How long have you been in farming, Hamish?
I grew up on a busy livestock farm, so the farming way of life has been ingrained from an early age. In fact, some of my earliest memories were of helping my father through the busy lambing season. I always knew I would work outdoors and after university I took up arboriculture but agriculture called and it wasn’t long before I was farming again.
How long have you been growing Fenland celery?
I’ve looked after the Fenland celery crop for 4 seasons now. It’s a really special crop and a privilege to be involved in taking care of it.
Is growing Fenland celery really that different to growing mainstream celery?
Very different. Being grown in the traditional manner, almost exclusively by hand, it is hugely labour-intensive. We only grow 10-15Ha of Fenland celery a season but it takes a lot of time to look after. Planted in June and harvested in October, it is exposed to all kinds of weather and we have to be responsive to that. Our main concern every season is frost. And it is our approach to protecting the Fenland celery from the frost – by digging deep furrows into the soil and ‘earthing-up’ around the crop as it grows – that is a big part of what makes it so unique.
What does ‘earthing-up’ do for the celery?
The growing conditions here on the Cambridgeshire Fens are quite different to anywhere else in the country. The region in which Fenland celery is farmed is home to a deep, rich and peaty soil, that is packed full of nutrients, thanks to the decomposed plant remains that have accumulated over the hundreds of years while the Fens were under water. The soil boasts around 15-20% organic matter, compared with as low as 3% for some soils. As well as protecting the crop, the soil ‘blanches’ the stems, flushing out the chloroform and making for a milder flavour as well as a distinctly pale stem.
What time does your alarm go off on a typical morning?
My alarm is set for 5:45am six days a week. I’m often not home until 7pm so it is a long day but I love it.
How do you like to eat Fenland celery?
I like it braised or roasted to really bring out the flavour. For a quick and healthy snack I love ‘ants on a log’ – a stick of celery halved with peanut butter spread into the groove and topped with raisons. A new classic!