Jack Buck Farms - celeriac, chicory root, fennel
Whilst it tastes delicious and it’s incredibly good for you, celeriac is never going to win any prizes for its looks. Quite possibly the ugliest vegetable going, and a demanding crop to grow successfully, it’s not top of the wish list for most vegetable farmers to plant. Farmers Robin Buck and Julian Perowne have seen past all the challenges celeriac poses and have carved out a very successful business growing this niche crop on more than 120 acres of their 1150 acre farm in Moulton Seas End, Lincolnshire.
Back in 1992, Robin planted two acres of the crop as a tentative commercial trial for his farm. Demand was increasing – British consumers were just starting to embrace a wider range of continental tastes and celeriac has been a staple part of the European diet for many years. The French and the Dutch in particular are big fans of this root vegetable that packs a big flavour punch.
To grow awareness and sales of the crop, Robin took a pro-active stance, establishing a brand for his celeriac. The Ugly One was born and has become a familiar sight on the wholesale markets. Initiatives such as the branding and working with celebrity chefs and the media to increase the profile of celeriac has meant that Jack Buck Farms has become very much known for its celeriac production. They now produce around half of all UK-grown celeriac themselves and even assist other growers around the country in marketing their celeriac crops.
As the farm’s manager, Julian Perowne is responsible for the day to day management of the celeriac crop and its post-harvest storage. He explains that “Celeriac is the vegetable equivalent of a sheep. Where a sheep spends its life thinking up new ways to die, celeriac spends its time thinking of new ways to rot. We have to be on the ball when we’re planning our rotations, monitoring growth in the field and going through its post-harvest treatment. We have to wash and dry the crop and place it in cold storage, then keep a careful eye on it for any deterioration. Science can offer help with this to a certain extent, but with the reduction in the number of available aids such as herbicide treatments now, for example, we have to try and outsmart the celeriac to keep it at optimum quality.”
Julian plants the celeriac seedlings in May, and they grow steadily through the summer months to produce a bushy foliage, around 50cm high. As the days shorten, the root starts to enlarge and forms the characteristic round, ugly vegetable that’s then harvested in October and November. As with potatoes, the crop is stored carefully in cool, dark surroundings and is therefore available as a UK-grown crop all year round.
Jack Buck Farms are well known for their other specialist vegetables, being confident in their skills with less mainstream crops. Within their acreage you’ll find around 40 acres of fennel growing and 45 acres of chicory root which goes to supply another local company, Jack Buck Growers (now owned by Fresca Group and independent of Jack Buck Farms). There’s even a small acreage of Jerusalem artichokes, a crop that Robin extols for its naturally-occurring pre-biotics.
Environmental responsibility is a key part of the Jack Buck Farms working philosophy. The farm is entered in the Entry Level Stewardship scheme and more than 5% of their land is actively managed as environmental and conservation areas and woodland. A 10-acre site is well-established as a woodland and reed bed area which now boasts a healthy population of marsh harriers.
The next project for the farm is following on from a carbon audit and a look at electricity consumption. A wind turbine is to be installed with the aim of bringing sustainability and self-sufficiency to the crop drying and storage process – a significant user of power in the farm’s operations. Whilst they can’t make celeriac any prettier, Robin and Julian are certainly intent on making it greener and to maintain its rising popularity with consumers.