When lockdown started Gourmet Leaves salad farm had to rapidly change their business model or face ruin. Kate Monk and her family worked flat out to set up a new home delivery service. The deliveries proved popular, but after two months of relentless working, they ran out of salad and energy, so they decided to take two weeks off. As Kate reports, it was far from a restful break.
A familiar feeling amongst many business owners when Covid closed the country down. Sheer panic. What on earth were we going to do with hundreds of kilos of lettuce and no outlets?
It was a small problem in the grand scheme of things but it did create many sleepless nights and a rather heavy, exhausting sensation inside.
However, we rallied together as a family team and created a whole new business concept which has proved very popular and, so far, has been a success. It was an intense couple of months, relentless really and when we finally sold the last bag of fully grown lettuce we decided it was time for a break from home delivery whilst we patiently awaited the next batch of lettuce.
We didn’t get much chance to rest though. It was so hot that our polytunnels were pushing 45 degrees in the day which meant that we were unable to work in there whilst the sun was high. It was pretty frustrating as we finally had a bit of spare time to catch up on the farming but couldn’t work during the day. So, we have had as much fun with the children as is possible with our new found freedom, including walks on Dartmoor, paddling in the local rivers and a short trip to the seaside for a quick dig in the sand. That in itself was quite exhausting but as soon as their sweet heads hit the pillow, our night shifts began!
We have planted lots of new lettuce, moved smaller lettuce into its new home in the bigger systems, completed and planted our tomato systems and the construction of what will hopefully be the cabbage systems in the autumn. Our wonderful neighbours volunteered their carpentry skills to help build the last large tables (all at a safe social distance) and prepare the new hydroponic equipment. Without that little push I don’t think we would have been able to take any time off, so we are incredibly grateful for their help. We have taken on our first adhoc employee as well, who will be helping us as little or often as needed, doing anything from picking lettuce to building things. The extra hands are really helping us push ahead so that the work should become less intense over the coming weeks.
There was just enough lettuce to continue with supplying our regular shop orders so, amongst all of the work, we were up before the heat each day to pick lettuce too.
The second week was more restful thanks to the cooler days, allowing us to spread the workload out. Our two children also returned to childcare two days a week which was heavenly. On those two days we did nothing. Exhausted, we managed to put our feet up and relax for while, which was much needed. Our sizeable vegetable plot has received some attention and, although it is home to more weeds than we would like, it is producing nicely, especially after the rains came.
After seven years of setting up Gourmet Leaves, working out what and how to operate, we have finally taken our first pay slip. We are so proud of this achievement for ourselves, especially given the circumstances around setting up the salad scheme. It’s far from a get rich quick project. As agriculture and small holdings are such a low paid sector, our first pay slip doesn’t quite reach minimum wage! But by supporting other local businesses through offering their produce, from delicious brownies through to jams and veg, we are hoping that we can create a little extra income from this to keep not just us in business, but the other producers as well.
The sampling of local produce was an absolute highlight of our second week. I never need an excuse to eat cakes! We chose our favourite (Coco’s in Crediton) who make the most delicious brownies and we are really looking forward to sharing the café experience with our lovely customers by delivering the brownies with our salads.