Meet Our Growers: 6 Questions With Andrew Brice, Asparagus Farmer
Seasonal eating is what we’re ALL about at Oddbox — questionable puns and dad jokes coming in at a close second — and one of the best parts of that is British asparagus, so when we got the chance to work with Andrew and Brice Church Farm to reduce their food waste, we never looked back. Here we chat to him about the challenges of asparagus farming, his sustainable achievements & how we’re helping them to reduce food waste direct at farm level.
The Brice family have been farming at Church Farm for four generations, with Andrew taking over from his father to run the farm for the last 30 years. Originally purchased by his great-great grandfather for its potential for aggregates rather than farming, Church Farm has evolved from farming a traditional mix of livestock, to post-war potatoes, and finally to niche crop asparagus.
With a passion for the environment and sustainable growing practises spanning his 30 years at the farm — they’re LEAF Marque registered — Andrew’s turning to tackling waste and we’re thrilled to help him. So without us rambling any more, here’s 6 questions for our asparagus grower!
Andrew with his wonky asparagus.
So what does a typical day on the farm look like for you Andrew?
“A typical day would start the previous evening! We walk the fields to ascertain what’s ready for harvesting the next morning with particular emphasis on any particular orders that we have for the following day”.
“The cutters, most of whom have worked for me for many years, usually start at 7 am and cut through until about 2pm. During the morning there is a gang collecting the spears and getting them into a refrigerated container as quickly as possible — this is vital to retain the freshness and shelf life. The rest of the day would be spent either grading out the spears for different markets or tidying the fields of weeds or old asparagus.”
A classic example of Andrew’s wonky spears.
What are the problems you face with restrictions and food waste on the farm and why?
“The farm struggles with food surplus and waste because we grow most of our product for the supermarket who require absolute perfection. Asparagus will always produce misshapen spears and those misshapen spears have not been something we’ve been able to process in the past. Oddbox allows us to harvest everything and utilise what is a perfectly tasting product aso that not only do we see a big reduction in food waste but we’re actually seeing better quality of spears generally because the harvesting process is much easier.”
Why is sustainability important and what does it look like for your business?
“I’ve got the farm into a position where we are producing crops intensively but not to the detriment of the environment. Every crop I grow is to a standard that guarantees a market and it is this sort of sustainability that I intend to develop.
“I’m also part of a Countryside Stewardship Scheme which is designed to improve my land for the benefit of the birds, bees and butterflies as well as protecting the hedgerows and watercourses as well as being LEAF Marque (Linking Environment And Farming) registered, which is an internationally recognised standard of good farming practice.”
Andrew Brice showing founders Emilie & Deepak around the farm.
What other things can affect asparagus growth?
“This last season was the most extreme that I can remember — we started the season with snow and ice in March and by 20th of April we were recording temperatures of over 28 degrees. The high temperatures then continued throughout the asparagus season.
“Asparagus growth is entirely related to soil temperature so we saw unprecedented growth in May. Ironically, this created its own problem as supply exceeded demand and this is where Oddbox really helped my business. With excessive supply the lower quality spears would be wasted, so it was reassuring to have an outlet for this product. It is important to emphasise that when I talk about quality I am referring to shape and size, not to taste and flavour. As we know, a misshapen spear tastes as delicious as a straight spear!”
What’s next for the future?
“The future will depend largely on what happens next March with Brexit but one area that we will progress will be more mechanised harvesting of asparagus.”
You can see Andrew’s asparagus reappear in your boxes come May. For now, why not watch our interview with him here.