Wouldn’t it be great to sell up, leave your boring office job and live off your land? This is a question we’re sure many of you have pondered on many occasions as you get up on Monday morning. Andy and Adam actually bit the bullet and went through with it! They set up a smallholding in 2011, which they managed successfully, and then they went on to take part in BBC’s Big Dreams Small Spaces in 2014. Today, they own a café and shop in the Welsh village of Corris. We caught up with them 3 years on; many things have changed!
1) Why did you choose to up sticks and move to such a remote place?
At the time we were living in the very centre of Bournemouth, doing the usual 9-5 thing, which was just getting boring. We were also spending more and more time driving out to the country and camping and exploring at weekends.
We both shared a love of good food, growing things and the outdoors – I grew up on a farm in Shropshire and Adam grew up in rural Dorset. Both of us like change and we knew we wanted an adventure, and that was about all the planning we did. We just started looking further afield to see what we could do or where we could go. Adam and I came to Wales in the middle of that process for a short break and fell in love with Corris, its people and the general area and that was it – we were hooked!
2) How self-sufficient were you able to be? Did it require extensive research?
Overtime we were producing all our own meat, eggs and a sizeable amount of veg. It’s amazing how much food you can produce in a small space. Any excess we gave or bartered for stuff with friends in the village.
We didn’t plan for costs – generally we’re not great planners – and we definitely have a ‘get on and do it’ attitude with . We got a place with effectively a large garden, on the side of a mountain where we were told we’d never be able to grow anything etc. But that just encouraged us to get stuck in!
We cleared the land and began building a smallholding. Social media was incredibly helpful to us – we set up an account and used it to ask advice. And it worked! In fact, that’s how we heard about Preloved, it helped us get the essential stuff we needed in the early days. We even sold our beloved ancient camper van on Preloved so we could pay to get some wood-burners installed in our house!
The first bit of kit we bought was a trailer big enough for two weaner pigs. We found an old small cattle trainer on Anglesey for £90 and that day we drove up to get it – it was our best purchase.
We begged and bartered everything else, we did all the hard labour ourselves and gradually it came together. Our starting point was a small chicken enclosure, a small paddock for two weaner pigs and a veg patch. Over the years we added bee hives, a polytunnel and various animal paddocks so we could rotate our livestock.
3) What was your gardening experience prior to the programme?
Let’s just say that what we lacked in knowledge we made up for in ambition! We knew a bit – but not much – but we did have a genuine passion for it and we wanted to learn. On-screen we learnt so much about gardening from Monty Don, but off-screen we learnt about the farming side of things – he really inspired us to up our game and think about where we were going with it.
4) What advice would you give amateur gardeners who have in mind something similar to what you created?
You can get the most pleasure out of watching just one plant in a pot grow and see it change over the seasons – you don’t need a huge space. It can have such a positive effect on your mind and body. Just look at any space you have- however small – or even if it’s just a window sill; you’d be amazed at what you can grow even in the tiniest of space, both for pleasure and to eat. You just need to get on and do it!
5) Something you just can’t manage to grow.
Carrots; or something resembling a carrot! Then we asked ourselves “why were we bothering?” They can be bought cheaply everywhere, so we started growing things that were more expensive in the shops – and we seemed to do better with them!
6) Did second hand or sustainability come into the equation?
Absolutely. We made a decision to reuse and recycle from the start. We had very little money and the whole point of the move was a lifestyle change. Also the community of smallholders and gardeners is an amazing bunch of people. They were so generous sharing knowledge and plants etc – both in person, in and around our village, but also online.
7) Has the garden evolved since Monty’s help?
Monty was really helpful in making us think about the bigger picture of what we were doing and where we might go with the garden and the smallholding.
We were juggling a lot of things. Adam and I we were selling more and more produce to the village and, as we loved cooking and food, people were increasingly asking us to cater events. We also ran a small copy writing company and rented a section of house out as a holiday home.
There was an empty shop in the centre of our village. It had been closed for as long as people could remember, but we’d often fantasised about renting the space as a base for what we were doing and to get us out of the house!
So we contacted the landlady and agreed to rent the old shop. We didn’t really have a plan (again!) but as we knew we’d be in there most days we thought we could get a coffee machine and open the doors when we were there, to help cover the rent. Someone then asked if we could sell bread, another milk – and before we knew it we had a village store and coffee shop!
Quite soon after that the whole property came up for sale and we made the decision to buy it – which meant selling the smallholding. We did this a year ago. So for now we’re focused on growing this business and down the line we’ll probably look for another smallholding; one with a bit more land and not on a hill!
9) What knowledge have you applied to your new surroundings?
We live above the shop now and behind it is a tiny yard – so after the Monty show we knew exactly how to max out the most of the space. It’s overlooked and tiny but we’ve created a little escape space to sit in and relax on the odd occasion we have five minutes! Across the entire building we’ve used the same principles and made the most of any space we can: window boxes with herbs and fruit and decorative plants and pots out the front. This year we’d like to expand on this.
Now we don’t have a smallholding we look to buy produce from small-scale local producers similar to us – we have a mixture of local products and things that are a bit unusual.
Andy and Adam have certainly been busy! It just goes to show how new beginnings can happen any time, anywhere. You can follow Andy and Adam’s journey on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter; and why not stop and say hello next time you are in Snowdonia?!