Thanks to Ros Arksley from Nibbly Pig for this write up of our tasting event with PJ Taste, Barry Starmore and Gwilym from Launde Farm Foods.
So what happens next when you have just bought a farmhouse, circa 1800, with attached barns two other collections of outbuildings and 10 acres of land? This was the wonderful opportunity and challenge facing me and my partner Sarah Brown in November 2003. We had both renovated properties before including another barn conversion, a terraced house and a detached house but this was on a completely different scale.
I started to research ways of tackling the project and was soon spending hours at exhibitions, reading magazines, watching programmes such as Grand Designs and searching on the internet. It didn’t take long for me to realise that we would have to take a radical approach to the renovation if the family were to live in such a large property sustainably.
Walking into the National Homebuilding and Renovating Show at the NEC in 2004 I was completely overwhelmed by a vast range of unfamiliar technologies such as heat pumps, under-floor heating, electricity generators, mechanical ventilation and insulation systems. Piles of leaflets returned to Sheffield, followed by more research and meetings with potential suppliers until an outline plan started to emerge.
A core part of the plan was to put in under-floor heating driven by ground source heat pumps which I installed with the help of a friend, Clive Quarmby. We spent many weeks digging trenches, laying pipes, soldering, fitting valves etc., using 8 different diameters of pipe in the process.
Sarah was pregnant with Arthur (now 6 – birthday in February), while all this was going on. By the time she returned from hospital with Arthur most of the heating was working and some of the floorboards in the bedroom had been restored. She was not happy.
Heat pumps need electricity to work and so we decided that we would have to make our own (we are all electric) to meet our objective of becoming energy neutral. I researched solar and wind power during 2004. Solar panels were about 5 times more expensive than they are now and were much more expensive than wind turbines compared with the amount of electricity they were likely to make. So, we bought a 6 kilowatt Proven wind turbine expecting it to make about 10,000 kilowatt hours per year. It didn’t. It made 14,000 kilowatt hours per year – fantastic.
The only trouble was we were using a lot more electricity than I had anticipated despite investing thousands of pounds on insulation and high-tec glazing. More investment was needed – more insulation and more energy generating technology.
For the last 18 months we have had a 4 kilowatt solar power system which generated 4100 kilowatt hours in its first year and have just installed a 10 kilowatt Xzeres wind turbine which is on target to produce between 25,000 and 30,000 kwh per year. As a result, our electricity production is greater than our electricity use which means that we are saving tonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere. The energy saving, together with Feed In Tariff payments, also mean that we now make a profit from electricity rather than having a bill.
There is still a lot to do as a part of the house does not have any wall insulation. Once this and other improvement works are done we will save even more energy.
10 acres of land in our spectacular location gives us so much scope for setting up enjoyable corporate events. We are able to put marquees up, run activities such as archery, give tours of the farm and our green technologies and show people round our colourful eco-friendly home.
Another great pleasure is to use our friends in the local community to provide services; for example, Bradfield Brewery (supplies beer and sometimes a full bar), Sheffield Bouncy Castle Hire and Our Cow Molly ice cream. We are also lucky to have helpful neighbours such as Clive Quarmby and Alan Russell who cut and bale our hay, leaving space in the fields so set up our events.
“Really nice place – Stunning views.”
“The food was really nice – the hog was delicious! I am still full!!!”
“All in all it was great! Mark and the family were very friendly and you felt welcome there.”
Our larger scale events such as weddings take place in our ‘hay’ field. Typically our hay is harvested between mid June and the end of July. This year we planned to cut it in June because we have a number of events in July but, of course, the weather has not been kind.
Hay making needs a run of several sunny days. First the grass has to be mown. Then it is turned several times until it becomes very dry. Only then can it be baled and moved into the barn in preparation to feed our horses and ponies during the winter. It also has to be stored for a few months to cure. Freshly cut hay is not easily digested.
Without a run of several sunny days to make hay my thoughts turned to making haylage. This is very similar to hay but slightly damper. It is made into large round bales and wrapped in polythene to keep out oxygen. The combination of the slightly damper material and oxygen causes the haylage to degrade and rot. Even though it is damper when baled, present conditions are too damp.
So, the answer this year is to make silage out of the grass from the area that we need for our events. Today one neighbour (Clive Quamby) mowed the area and tomorrow another neighbour (Alan Russell) is going to bale and wrap as silage. Silage is freshly cut grass that is immediately or almost immediately baled and wrapped (or stored in a large clamp). The moisture content is high and it makes a very rich feed that is ideal for cattle but no good for horses. Alan will therefore be taking this part of our crop for his cattle.
Hopefully we will be able to make some hay or haylage with the grass from the rest of the field later in the summer. How many of you wedding planners have the silage/haylage/hay question on your checklists?
At Green Directions we are committed to working sustainably and to continuously improving our sustainability practices. We see this as a moral issue in order to preserve and protect the earth’s precious natural infrastructure.
- We comply with the requirements of environmental legislation and approved codes of practice
- We continuously seek to improve our environmental and social performance
- We reduce pollution, emissions and waste
- We reduce the use of energy, water and other resources
- We raise awareness of green issues with our visitors and encourage them to take action themselves
- We expect our suppliers and contractors to meet or aspire to the environmental standards promoted by the Green Tourism Business Scheme (we change suppliers if we do not see progress towards these standards)
- We try to be advocates for sustainable practices within our local community
- We have minimised our risks associated with environmental and social issues
- We have joined the Green Tourism Business Scheme as an indicator of our sustainable practices
- Sustainable Business. We are developing a sustainable business which will provide safety and security for ourselves and future employees;
- Environmental Responsibility. Green Directions is built on our considerable achievements in reducing energy consumption and saving waste;
- Treating Customers Fairly. We provide a high quality, value for money service;
- Diversity. We embrace diversity;
- Engagement. We are active in supporting community activities;
- Social Change. We work effectively with charitable, community and industry partners as well as political stakeholders to tackle issues of mutual concern and strategic importance.