At Pierreponts, we’re hugely proud of working with a range local food producers whose products inspire our menu. In the second of our Meet the Supplier series, we visit James King-Cooke of Farm ToTable Produce.
Farm To Table Produce, perched high above the Thames close to Goring Heath, looks like a farm from a picture book with its neat rows of vegetables and salad growing in the most glorious setting. It’s not the easiest place to find – I manage to drive past the discreet lane and have to turn back – but it’s definitely a little piece of heaven in Oxfordshire.
From lawyer to farmer
James hails from Eugene, Oregon where he read law at university. His first experience of working the land was helping a farmer friend of his while he was studying. ‘It was fun,’ he smiles. ‘I never left. And I never became a lawyer!’
Some years later, James was travelling in Europe when he met Hatti who was to become his wife. They married and lived together in Italy, with James still farming and Hatti working as a riding instructor. Four children later, they decided to move to the UK and James started to work for Tolhust Organic on the Hardwick Estate.
It was a chance meeting in the pub several years later that led to Farm To Table Produce. James got talking to a man whose home had several acres of land to spare. The two got on well and James has been farming the land for four years now.
How does your garden grow?
The two-and-a-half-acre smallholding is meticulously organised by James. It would be easier to list the vegetables which he doesn’t grow than those that he does. What makes it special is that he tries to grown unusual varieties, distinguishing the produce from the usual supermarket staples. So there are red cos lettuces and pink-tinged celery, yellow courgettes and a whole range of tomatoes. In addition, there are espaliered fruit trees spread over the land as well as crops of herbs, garlic and chillies.
James is a big believer in succession planting, which ensures a continuous supply of vegetables rather than a huge glut over a short period of time. On the day I visit, for example, I see several crops of onions in different stages. With the exception of potatoes, he tries to avoid storing vegetables so that every item is as fresh as possible.
Farm To Table Produce is not certified organic but James does employ a lot of organic farming principles, including using primarily organic seed, and avoiding pesticides, fertilisers and GMO. He is a firm believer in organic farming but admits that the cost and logistics of being certified by the Soil Association are prohibitive.
As well as Pierreponts, James’s produce can be sampled at the Miller of Mansfield and the Crooked Billet at Stoke Row. You can buy it from the Goring Grocer and the True Food Co-Op in Emmer Green. Or if you prefer, you can sign up to the Farm To Table Produce box scheme and have a box of beautiful, seasonal, locally-grown fruit and vegetables delivered 25 weeks of the year for just £20 each week.
Sunshine after the rain
This has been a challenging year for James. The heavy rain we had in April delayed planting as it was simply too wet to sow crops. And the long hot summer we have been experiencing has meant a lot of watering and water conservation.
Yet James is relentlessly cheerful and optimistic. His passion for all he grows is clear, and he treats everything he grows with the utmost respect. ‘It’s really rewarding,’ he tells me. ‘It’s a great product. An honest product.’
To find out more about Farm To Table Produce and their box scheme, visit www.farmtotableproduce.co.uk