I arrived down a long dark track at night, in the middle of nowhere in the rolling hills of North Devon.
Becci who runs the Orchard welcomed me in the pouring rain, with a roaring log fire warming the kitchen. The farm was completely off-grid - an experience I wasn’t expecting but highly rewarding and much needed.
We had a delicious dinner cooked by Carl, another Woofer (Worker On Organic Farm) who is semi-permanent and has a life story that is virtually unbelievable. To put it short, he has spent 25 years of his life in prison, is an ex-addict and has created a growing commune in Bristol for ex-prisoners, amazing. He showed me incredibly impressive photos, including the wide range of tomatoes (including black ones!), the homemade hut, polytunnels and vegetable beds growing types of vegetables I’d never heard of, and even incredible insects that he’d captured after landing on his hand. He finally found his purpose in growing food. It was hugely inspirational listening to his story and it goes to show that anyone can find their purpose, recover, and teach others to do the same. He is a culinary goddess and I was lucky enough to try his blueberry cheesecake, stuffed feta, date and olive sourdough and a magnificent Sunday roast.
The first morning started with a delicious leisurely breakfast and tea from the kettle boiled on the hob, lit by a match. For my first stint of work, I joined Mia, Becci’s daughter in the packing and production room. She taught me how to label all the apple cider vinegar (ACV) bottles where there is an art to making sure the many stickers all look the same. A tiny mishap makes such a difference to the eye of the consumer.
The vinegar is stored in vast black barrels in the barn. The vinegar travels through pipes from the barrels into the packing room (next door) and straight into the bottles (see image below).
Apple Cider vinegar is ambient and never goes off - A huge difference from hummus! I certainly felt a pang of jealousy with such a safe product that is so reliable and lives forever.
We packed the boxes for the day’s orders and organised the pallet ready for collection. It was freezing but plenty of jumpers and some warm trousers with a drink of hot water and ACV made it perfectly manageable and enjoyable.
Stupidly, I left my laptop charger behind. A lady who works at the Orchard very kindly took me on an excursion to her friend’s house who had a charger. While it charged, we went for a long walk along the beach - the enormity of this beach was overwhelming, with colossal waves for miles and the howling winds. Sadly a little too rough for a swim.
On our return, I had Carl’s delicious freshly baked stuffed sourdough with their homemade apple chutney and cheese before getting back to work. Some of the jobs included tidying around the barn, washing down machines and tools and just getting stuck in.
Because it gets dark early, work tends to finish early afternoon. The apple picking season had finished so it was mainly odd jobs if we weren’t packing bottles. The ACV is organic and sells to a number of wholesalers across the UK, many the same as ChicP. It was an added bonus being able to exchange notes with Becci, learning from each other.
On Saturday I spent some time working on the vegetable patch, weeding and clearing to prepare for sowing later that month. The soil was so thick and rich in nutrients which is wonderful for growing. There was a lovely large fruit cage and a chicken run next to it. I love learning more and more about chickens with every new farm visit, there are so many nuggets of information that I find fascinating.
I explored the hills in the afternoon, running up and across fields and finding myself on new tracks. I love nothing more than visiting new parts of the English countryside to explore. Where we were had acres and acres of farmland, overflowing rivers with gushing waterfalls and the sea just beyond.
I drove to a beautiful sea point half an hour away on my time off. Pouring with rain there were still lots of walkers out all embracing the fair weather.
I spent the afternoon back at Ostlers teaching the others how to make hummus. We had soaked the chickpeas overnight ready for boiling in the morning and made beetroot hummus, carrot and thyme hummus, spinach hummus and a batch of plain - all including Ostlers ACV(!) followed by a photography session for our social feeds.
The benefits of Apple Cider Vinegars are endless! I drink it every day with hot water and sometimes with a squeeze of lemon. Carl was adding it to all the cooking - his Sunday roast chicken marinade and gravy was unforgettable. I casted my eyes on all the ACV books, educating myself as much as I could.
Here are just some of the many benefits: -
For health & personal care:
Relieving asthma, swelling & fluid, age spots, athletes foot, sore bones & bruises
After sun treatment
Bones & teeth
Treating ulcers & varicose veins
Thickener & straightener for fingernail polish
Eases food poisoning, haemorrhoids, hay fever, fatigue, indigestion, bloating, heartburn, headache
Killing off unwanted bacteria
Alleviates dizziness & depression
Flushing kidney & bladder
(The list goes on & on)
For Cleaning & odour control:
Floor cleaner, cleaning sinks and baths, chopping boards, work surfaces
Cleaning dishwasher glasses
Removing refrigerator smells, cooking odours, sour milk smells, smoke smells etc
Cleaning hot plates, bottles, fine china, oven vents
Killing germs in bathroom
It leaves a clean smell, reduces bacteria, mould, yeasts
It is environmentally friendly and saves money
Soft fluffy blankets
Underarm mark removal
Remove smoke smells
Removing stiffness from jeans
Prevent colours running
and every other laundry aspect you can think of.. ACV is your answer
I also learnt more about ‘The Mother’, the key part of ACV production which occurs naturally. It is formed at the top of the barrel, a huge pale fatty like consistency, where the vinegar just floats beneath it. There are very few recipes which include the mother and this is something I’m dying to experiment more with. Ostlers have a unique chutney which includes the mother in it - it’s a slightly different taste but absolutely delicious and I highly recommend heading to their website and giving it a try.
On Monday I worked outside, power hosing, washing inside the barn, tidying boxes and taking the ‘Mother’ out the top of one of the barrels. It was HUGE and looked like a giant Jellyfish or pork fat.
Lunch was another one of Carl’s delicious sourdough with boiled eggs from the chickens and spinach. In the afternoon Becci took me riding. It was such a treat and great to be out helping with the horses, something I’ve been wanting to do more of in the last few years.
We went on a lovely route through the village and had a fantastic, very splashy and muddy canter along the track at the top of the hill. Such fun, very therapeutic and great to have wind and pouring rain in our faces!
On my last day, I spent time out in the Orchard, collecting bags that had been left from the apple picking and tidying them up in huge sacks that were kept behind the barrels in the yard. I then had the very satisfying job of clearing all the brambles around the barrels with huge protective gloves.
I enjoyed learning new things from Carl and Becci nearly every time we were in the kitchen together. One afternoon Carl was planting seeds in old gutters on the kitchen table. He put holes in the bottom, then put the soil in with trays underneath followed by the seeds. These go in the greenhouse until the seeds are ready to be planted outside. Therefore instead of having to carefully dismantle each seed, you dig a small trench for the gutters and place them in the soil neatly, thereby not risking damaging or misplacing the seedlings.
He also taught me about the different salad and tomato types and ways to sow them. It was a truly rewarding experience to be somewhere so unique and off-grid, learning from people who were so interesting and fun to be around. A hugely expansive time, one where my hands could not have been more ‘stuck in’ to so many earthy jobs- doesn’t sound right. I’ll be sure to go back… certainly to get back on Cleo again.