Anna Ralph, café manager at Windmill Hill City Farm, writes our latest blog post. Anna shares her personal motivations behind the ways in which the café connects the farm’s growing, food production and sustainability aims. The farm will be open again from Monday March 29th.
Windmill Hill City Farm has been a green oasis in south Bristol for over 40 years. It was founded in the 1970s by local volunteers who had a vision for the derelict site and worked together to win the council’s support and get the site established and productive. So much happens on the site every day, it’s impossible to keep up with it all. While me and my team run the café and shop, there could be art classes, school visits, and a full timetable of groups volunteering in the gardens and on the farm, mostly adults with support needs who gain an enormous amount of wellbeing benefits, learn new skills and build friendships from their time spent in the gardens and looking after the animals.
I used to visit Windmill Hill City Farm with my children when they were young, and loved the relaxed atmosphere and the expanses of greenery, the sheep bleating just a few metres from the bustle of East Street, so when the café was looking for a new manager seven years ago, I knew it would be my dream job.
The menu at the café is built on the produce from the farm, so there’s always something colourful on the salad counter, and our cakes are made with berries, apples and rhubarb grown and harvested by the volunteer groups. We also preserve lots of the produce, in chutneys, pickles and ferments – crucial when there’s a huge glut of something!
We took the decision recently to only use meat reared on the farm. We did this for two reasons – one is to reduce the footprint of our own operation, but the other is to start a conversation with the public around how much meat should be part of a sustainable diet. A big part of the Farm’s remit is to bring people closer to where food comes from, and we make that link as clear as we can. The goats we welcome in spring will be part of the menu the following year, but we only use what the Farm produces as part of its educational and therapeutic activities, and the rest of the time, the menu is very much veg-led. Being open about meat production is part of the learning experience – facing how it feels can be hard, but it’s the only honest way, and if people reduce their meat consumption as a result, that may have more impact than not serving meat at all.
Of course, these four acres in the city can’t produce everything we use, so another area we can make an impact is through our sourcing. We have a standard list of questions we send to any new supplier, asking about how and where their ingredients are produced, their packaging, whether they have at certification such as Fairtrade, Organic, B Corp or Living Wage. We don’t expect everyone to have all those things, it can expensive, especially for small suppliers, but it gives us a picture of their values, and sends a message that we care about those things too.
With all the young families who come to the Farm, this gentle approach to education is the right way for us, while hopefully providing a welcoming space and delicious food.
The farm will be open again from March 29th. Come and enjoy a wander around and treat yourself to a take-away bite from the café. Want to get more involved? You can support us by becoming a regular donor or volunteer. Find out more.
By setting the wheels in motion now, together we can transform the future of food in our city, building in resilience over the next decade. So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.