Ross Geach spent ten years working as a chef before setting up Padstow Kitchen Garden. Having worked his way up to head chef for Rick Stein, he decided to return to the farm where he and previous generations of his family have lived for over a century. Working with his grandad, he began growing vegetables and salads for the Cornish restaurant sector.
Ross’s reputation for producing outstanding and unusual vegetables is growing rapidly. He has appeared on ITV’s Hungry Sailors as well as Hook It & Cook It with Nathan Outlaw, and writes a monthly garden column for the Telegraph.
Locavore spoke to Ross about his change of direction, his growing methods, and the importance of knowing the land.
You were a chef for a number of years before you started Padstow Kitchen Garden. What was behind the change of direction?
Trerethern farm has been owned by the Geach family for well over 150 years. Growing up I spent a lot of time at the farm, it’s one of my favourite places in the world. There wasn’t enough work on the farm to sustain three generations of us, so that’s why I went into cheffing.
Whilst travelling South America and Asia in 2007, I was struggling with the thought of going back to work in a kitchen. As much as I had enjoyed my years as a chef and working my way up the ladder, the thought of working indoors was really dragging me down. I think I was always meant to work outdoors! However, I had no choice but to go back to work.
On my days off I would cycle the one mile from my house to the farm and work with my grandad. We started restoring the walled garden and I know straight away this is was I am meant to be doing. We grew salad, radish, beetroot, runner beans, and new potatoes. The flavours were unbelievable, and I couldn’t wait to get this produce into the restaurants and on the menus. It grew from this small garden to a two-acre part of a field with a couple of polytunnels.
In 2013 I went to Rick Stein and asked if he would let me go to part time for six months while I set up the business and made sure it worked (kind of a safety net). Rick let me, and I worked two days and one night a week in the kitchen over the summer, and it was very successful. So I then went it alone after that summer.
The garden is now five acres, three polytunnels, and I also use some tunnels at the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery for growing peppers and cucumbers in bulk.
What do you grow on the farm? And do you grow organically?
We grow a huge range of veg. Lettuce, spinach, chard, kales, fennel, carrots, leeks, beetroots, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, cauliflower, cabbages, celeriac, courgettes, pumpkins, courgette flowers, and mixed edible flowers. We are not certified organic but use as many organic practices as possible. As of 2016 we are spray free, meaning we only use organic sprays, and we completely cut out use of glyphosphates.
Your family have been on the farm for generations. How has that history influenced the way you grow?
As much as some modern techniques are necessary, you can’t beat listening to the older generations, and knowing the land is very important. Especially when you are as exposed to the elements as much as we are.
You say you have learned to ‘cheat the seasons’. What do you mean by this?
Mainly by using the polytunnel to my advantage, earlier and later sowings can be achieved. Also, by clamping veggies in sand and pickling, we have veg during the ‘hunger gap’.
Although this year has been pretty bad, with non-stop rain since September and then the snow; I don’t have much veg this March…
How does the land influence your growing?
Something very interesting is that the field I grow in isn’t ‘on paper’ great for growing veg. It’s stony and has a lot of clay, but these work very well for me. The stones hold warmth and help the soil to dry, but also in dry times the clay in the soil can hold the moisture.
You also run courses about growing. Can you tell us a bit more?
Well, if you’ve ever dreamed of growing your own vegetables to create fabulously nutritious meals, why not spend the day with me at beautiful Trerethern Farm in Padstow and learn how to establish your own kitchen garden? This is a fun but informative course, for gardeners of all abilities and no previous experience is required. Although a passion for all things green-fingered is a bonus! I also prepare a scrumptious lunch made with ingredients sourced from the farm.
You grow some unusual things – do you have any favourites among your produce? And do you have anything new in the pipeline?
Trying to keep up with the restaurant fashions can be hard. It’s always good to keep an eye on kitchen gardens and chefs in the US on Instagram. Also, Rick does a new series and book every couple of years, so I can sit down with his chefs and make sure I’m growing the things that they’re cooking. This season I’m growing lots of Mexican chillies and herbs to accompany Rick’s Road To Mexico book
Who do you currently grow for?
Rick Stein, Paul Ainsworth, Chris Eden, Mitch Tonks, Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, and lots of other great chefs around Cornwall. This year I will be looking to send more produce to London. I also sell veg boxes to the public from June to January.
Do you think the political changes to come over the next few years will affect your business directly?
It shouldn’t affect me too much. As long as it doesn’t affect the restaurant industry.
What are your hopes and fears for the future?
I would love to have a shop, a restaurant, and kitchen garden school. All based around what’s growing in the garden.
Finally, why do you do what you do?
I love being outdoors! I love working on our farm! I love good food!
For more on Padstow Kitchen Garden, click here.
Find Ross on Twitter here.