Reconnecting people with food at Cusgarne Organic Farm
“Organic oranges and positive thinking!” is Greg Pascoe's attitude towards beating flu. Greg owns Cusgarne Organic Farm and is passionate about good, fresh food since he switched from conventional farming to organic production 20 years ago.
Greg explains his reasons; “If you drank a normal helping of agri-chemicals, wouldn't it harm you? So - at what point would you add vegetables to this dressing to make it safe?'
Greg's family moved to Cusgarne, a sheltered valley near Truro, around 1800 and still own the original holding. Greg was converting a barn into his current home when he met his wife Teresa in 1986. “We married the following year and had to build an extension because the babies arrived with unerring regularity,” he says cheerfully.
Switching to organic production was “a very big risk. We were growing produce without chemical protection and had to wait for two years to become fully organic,” Greg says. “We had a young family and very little income for about 5 years. It was hard going.”
In order to survive they started the hamper scheme which Teresa delivered “with two babies strapped in the front of the car.” Gradually they increased production from 30 hampers in the first year, up to about 180 now. Greg grins: “Every time there was a food scare the phone would ring - we were the only ones doing a box scheme then.”
They have now expanded and built a new pack house and farm store. “The pillars are greenheart (wood) from Falmouth docks, the windows are red cedar from a wreck off Whitsand Bay, and we've got terracotta tiles on the floor,” Greg says proudly. Inside are wooden tables with boxes of vegetables and all kinds of salad, freezers with meat and broad bean pate and a chest full of home made chutneys and fudge.
“People can visit the farm store and make up their own vegetable boxes here or order by phone or online,” he explains. “These can include beef, our own organic chicken, vegetables, salad, free range eggs and chutneys. I can cut the salad for them while they wait or sometimes they'll pick their own.”
The vegetables are “at a price I think is fair,” ensuring that they are usually below supermarket costs. “We started with limited produce but now we grow salads, new potatoes, strawberries, onions, carrots, cucumber, peppers – we've tried everything!” He places a small red knobbly tuber on the table. “This is a Peruvian vegetable called Oca which tastes like a like lemony potato – boiled and served with butter and black pepper they're delicious.”
Greg believes that their selling point is dealing direct with their customers. He sends out a regular newsletter and ensures that buying from Cusgarne is a relaxed business where everyone is made welcome. Even their huge black cat settles on my lap, purring loudly for the duration of the interview.
At this point an elderly couple shuffle in, and are greeted with courteous respect, like old friends. They'd like some beef, so Greg tells them what's available. “Topside, silverside, rump, fillet, sirloin, beefburgers, our own mince.” He pulls a packet from the freezer. “Our beefburgers and meatballs are made with rice flakes and our own vegetables, so they're gluten free.”
Greg waits patiently while they finish their shopping then places the goods in a small wooden box. “I'll carry that to your car for you,” he says, and escorts them to the car.
This personal approach has won him clients such as the Tresanton hotel, the Old Quay House in Fowey, the Housel Bay Hotel and Lord Falmouth. Italian kale and Jerusalem artichokes are very popular, as is Cusgarne's Angus beef. “We take our meat to a local abattoir only 2 miles away which has an organic licence and they hang the meat for 2-3 weeks or 4 weeks for Lord Falmouth's fillet,” says Greg. “He says our fillet steak is the best he's ever had!”
During the summer months, Greg needs help hoeing and weeding and found that getting help locally was very difficult. So he became involved in World wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. In return for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles.
“Everyone mucks in – we share cooking and eat together,” Greg explains. They've had students from Korea, France, Germany, New Zealand and Japan which causes great amusement in the local pub. “Our landlord calls them Greg's Lot!” he grins. “We learn something from everyone.” But Greg would love some permanent help. “I could do with finding someone who's committed to what we're doing to allow me some more free time,” he says.
Another of Greg's strengths is adaptability, and he remains positive, even in a recession. “I believe it's important to keep changing and providing what people want. Our trade is holding up at the moment, and because we're not expensive, some people might save money.”
Of more concern is the fact that farming is a dying industry, in part due to to the supermarkets' monopoly on selling food. Greg explains: “The way I see it, most people are stuck in a situation where they don't care about the countryside or where their food comes from; they don't care that they're supporting supermarkets who are helping the destruction of a way of life. These people are also paying quite a lot for that privilege.
“In my own small way I try to change things by providing an alternative to what one of my customers calls “stupermarkets” and offering something unique. We reduce food miles, and we can show people round the farm so they can see where the food comes from. We can reconnect people with their food.”
Greg & Teresa Pascoe
Cusgarne Wollas, Cusgarne, Truro TR4 8RL - 01872 865922.
Tuesday and Saturday 1-5pm
Wed – Friday 10am-5pm
Or ring to arrange a more convenient time
Cornwall Today April 2009