Food and Flora: Farming, Land Use & Biodiversity
An evening of speakers, producers and good food.
Monday 27th October 2014, 7-9.30pm, Unicorn Grocery
Industrial agriculture is the world’s biggest threat to biodiversity, but food doesn’t have to cost the earth. Hear from farmers, campaigners and others working to secure a food system where profit’s not the only bottom line.
Short presentations from the Soil Association, Ethical Consumer & Unicorn suppliers Vine House Farm & Moss Brook Growers.
Plus, as they celebrate their 25th year, hear how Unicorn partner Trees for Life are bringing back Scotland’s native wildlife as they restore the ancient Caledonian Forest.
Then enjoy some of Unicorn’s famous soups, alongside fresh bread, good ale and a chat with our speakers and other suppliers.
Tickets £3, on sale in the shop or at Feeding Manchester (below)
Tickets on sale here
Last Modified - 30th September 2014
Veg News Sept 26th
A proud week to be part of Unicorn. Saturday saw us celebrating our 18th birthday. This week (and the coming months) will see produce from our own land making up a huge proportion of our veg range.
For those who do not know, we bought 21 acres of prime growing (albeit dock leaf ridden) land near Leigh in 2008. In 2010 the land was certified fully organic, and we signed a 10 year tenancy agreement with a new growing cooperative – Moss Brook Growers, set up by Unicorn two Unicorners (Stu and Rob). Joined by a third new grower - Carl, this year, the transformation achieved on the land is spectacular. While not quite (!) dock-free, their produce is dominating our veg display right now. Broccoli, leeks, beetroot, kale, radishes and (star of the show) true spinach are all courtesy of Moss Brook this week. Not only are they meeting our (pretty significant) demands, they are also seeking out other customers at this productive time of the season. We are quite proud of their achievements.
OK, what else. More of the same really. Plenty of cauliflowers from the Wasses in North Yorkshire, a wide range of potatoes (moving down in price), and a good supply of conference pears from Herefordshire. For all those asking about cooking apples, the new season Bramley apples are with us now, along with a great range of UK desert apples (1st Cox due on Wednesday).
Last Modified - 26th September 2014
First Floor Refurb Summer/Autumn 2014 - Trading as Normal!
As you'll probably notice when you’re shopping or even just passing by, we are undertaking a large scale refurbishment of the first floor of the building.
Work commenced mid-August and is scheduled to finish at the end of November. We hope that the impact on customers will be minimal – the shop shouldn't be affected and we are working with a local co-operative architects and a building firm who both really understand how little disruption we want to trading.
Despite the challenge of operating with very little office or staff space for 4 months, we are VERY excited about this project!
Keen to keep our focus on the basics of running the shop, we have always avoided taking on too many extra projects in one go. Since buying the building in 2002 we’ve been concentrating on improving the trading space, plus buying land to reduce the distance between field and fork, and then getting a decent form of energy established for the growers. Now we have saved up the cash to make much needed improvements to the fabric of the building itself.
The refurb is happening in order to do various things:
1) Increase food production space to increase our offer of good value, fresher, more affordable Unicorn-made meals.
2) Improve our ‘thermal envelope’ - we inherited a building that is cold, leaky and pretty shoddy upstairs - it’s time to improve this. So, we’re rebuilding the walls to include loads of insulation, getting new windows, replacing the roof, and finishing the whole thing off on the outside with sustainable Scottish larch.
3) Renew our hot water and heating system, to make the best use of the existing solar panels.
4) Make the space a better space to work and meet in. Check out the facebook album too see photos of the upstairs as it has been for the past 8 years. We need a space where we can all meet every week (there are nearly 60 of us now) to efficiently communicate as a worker co-op, plus decent offices to do our accounts, order our stock, meet suppliers, and do the strategic planning needed for our business. We look forward to doing these things minus the gloves and hats we usually wear half of the year!
5) When it’s all done, the building should look better from the outside too, making a big lego brick of concrete a little less imposing and nicer to look at for everyone.
We’ll keep customers updated here, in the shop and on our facebook page, especially if any significant disruptions to trading are expected (we hope not!). Bear with us and hopefully the next 4 months will fly by!
Photos of refurb
Last Modified - 26th September 2014
Seasonal Harvesting work with Moss Brook Growers
Our tenant co-operative Moss Brook Growers have some some seasonal work going during the harvest season (Autumn/Winter 2014).
They are looking for someone for 2 days per week to help harvest crops.
If you are interested, keen to work hard and have a driving licence, email your CV to firstname.lastname@example.org by 18th September.
Last Modified - 25th August 2014
Co-op Members being farmers for a day
Unicorn co-op members have been up at Glazebury helping out the fantastic tenant farmers on our land, Moss Brook Growers. Here's what we've been up to recently. Check out our facebook album for photos.
Mijke (August 2014)
When I went to Moss Brook on hot summers day a few weeks ago, I had this romantic picture in my head of harvesting crops, arms laden with bounty, chewing on straw etc. but it was REALLY HARD WORK.
I spent most of the day digging docks, beautiful rooty, back breaking weeds. I understand most of the guys' time on the land has been spent getting rid of these creatures to make the land ready for growing - respect.
At the end of the day I got to plant baby squashes on the two seated tractor that makes the little trenches in the ground and then covers it again once you've put the plant in (see pic). Can't wait to see the fruits in the shop later in the year.
PS. Thanks for the farmer's tan!
