From field to plate
If you happen to be walking past North End cottage and end up venturing off the beaten track, you will come across endless rows of crops. The produce of Bartek and Magda, they are growing their family-run market garden day by day and now supply our island eateries with delicious fresh goods
There’s a sunny, south-facing slope between The New Inn and the row of pretty little cottages at Dial Rocks. The gently sloping field has some of the finest views on Scilly, looking down the channel towards Samson, St Mary’s and St Agnes. Not that Bartek Wypyszynski has time to look at the view.
“It’s my peaceful place,” he smiles. “I’m up there every evening and every weekend – when Magda and the children let me go!”
Bartek’s day job on Tresco is handling the islands’ supplies, meeting the freight launch every day, and delivering everything the island needs – from apples to building materials. If you need something moved on Tresco, Bartek is your man.
By evening and weekend, though, he can be found planting, tending, watering and harvesting his crop from the field just behind the pub. It doesn’t get more locally sourced than that.
“I’m from a farming family originally,” he reveals. “It runs in my family, probably five or six generations back. Growing produce is in my blood; I get everything I know from my mother and father. I started driving tractors in the fields when I was eight. I couldn’t reach the pedals, so I had to stand up to press the clutch when I needed to change gears!”
Bartek’s family farm in Poland started as a dairy concern, but when prices crashed, the family diversified into arable farming, growing crops like wheat, barley and rapeseed.
“In Poland, we use a very scientific farming method, where the soil is constantly monitored and supplemented. What I do here on Tresco is the exact opposite, and I know which I prefer!”
On Tresco, Bartek and his wife Magda judge everything by eye and experience – but that’s not to say there’s no science behind it. Instead, the couple combines generations of farming knowledge and wisdom with a surprisingly scientific approach.
“My degree is in horticulture,” says Magda. “But to be honest, I’d forgotten most of it until Bartek started growing vegetables and using the practices and techniques his father taught him. After that, it all came flooding back. We try to do as nature does, to farm in a way inspired by biological cycles and respecting nature. For example, we use the ‘no dig’ method to minimise disturbance to worms so they can do their job, aerating the soil and pulling in all the goodness from the surface. When you use natural techniques, it’s rewarding to see the whole ecosystem that your crops are part of.”
Bartek and Magda use no chemicals or pesticides on their crops; their only soil supplements are natural products like seaweed, grass clippings and fallen leaves. Yet, despite this more ecologically aware and arguably less commercial method of farming, there is still a strong link between Bartek and Magda’s methods on Tresco and home in Poland.
“When we moved to Tresco, we wanted to grow our own vegetables for us and the children,” explains Magda. “We took our inspiration from Bartek’s mother. She’s less involved with the farm itself, but has always had a cottage garden. She is the perfect example of being almost entirely self-sufficient. She keeps chickens and grows fruit and vegetables. What she doesn’t have, she sells and trades with her friends and neighbours. When she has a glut of something, she preserves it in jars or dries it to see her through winter. When we moved to Tresco, we wanted to live more like that.”
"We try to do as nature does, to farm in a way inspired by biological cycles and respecting nature [...] When you use natural techniques, it’s rewarding to see the whole ecosystem that your crops are part of”
The couple started with a small vegetable plot outside their home on Tresco, growing vegetables for themselves and their two young children, Wiktoria and Antony. To avoid waste, any surplus was left on the wall outside the house for neighbours and visitors to take.
Before long, the planting outgrew the plot and the produce outgrew the wall. The plot became a field; the wall, a stall. Stocked throughout the year, you’ll find it near the Flying Boat Cottages.
“I love how much people enjoy the produce on the stall,” says Bartek. “But it’s now quite a small part of what I do. Liam at The New Inn was looking for local produce, so most of what I grow now goes to the pub, The Ruin or Hell Bay.”
Much as Bartek and Magda’s farming methods are in harmony with nature, there is also a harmony between Bartek, Magda and head chefs Liam, Serge and Richard.
“If I have a glut of something, I will phone Liam and Serge and they will come up with a Special to use a crate of courgettes or a tray of chard. Other times, I’ll get a call at 10 o clock at night saying they’ve run out of Rocket and I’ll be out picking at 5am the next day so they have it fresh for lunch. It works two ways; I really value that.”
It’s this synchronicity that makes island life tick. Here, 28 miles off Land’s End, there are no wholesalers; no 24 hour supermarkets. Supplies have to be ordered a week ahead, and if the boat doesn’t sail, produce can be delayed.
Buying local, then, isn’t just best practice – it makes practical sense; something the island chefs embrace with gusto. From potatoes to mixed leaves, microgreens to broad beans; cress to carrots and cavolo nero, if Bartek can grow it, the chefs will use it. They like to challenge him too.
“I’m constantly learning,” Bartek reveals. “The chefs will come to me and ask if I can grow a certain crop. If it’s something I’ve not grown before, I’ll read up on it, find out how other people have grown it successfully, and then put that knowledge into practice. Liam, Serge and Richard are really determined to reduce the amount of produce they’re buying in and focus more on seasonal cooking. They plan ahead months at a time, so in the winter they’ll give me a list of crops they need for their summer menus so I’ve got time to do my research and get the crops growing.”
So what is Bartek’s next challenge?
“Liam really wants me to try growing mushrooms, but I don’t have enough experience for that yet. You need exactly the right conditions.”
“How about the Abbey wine cellar,” says Magda. “That would be perfect!”
You’ve got to admire their ambition…
"From potatoes to mixed leaves, microgreens to broad beans; cress to carrots and cavolo nero, if Bartek can grow it, the chefs will use it."