LAINES ORGANIC GROWERS
Laines Organic Farm head up by Toos Jeuken has been providing organic, seasonal fruit and vegetables from their farm at Cuckfield since 1979. Situated just south of the village, the fields offer beautiful, clear views over the South Downs.
In1973, Toos Jeuken’s father, himself a child of farmers, came over from Holland looking to buy land to farm. Realising the amazing quality of the soil, he bought 100 acres and began a new life in West Sussex. Five years later in 1978 his daughter Toos, aged just 22 (and one of 8 farming siblings), travelled on her bicycle from Holland and rented a little farm workers cottage and about 7.5 acres from her father. In the beginning, she grew sweetcorn, kale, red and white cabbage, carrots, potatoes, onions and leeks.
Although the farm’s hilltop aspect presents a challenging growing environment, it is not entirely without good fortune – pest control is largely taken care of by the westerly wind.
There’s a constant battle against weeds, although ‘battle’ is not a word that seems appropriate for Toos’ style of farming. Harmony would be the most suitable, as she works very much with nature and farms using Maria Thum’s biodynamic calendar to guide her.
To represent her relationship with nature she doesn’t water or use fertilisers, just mulching with manure by hand from the back of a tractor to restore nutrients to the soil after harvesting. Toos grows all of her crops outside with the judicious use of horticultural fleece providing protection from bird damage. This method of all-outdoor growing is not just a reflection of resourcefulness – all the crops bear the wind, rain and full sun of the seasons, resulting in a stronger richer flavour, and hardy crop.
Compared to when she started Toos has realised the growing conditions have not really changed, she still uses the same cultivating techniques as 40 years ago, always working with the weather, not against it. Nowadays she farms 4 fields. She says the soil is still in very good condition and she puts a lot of effort into keeping it healthy and well balanced.
Over the years she has tried to avoid using plastic packaging materials, and always wears elastic bands around her wrists, used for bunching up veg.
Her aim is now as it ever was to keep the soil in good condition through organic and biodynamic practices. The autumn and winter crops stay in the field and are picked when ready or needed.