The Upside goes to the farm

Tucked away between Whitechapel, Stepney and Limehouse, Stepney City Farm is one of London’s rare treasures.

Not only is it a working farm (three acres of working farm, in fact), it’s an important educational facility visited by more than 5,000 school children a year, a hub for arts projects, a farmers market, and an essential melting pot for the diverse local community that surrounds it. 

Not to mention, the farm animals – from Jasper the Manx to Mars the Berkshire pig – are some of the most friendly and delightful in London.

It was also where team Upside converged on a recent autumn morning for an action-packed day of volunteering. Trading our work desks for wheelbarrows and our shared google docs for shovels, we began the day with a brisk tour of the farm, and an introduction to its various animal inhabitants: Acquaintances were made with a family of goats, a flock of friendly sheep, a bunch lively chickens, and a coffle of chilled out donkeys among others. 

But hanging out with this merry bunch of farm residents had to wait for the time being. First, it was down to work. Divided into groups and tasked with, among other things, mucking out donkey pens, cleaning through pigsties, mending benches, sweeping the concourse and gathering compost, the team dived head first into the nuts and bolts of daily farm operations. 

As the farm began to fill up with excitable schoolchildren, prams and all manner of different visitors, we were able to get a glimpse of the positive role that it plays in the lives of its local community. It’s at once a school, a meeting place and a respite from the hustle and bustle of its surrounding area. We often take places like this for granted, but in fact, many of them are charities, and need the support of its visitors and donors to keep things afloat. 

The jobs involved in running a farm, we quickly found out, are a fair bit different to the day-to-day life at The Upside. But, it was fair to say that by the end, both roles were met with the same amount of effort and camaraderie. Collaborating within our units, we made efficient work of the tasks at hand, much to the relief of the staff members keeping an eye on us. 

After an excellent team lunch from the Farms’ Allotment Cafe (which emphasises ingredients grown on the farm), we returned, recharged, for some more weeding, watering and…’waste disposal’. 

By the late afternoon it was time for some much needed bonding time with the animals. Jasper the Manx quickly became an Upsider favourite and was more than happy to pose for photos, while a group of ferrets made themselves snug among various members of the team. We were also lucky enough to witness a fleet of donkeys canter across the grounds to make their way inside for the evening.

After providing the team with a collective jolt of dopamine, we also headed inside for an early Turkish feast at the brilliant Kirvern nearby. Over mezze and Merlot, we recounted a day spent well on with an organisation that embodies the very best of London’s local spirit. 

Originally set up in 1979 on a formerly derelict bomb site, Stepney City Farm is embarking on a new phase: An acre of land used by the nearby Crossrail projects has returned and its also been granted a fresh ten-year lease, allowing it to stay open for free six days a week to the public. ‘We’re very much here to stay’, notes their website. Now, that’s something all Londoners can be thankful for.

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