Bailey's Barn Farm
Have you ever thought about the healing properties of vegetables? I don’t mean just in the nutritional sense, but in terms of therapy.
Any keen gardener will tell you that the mere process of getting down on your knees and putting your hands in the earth is a wonderful form of relaxation. Certainly as campers we can recognise that sense of getting closer to nature as being a wonderful way to unwind or to get life back in perspective.
This is at the heart of Helen Bailey’s philosophy for her ‘Farm-to-Grow’ scheme she runs from her smallholding and Certificated Site (CS) at Bailey’s Barn Farm in Wetley Rocks, Staffordshire.
Using her four large vegetable patches as a learning tool, Helen runs courses teaching farming and smallholding skills, as well as basic plant care, courses on nutrition and business skills advising learners how to sell their products to the local community.
Some of the people who come here to learn about growing vegetables might be at a bit of a crossroads in their life, some have been out of work, others might be looking to change career paths. At the very basic level it is enabling people to feed themselves with nutritious food, but they are also meeting new people and increasing their self-confidence and self-esteem while doing it. It can have a hugely transformative effect on a person’s life.”
Of course there’s the added bonus of learning skills that have the potential to make a small business out of growing produce too. The smallholding at Bailey’s Barn Farm covers 12 acres. As well as the CS it’s made up of the vegetable patches, raised beds and a polytunnel, which yield an impressive list of produce including salad leaves, potatoes, onions, carrots, courgettes, tomatoes, chillis, peppers and cucumbers.
The excess produce is available for the campers to buy – a perfect opportunity to make the freshest field-to-fork salads and stews. But all is not lost if you want to experience the taste of the produce without having to cook. This year Helen is offering a small menu of home-made soups, salads and packed lunches to her campers when they arrive.
Helen and her husband Ian are lifelong caravanners themselves and have always intended to run their own site, which they have done now for six years. The campsite looks out over fields towards the Churnet Valley, part of which has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. With lakes, streams, and spectacular woodland, it’s popular with walkers, nature lovers and railway enthusiasts. The volunteer-run Churnet Valley Railway operates a very popular steam train that runs through this picturesque part of the country, known locally as Staffordshire’s ‘little Switzerland’.
Bailey’s Barn Farm is well-placed for exploring the area. It’s a mere 15-minute drive from Stoke city centre giving the opportunity to visit the Potteries with its world famous ceramics factories and museums. In the other direction it’s just two minutes from Consall Nature Park, a peaceful place great for fishing and picnics.
But if you just fancy staying put there’s still plenty to see at the farm. Helen and Ian’s menagerie of farm animals were certainly the star attraction for my children Maisy and Mack when we visited. They accompanied Helen at feeding time to meet llamas, rare breed Shetland cows and Soay sheep as well as miniature horses. Helen is also happy to give campers the tour of the farm to see all of the produce.
The other feature on the site that was a hit during our visit was the genuine Mongolian yurt – not least because it was a cold, rainy wintery day and the yurt offered a wonderfully cosy place to sit and have a chat. It’s big enough to sit 18 people enabling Helen to use it as a learning space but this summer the yurt will be available for campers to hire overnight too.
Despite the grey day, Helen’s hugely warm welcome made this a very special place to be. Taking us in from the cold, she treated us all to one of her home-made tomato soup and fresh bread, made from basic, just-picked, home-grown ingredients of tomatoes, garlic and onions - and a good sprinkling of kindness. So simple, yet utterly delicious. Taking pleasure in the simple stuff, whether it’s putting your hands in the earth or cosying up in a tent with your family, really can be very good for the soul.