St Werburghs City Farm Café: Making the most of the local harvest

Leona Williamson founder and owner of the Farm Café St Werburghs City Farm uses as much local allotment produce as she can for her meals. In this blog post, she describes what motivates the café’s style of cooking.

Food is such a fascinating subject – you can never get bored. Playing with it, learning about it, watching it grow. We’ve enjoyed our journey with fermentation in our café at St Werburghs City Farm, particularly brewing kombucha, which we’ve been making here for about six years. It’s a delicious sugar-free alternative to fizzy drinks, so I urge you to have this rather than an energy drink! I suppose making food as medicine is the way I approach it. We’re always looking at ways we can make the most of our harvest, but also create more living food. I do a lot of secondary fermentations. I’m about to make some buckwheat pancakes and I’ll use a kefir base to secondary ferment the buckwheat flour – pop in some time for a taste and chat about how it works!

I believe that nature gives us what we need as we need it, so I wanted to explore what a localised food system really means and how we can incorporate this into the ethos of the café. I wanted to showcase the interesting and diverse (often plant-based, but not always) range of local foods. I’ve been lucky enough to be given such a beautiful home here in the farm café, and one of my main aims is making good food accessible. Affordability is a big one, fitting with the Food Equality strand of Going for Gold. I also have to consider that if I say to someone ‘your food is medicine’, that might put them off, rather than just ‘here’s some delicious seasonal food’! So I have some tricks – like my creamy mushrooms are not as heavy as you might expect as I finish them with white wine vinegar to help you digest them better.

The government recently changed the allotment rules and said that people could sell their surplus fruit and vegetables as long as they weren’t making more money than their allotment rent. So before we were taking food for free, but now there’s a few allotments here who cover their allotment rent by selling us their produce, so they’re not profiting, but they’re not losing out – and you don’t have surplus food going to waste.

We try to keep all our suppliers as local as possible. For example, our salad leaves come from Purple Patch just down the road and our dairy comes from Jessie’s Ladies in Wiltshire, a farm that diversified by the decision to bottle the milk on-site and selling it to catering companies like me. You notice the difference at different times of the year. At the moment it’s really creamy, but when you try and steam it, it doesn’t get any texture, the fat content is too heavy. This is because the cows have changed their diet – they’ve come in for the winter and are no longer on pasture. I love this fact that you can see a change in an ingredient and you know why and it’s all natural. It’s bringing back the value. We have to invest in our farms and more sustainable land management, so that we can produce food that’s of nutritional value for generations to come.

What I hope that people take from the café is feeling good about the food they eat. You might eat a big meal and even have a sweet treat, but you don’t walk out feeling heavy, you can digest it well, feel really good from it and you think ‘that was a good meal’. Good on many levels, good for you, good for us, good for the planet.

Leona Williamson has been cooking at The Farm Café at St Werburghs City Farm for the past 14 years. The café was responsible for creating a new category in The Observer Food Monthly Awards in 2008 when it won the Best Ethical Contribution.

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