Eco-friendly couple take Bolsover smallholding back to is roots to grow business
Enterprising partners have gone back to the future to grow a business selling fruit, vegetables and flowers on land that was a market garden nearly a century ago.
Gaz and Laurenne Hopkins are the owners of Happy Roots Farm, which is based on the Oxcroft Estate between Bolsover and Clowne.
The husband and wife bought the smallholding four years ago and have built up their business which specialises in crops grown without pesticides, chemicals or artificial fertilisers and eco-friendly products from suppliers who share their ethos.
Laurenne, 29, said: “We took over an allotment about seven years ago in Brimington and we absolutely fell in love with growing. We wanted to grow on a bigger scale and make it something that would benefit the community.
"We were looking around for somewhere with land but there wasn’t a great lot in Derbyshire. We thought we’d end up moving to Wales to get something in budget, then our house came up on the old land settlements in Oxcroft. It’s like a normal three bedroom council-type semi but with five acres of land. There were twenty pairs of houses and they used to all be market gardens from the 1930s.
"The lady who had the settlement before us used to grow a lot of flowers and raise rabbits but the land had got overgrown so we’re slowly turning it back. In the early years we focused on tree planting and planting for windbreaks because we’re on a big limestone ridge and it’s really windy. There have been a lot of setting up of new beds and growing areas and barrowing tons and tons of compost. It is hard work but very enjoyable.
"We have an amazing team of volunteers who come on a Saturday morning and help us plant the veg and harvest and weed; everyone takes home a veg box as payment. They are a massive help. When there is a group of us jobs get done so much quicker and it’s so much more enjoyable when you’ve got people to chat to.”
The couple, who have four children, pride themselves on their no-dig gardening approach which doesn’t interfere with the micro-organisms, fungi and worms that nourish plant roots. Laurenne said: “Basically you don’t till the ground, you place a compost mulch on it.
"Once we started growing our own we were in awe of how tasty and how fresh our veg and fruit were.
"People love our tomatoes. We grow a lot of cherry tomatoes in different colours, really sweet flavoursome varieties, you just can’t get tomatoes that taste like them in the supermarket.
"Our flowers are really popular as well. We also do edible flowers for salads and cakes – people who buy them know they are coming from a farm that doesn’t spray them with chemicals.”
Unusual herbs such as blackcurrant sage and berries and cream mint are also grown at Happy Roots Farm.
The business offers delivery to customers within a three-mile radius and its owners are hoping to set up collection hubs elsewhere within the next few months.
Laurenne said: "We have a little farm stand on the drive that’s mainly open at the weekend when our veg is in season. Throughout the summer, it’s filled with veg and flowers. We get people who are out walking or pop up in the car – they like to come to the farm to pick stuff up. A lot of them have kids who play with our kids and we have a little library with books next to the stall.
"Lockdown has given people a new appreciation for supporting local businesses which has been really nice. The community impact has been really successful, we’ve got more people coming on board and learning about what we do.
"We’re not organic certified but we’re on a par with supermarkets’ organic. There are some times that our veg is more expensive than Aldi but we try and keep the costs as low as we can; we’re always price-checking against supermarkets. When we set up we didn’t want it to be something that was only accessible to people with huge amounts of disposable income.”
Like all growers, the Hopkins have discovered that raising crops is dependent on the elements. Laurenne said: “You’re at the mercy of the weather, animals and insects. Last year we didn’t do very well for aubergine but the year before they were brilliant. We’re happy to roll with it and keep trying to see what works.”
The couple also sell bread, pastries, sweet treats, home and personal care products from local suppliers.
Happy Roots Farm offers a zero waste refill service on the cleaning, laundry and personal care products it sells. Laurenne said: “It’s amazing when you realise that the big bottles we refill out of have saved a few hundred single use bottles from going to landfill. It is so motivating and we want to grow that side as much as we can.”
Gaz, 34, and Lauren have subsidised the setting up of their farm through their other jobs; he works in IT and she sells secondhand clothes online.