Farmer Laura's Exotic Tale
On her farm near Chartham, just outside the city of Canterbury, 25-year-old Laura Brady grows more than 150 varieties of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers, on two acres of land. But The Wonky Parsnip is much more than a market garden, nestling in a county that’s known as ‘The Garden of England’.
In summer The Wonky Parsnip offers tours, courses and a supper club, using her own produce, and there are often stalls and plant sales at the farm. There’s a Pick-Your-Own rainbow pumpkin patch in the autumn and Christmas trees on sale from late November.
Laura’s enthusiasm for her colourful and often exotic produce is infectious. She loves welcoming people to the farm, so we met her there to discover her personal #OurCanterburyTales story, and how you can make it part of yours…
How can visitors to Canterbury experience the Wonky Parsnip magic?
We supply fresh produce to restaurants all across Kent and London, including the Goods Shed in Canterbury, and the Fordwich Arms, which now has a Michelin star. So you may have already experienced our magic without realising it! But you really need to come to the farm to see our ‘weird and wonderful’ range of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.
Last year I installed a big commercial kitchen, so I could invite local chefs to come and cook here, using our plants and herbs, especially the more unusual ones. Because of Covid, we started holding our supper clubs outdoors, in individual ‘pods’ in the woodland close to the kitchen and the river. We put fairy lights in the trees and candles everywhere, and ‘magical’ really is the only word for it!
I’d love more young chefs to come and work with us – it’s a unique ‘farm-to-fork' experience and very popular. We are also teaming up with our neighbours, Chartham Vineyard, to offer a combined tour, wine-tasting, and lunch by the river in our new seating area – you can book all our events on our website.
You’re certainly in a beautiful location…
We’re in the Domesday Book – apparently, William the Conqueror’s brother decided to live here because he could get to Dover on horseback in a day! It’s actually a tiny village, with a small manor house, a farmhouse – where we live – and its own church. The River Stour runs alongside our land, and you can walk along the river from here into Canterbury.
…but farming is always hard work, so how does everything get done?
Sometimes my mum helps, but usually, it’s just me – hand-weeding two acres is a never-ending job! Since I started The Wonky Parsnip in 2018 I’ve grown for flavour and variety, in small quantities, and we don’t use any sprays, just techniques like companion planting that can help protect crops from insects. Sometimes you can’t stop them from getting munched, but that’s okay – we’re working with nature, not fighting it, and everything needs to eat!
Our soil isn’t particularly good; it’s mainly clay with lots of flints, but every year we put on 200 tonnes of compost to improve it. And for some reason, almost everything we plant seems to love it here, from watercress and Mexican tomatillos to cucamelons, asparagus peas and electric daisies.
You could say that travelling and working in different parts of the world has (literally) given me a taste for growing delicious and unusual stuff, and I want to pass on what I’ve learned.
Finally, Laura, is it true that your idea of a perfect holiday is working on a farm in Australia or New Zealand for a few weeks?
Yes! [Laughs] But doing nothing on a beach in Bali is also good!