Fat Hen by Bicycle

Fat Hen by bicycle

Ashley Robinson       

Veggies aren’t the first thing most people think about when they think ‘active travel’ or ‘business by bike’ - but this is precisely what Fat Hen Farm does – combining small-scale agriculture, active travel, climate-friendly business, and low cost transport.

What is Fat Hen?   

I run Fat Hen Farm – a small but mighty urban farm on the outskirts of Stirling. The aim of Fat Hen is to provide super fresh salad mixes and greens to local people, with the values of sustainability and simplicity at the heart of it all. These values guide all decisions about the farm – what growing methods I use, which varieties of crops I choose, and how I get things to market. This is why everything is transported by bicycle for the farm – all the salads, greens and herbs bound for local people and local markets get strapped onto the back of my bicycle, and are pedalled to their destination. 

Currently the bicycle trailer that I use for deliveries, a ‘Carry Freedom’ bicycle trailer, is borrowed from the Stirling Active Travel Hub. This kindness to allow me to try out the trailer and see how it fits in the business has really been crucial to the success of my first year farming. Since the business is so small still, the initial outlay for purchasing my own trailer would have been too high. And now that I’ve had a chance to test it out with the farm activities, I can make a more informed decision about continuing a business-by-bike – and hopefully spread the word that pedal-powered business is great for so many reasons!

Why urban farming?

Good food can be an incredible medium for positive social change – the wonder of watching things grow, the amazing taste and variety of garden veg, building soil that is alive with beasties, and the friendships formed over sharing a good meal.

This belief of good food and farming as a transformational force has led me to small-scale, agroecological farming – growing food for local people. As I haven’t yet figured out how to do it full time, last year I decided to give micro-farming a go – making my farming dreams happen alongside my day job doing local food policy work. Since the business is so small, and very part-time, everything I do has to be done in a way that is time efficient and financially makes sense. Running the farm by bicycle is a key part of this – as bicycles are pretty

cheap to run and simple to maintain. But there are many reasons for making a business bicycle-centred that aren’t just financial.

Why a business-by-bike?

How better to get local food to local people than by bicycle? Running a business by bicycle is frugal, healthy, low-carbon, and (dare I say it?) a lot of fun.

Frugal! The business is teeny tiny, so every spend for it is important. This doesn’t mean ‘cheapest is best’, as the sustainability focus of the business means that a lot of my inputs are simply more expensive – such as organic, open-pollinated seeds or high quality compost. But, being financially efficient does mean spending well and not spending needlessly. And for me, the idea of buying, running and maintaining a vehicle to transport a few kilos of vegetables every week was simply not the best use of limited farm funds.

Healthy! As someone whose primary job is to work at a computer all day, I need all the activity I can get. Cycling is my main form of transport in life, not just for the farm, and this enables me to get exercise and fresh air every day, no matter what. Cycling means that even if I’m too busy, or too tired, or can’t be bothered with ‘getting exercise’ - I am getting fit by stealth through cycle commuting, or delivering to market. This built-in exercise is increasingly important to my mental health as well as my physical health – giving me time alone to think and work through things as the pedals go round and round.

Climate-friendly! With sustainability a key value for Fat Hen Farm, including minimising carbon emissions to limit climate change, having low-carbon transport is crucial. It seemed a bit counter-intuitive to grow beautiful veggies for local people using organic principles, and then fire up a fossil-fuel guzzling machine to cart it all around! And, because everything is by bicycle, it means I keep my selling range hyper-local – meaning more food for people close to where they live.

Fun! And, it’s fun. Really. Even when it’s raining - it’s still fun. I love cycling because I’m part of the world every time I go from A to B – I smell the scents of the seasons, I am immersed in the weather, I hear the birds, I watch the clouds, I see the light change. It’s a completely different experience than being in a car – more sensory and full. Also, I can connect to the 8-year old in me when I whizz down a hill, catch a tail-wind or feel the warmth of the sun on my face. There’s nothing quite like it.

And, business-by-bike isn’t just relegated to the world of salads and greens – there are plenty of examples of businesses who use low-carbon transport as part of their everyday life, both near and far.

Business-by-bike inspiration

Businesses by bicycle are gaining momentum – there are lots of examples to look to and gain inspiration from, and this is how Fat Hen ended up being pedal-powered.

When I was looking into sustainable urban agriculture models, I came across The Urban Farmer in Canada, who runs a multi-locational full-time urban farm by bicycle. He started out with a massive flat-bed bicycle trailer, one that could carry market stalls, tables, heavy vegetables, and more. Likewise the wonderful Los Perros Urban Farm, a peri-urban market garden in Sweden, does everything by bicycle. They use a variety of bicycle trailers to get their produce to people and have won multiple awards for their ingenuity as urban farmers and business owners.

I’ve also gained a lot of inspiration more locally, from a micro-bakery I’m involved in too, Riverside Bakery CIC. Riverside Bakery has operated by bicycle from its beginnings in 2014 – using a mix of cargo-bikes and bicycle trailers to deliver sourdough bread all over Stirling. The Stirling Active Travel Hub has also helped Riverside Bakery along the way too – loaning the speedy Urban Arrow cargo bike to the Bakery to have a go – read about it here.

Think bike more often

Even if you’re not about to run out and start a business entirely by bicycle, have a think about bikes and how they could fit in your life. There are probably a few different ways you could incorporate a little more active travel through cycling or walking, into your daily life. This could be in your business – attending meetings by bicycle, using a park and choose facility to walk into the office, or doing short journeys by bike. This urban farmer definitely recommends it. And, if you need any advice about cycling, route planning, bikes, or equipment like trailers – chat to the Stirling Active Travel Hub, they will have lots of guidance.