Slow Food Farming

A stone’s throw away from the Rathfinny Vineyard sits Namayasi Farm in Lewes, a self-sufficient, chemical-free, organic farm, focused on producing nutrient-rich English and Japanese fruit and veg. Since we opened our hospitality offering on the Estate, we’ve loved bringing their fresh produce onto your plates. We spoke to Robin from Namaysai to delve a little deeper into his story and farming methods.

Interview with Robin, the joint Owner of Namayasi Farm

Where does your story begin?

Lewes 2004. Working in IT, for some time I’d been seeing the beginnings of a huge East-West economic shift and felt that, together with rising oil prices, models of economic growth in China and other markets would soon increase the price of imported food. In the long term I thought many more people in the West would turn away from office work and seek to work on the land – the reverse of what was happening in China.

I considered several options, including setting up a tree nursery, a vineyard, or growing vegetables. I was living with some Japanese women at home (one was later to become my wife, Ikuko) and they certainly had an influence on my decisions.

So in 2005, not without major doubts on Ikuko’s part, the first seeds were sown in a 1000 square metre plot, designated as agricultural land in the heart of Lewes town and previously my garden!

What is your philosophy around natural agriculture?

There are as many different methods of farming, as there are farmers, but all of us have the objective of producing food. Environmental and economic variables differ with location and time so it is impractical to follow exactly the methods of another practitioner. We try to work with nature, letting crops grow at there own slow pace in order to produce a nutrient-rich, full-of-flavour product. Our methods are a work in progress, with many failures and much to learn.

Ikuko and Robin
Farming at NamaYasai

What is ‘alley cropping’?

Alley cropping is a form of agroforestry traditionally only used in the tropics but now being tried in temperate climates. It uses tree rows, between which wide spaces are used for cropping. We started this in 2010 using apple, pear, quince, plum and other fruit trees and it is a very long-term process.

Can you explain your ‘slow food’ method?

Starting all our vegetable crops from seed on the farm, without nutrient feeds. Growing outside under the sun, in soil not compost, without eliminating all the weeds. Growing fruit trees on deep rootstocks. Harvesting at or before dawn on the day of delivery to ensure the additional flavours and nutrients are captured and passed on to the customer.

Have you encountered any challenges since you established the farm?

Challenges every step of the way, too many to list! The most frustrating has been the inability to get any form of subsidy or other funding, but this also means we are building a better, more resilient business that will stand the test of time. Currently our biggest challenge is finding good people to work with us and take over the day to day running of the farm.

What are your seasonal fruit & veg highlights?

Fruit highlights have to be our super-sweet dessert gooseberries and blackcurrants in summer, followed by aronia berries in August, then Japanese quince in early autumn and seed-grown yuzu from November to February. The first fruits of the year are usually haskap and saskatoons but in a cold year these will not produce.

Some vegetable highlights are gold, white and other coloured beetroots, daikon radish, small tender Japanese aubergines and the very common but always popular rainbow chard.

Every year we trial new crops and new varieties, seeking crops that will grow well in our unique environment with low inputs.

What does the future look like for Namayasai?

Our priority is always to improve the reliability and quality of our supply, as well as to have a range of produce throughout the year that appeals to customers.

We wish to introduce animals to help control weeds and fertilise the soil but this will only happen if we can find a person, with the necessary energy and enthusiasm, to join us and move the project forward.

Finally, we have an entirely self-seeded 20-acre forest which has transformed two bare fields and is fascinating to watch evolve without human intervention. Can this area produce food?