Frith (August 2014)
My day started with a chat about how things were going in general. I was interested to see the farm crop plans, laid out in blocks, then split into lines, three rows of crop within each. I enquired if the recent dry weather has caused problems but thankfully due to the irrigation system only one young crop of leeks were lost.
Rob outlined the day's activities, all 'maintenance'. If you ask people what a veg farmer does I think most would initially think of either planting or harvesting. In reality it is the day to day care of both crops and land which takes the most time.
I spent the morning hand hoeing round broccoli plants. An effective way to keep them weed free without pesticides. It was hard work (I have a blister to prove it!) but it is essential to keep on top of weeds.
After a quick lunch Rob walked me round the rest of the land. Celery, leeks, squash and beetroot all looking great. It was also lovely to see a row of tree protectors containing rosemary plants, recently planted. In between the rosemary plants hazel trees are due to be planted. They will provide a much needed windbreak and further habitat for the land's nature.
Next I moved on to the never ending task of 'Docking'. Digging out countless dock plants. It sounds simple enough but it can be really tricky to cleanly get ever last root out. If even the smallest piece is left the plant with quickly spring back.
I left the day with a sense of pride that I had in some small way helped some little plants to grow big and strong. To quote Rob ' It's like being a parent and a doctor'!
Donna (August 2014)
Rob picked us volunteers up from Unicorn car park at 7am for an early start. On the way Rob pointed out the location and told us a bit about Moss Brook farm and its evolution over the past 5 years. Upon arrival we were shown around the farm and given more information. The barn itself has a solar panelled roof and a resident swift family nested inside. One of the biggest expenses at the beginning has been the pipe leading down to an underground reservoir below the farm which is used for irrigation of the land (cool!).
I was informed about crop rotation and the need for letting one field rest every year. The resting field is covered with clover which naturally puts nitrogen back into the soil. The soil itself at the farm has Grade 1 peat content, making it perfect for growing organic veg.
Shortly after being given an abundance of interesting info we got stuck into the work. In the morning I harvested Spinach heading for Unicorn and Manchester Veg People. Spinach stalks are edible and according to one farmer, delicious in a spinach curry :) The spinach was then weighed and bagged before its final journey.
When all the veg was weighed and bagged we moved onto clearing dockweed. Aaaggghhhh! Dockweed is a pervasive weed that absorbs nutrients from the soil; each plant has 6000 seeds and is one of an organic farmers nightmares. They have to be carefully dug out of the ground, then taken off site and burnt. It’s back breaking work and needs constant weeding to prevent them from spreading and absorbing the vital nutrients in the soil.
In the afternoon we planted 9,600 vegetables, two types of kale and two types of broccoli. Yummy!
After my day on the farm I came away having even more respect for organic farmers and the hard work that goes into providing people with an abundance of gorgeous organic produce. I found working with Moss Brook growers an inspirational experience.
Laura (June 2014)
My second time at the farm began with a little introduction about the farm and how it operates.
Moss Brook Growers maintain a healthy soil by rotating their crops and planting, among other things, white clover. They have also created a beautiful wildflower bed, a delicious and colourful feast to increase biodiversity.
I was devastated to see many of the broccolis we planted on my previous trip, had been eaten by slugs. We pretty much hoed and dug out docks all day. It was a hot-sunny day... which believe me... it’s not something you want when working at the farm.
I'm absolutely amazed for the love and passion these growers put in. Hats off to them for all the patience, perseverance and hard work.
Debbie (June 2014)
I hadn’t been up to the land for almost a year and the difference was amazing. I hadn’t yet seen the borehole and irrigation system, the wildflower corner or the 60 solar panels on the barn. Plus the hundreds of metres of hedging plants that were put in a couple of years ago have turned into beautiful mixed native hedge, that looks like it’s been there for decades!
Rob showed us round and summarised what they’ve been up to, then it was straight into some hoeing of the broccoli crop. Really hard work, you have to put your back into it especially as this was the part of the land damaged by United Utilities when they laid a huge water main under one of the fields. Mixing up the subsoil with the topsoil plus all the machinery moving around on it has caused compaction of the soil, so it’s really hard to work. I had no idea how different layers of the soil worked, but Rob explained that diluting the rich, living topsoil with the clay subsoil had a massive impact and you can also really see how it affects crop growth (you can tell just by looking at the crops where the pipe is laid).
Our other main task for the day was getting rid of any flowering dock plants so that Rob could mow the next day. They’d had a tractor out of use for 10 days (being fixed) so mowing had been delayed and some had gone to seed – a disaster with docks because they’re such a pest. They have to be collected and burned offsite because their seeds are so resilliant!
The whole time we were working we were surrounded by wheeling lapwings, one of my favourite birds. They have two breeding pairs on the site and others around – definitely something to celebrate as lapwings have been declining in the UK since the 1920’s because of changes in farming practices.
It was eye-opening working with Moss Brook for just a few hours and seeing just how hard farming is. I thought working in the shop was tiring but this was on another level.
More info here
Last Modified - 21st August 2014
Grow a Grocery
We think there’s room for a Unicorn-type store in every city, and perhaps more besides. We have no plans to expand outside the one shop, so we’ve put together a guide intended to help facilitate the emergence of new stores run on similar lines.
Starting a new business is a daunting process. The guide is based on the model Unicorn has tried & tested since 1996, and walks potential grocers through all areas of the business, in the hope that it will make starting a new shop an easier process and help existing shops improve and/or expand.
Read the guide here
Last Modified - 10th October 2013