…

Somerset Life Read more