Derrick Spencer

My career in growing vegetables did not look likely early on in my life, as it was not until my late teens that I realised that I actually like vegetables! Now I grow them for a living! I discovered a love for the environment and sustainability whilst studying geography at university, although at the time I was not sure where this would lead me. Whilst taking a gap year, I volunteered on sustainable farms, to gain new skills, whilst travelling and meeting people. I was so inspired by many of the people and places I visited, as to how it was possible to grow amazing food whilst working in harmony with nature. As the food industry has a huge part to play in global sustainability, I realised that this could be my contribution, to practice, promote and celebrate sustainable, seasonal and local food production.  

Upon returning to the UK I worked at a commercial, organic vegetable farm in Somerset called Plowright Organic, where I was thrown in at the deep end of organic vegetable production! Although it was incredibly hard work, I was again inspired by the farmer and my colleagues and the results of our labour, tonnes of sustainably grown, seasonal produce! We packed many veg boxes for local customers, who appreciated local and seasonal produce delivered to their door. The happy faces of these customers for such humble produce was and is a highlight of my role as a veg grower.

My most recent role was as a market garden manager in Norfolk, where I would lead workshops for vulnerable adults on a six acre market garden. Engaging people in food production is also a passion of mine, giving people new skills whilst also growing seasonal produce, which was again sold to local people from surrounding towns and villages. 

Now, in my role at Wynyard Hall, I am very excited to run the edible garden whilst supplying fresh produce to the Glasshouse restaurant! So far I am really enjoying talking all things veg with visitors to the garden! It is great to showcase seasonal vegetable gardening at such a fantastic estate, whilst also supplying the glasshouse restaurant and working with great chefs.

My key skills are: 

Planning and organisation are essential skills when running a veg garden, to ensure a continued supply of fresh produce throughout the season and maintaining a crop rotation. Always being one step ahead is important! It is also necessary to be able to prioritise my workload and be time efficient, as missed opportunities can make it difficult to keep on top of weeds, or crops going past their best. I also need to manage the balance between maintaining a working kitchen garden whilst keep it aesthetically pleasing for visitors to the estate. 

Day to day I: 

I meet with the garden team first thing in the morning. I then take a walk around the edible garden to see how everything is going and prioritise jobs for the day. I liaise with the chefs and café/farm shop to plan harvesting for the day/week. It is then possible to move sprinklers around, plant, weed, prune etc as required.   

I love my job because: 

I am outside every day, growing produce and meeting lots of lovely visitors. Being surrounded by people who I am able to talk to about vegetables! 

In my spare time I: 

I love to cook, as well as forage for ingredients from the wild. Making preserves and pickles, as well as fermented drinks like Kombucha.  Getting lots of fresh air whilst hiking in national parks. Or, if I am tired, Netflix!  

My future goals are: 

To continue to showcase and celebrate local, seasonal and sustainable produce. Engaging people in fruit and vegetable gardening, encouraging others to ‘grow your own’!