© 2017 The Harpenden Society
The Harpenden Society had its annual summer social event at Rothamsted this year. Around 50 society members met at Rothamsted Manor and were initially shown the Park Grass and the genetically modified (GM) wheat experiments being carried out by Rothamsted Research. The organisation is justifiably proud of the Park Grass Experiment which started in 1856 and has been continuously monitored ever since – it is the oldest such experiment in the world and is featured in Guinness World Records. The wheat GM experiment is to test whether wheat, genetically engineered to repel aphid attack, can work in the field. The wheat generates an odour as produced in nature by aphid predators which humans cannot detect but which is repellant to aphids. If successful the wheat will not have to be sprayed with harmful pesticides to kill aphids. The group negotiated the impressive security of high fences and guard dogs and were allowed into the field.
Members returned to Rothamsted Manor for some refreshments and were then given a fascinating historical tour of the interior and exterior of the Manor. The building days back to the 16th century.
Chris Marsden, Chairman of The Harpenden Society commented, “We are very grateful to Rothamsted Research for allowing us to see their experiments and for showing us round the magnificent Manor House. It was beneficial for our members to witness the controversial GM experiment so we can judge for ourselves from an informed standpoint. I believe that it will be beneficial and am confident that the thorough testing will ensure no threat. It was a very successful event, the only regret is that we were over-subscribed and had tell some members that we were full.”
Huw Jones of Rothamsted Research addresses Harpenden Society members in the secure field where the genetically modified wheat trials are being conducted
On a lovely summer evening, 40 Harpenden Society members gathered at Annables Farm which has recently been renovated to create a hi-tech learning centre together with a kitchen and other up to date facilities.
After a welcoming cup of tea or coffee Ian Pigott, the farmer and owner, gave us a presentation in which he explained about his ‘Farmschool’ where he welcomes adults and children from ‘town’ backgrounds to explain modern farming practices and the source of our food. On his farm he grows wheat, barley, linseed and oilseed rape – and more. He has no livestock.
We then had a ride on a tractor with a trailer to see the farm and were given an interesting commentary on the fields and countryside which we passed. Members showed their interest with a wide variety of questions which Ian was pleased to answer.
We then came back to the farm where we enjoyed some excellent wine and nibbles - and a fine time was had by all!
A refreshing taste of England’s ‘green and pleasant land’ on Harpenden’s doorstep was enjoyed in early June by twenty or so Harpenden Society members and friends on a guided tour of Hammonds End Farm. An initial drizzle threatened literally to put a damper on the early-evening visit, as the group climbed aboard the farm trailer, seating ourselves surprisingly comfortably on the straw bales provided.
Our informative host and guide was Stuart Roberts, representing the 3rd generation of the Roberts family, who have been farming at Hammonds End since the 1950s, where today Stuart’s father Howard occupies the farmhouse.
Stuart explained that in 1998 a decision was made, on commercial as well as ecological grounds, to ‘go organic’, eschewing the use of any chemicals, as fertiliser or for weed/pest control. Hammonds End is one of the few wholly organic farms in the area which, as Stuart observed, is ironically in stark contrast to some of the GM trials going on at Rothamsted Research, whose land is in places only 120 yards away. He stressed that the farm nevertheless enjoys an amicable relationship with Rothamsted. Today some 100 acres at Hammonds End are assigned to wheat production, 60 acres to oats and smaller areas to other crops such as rye, which is sold to distilleries producing a bourbon-like whisky. Stuart said that, thanks in large measure to Hammonds End’s organic regime, today’s farm has become habitat for a wide variety of both fauna and flora. At the end of our 90-minute tour we repaired to one of the farm’s traditional barns, for welcome tea and cakes, where Stuart was glad to answer any outstanding questions. Everyone agreed it had been a highly enjoyable as well as an educational experience.