Who are James & Jon Penn?

We’re brothers and entrepreneurs in the food and beverage industry with a passion for growing great tasting organic produce @forkingearth@jamesrpenn a former city London lawyer and headhunter and @jonspenn an entrepreneur of a number of different companies over the years.  We both grew up in East London and spent a lot of our time training for various fitness adventures and have a love for good nutrition.  

What inspired the launch of Forking Earth?

Over the last 6 years we have been running our two businesses, a venue in East London called @hackneycoffeeco and a tea company (@eastlondonteaco). Over the last few years we have worked with many of London’s up and coming culinary talents, hosting super clubs and private dining experiences with the public and to a growing list of brands from Sainsbury’s to Martini in our venue.   Through these chefs we’ve learned about the importance of the provenance of our food and its impact on taste. 

Over the last few years we have been experimenting with growing in our home gardens but wanted to move up to a larger space and utilised the lockdown to kickstart the project.

When did you start?

We started in Feb 2021.

How much knowledge of gardening do you have?

Jon – I have always been a lover of nature and the outdoors but only really planted flowers from the garden centre but over the last 18 months I have really enjoyed the process of growing from seed.  I find nature a great healer and it’s awesome for your mental wellbeing.

James – I have been planting vegetables in my home garden over the last couple of years and have really gained a love for the process of making it efficient and also i love eating fresh organic veggies.

Was gardening a thing in your household when you were growing up?

We have a few family members that enjoy pottering around the garden like most do but wouldn’t say they are fanatics as such.

Where do you get inspiration and gardening advice from?

We both enjoy reading books so that’s usually the first place we go and then Youtube for some quick wins. We were also quite surprised by how much advice we have been given along the way on the @forkingearth page which is great as everyone really has a passion for learning and helping.

Why do you grow food?

We love being out in nature and we’re both keen to eat a healthy diet. There’s a huge disconnect with the way we purchase food from supermarkets and how it is grown which results in poor taste and negative environmental impact. 

In the UK we have a relatively short growing season and so much of our food is imported or grown in large heated greenhouses. We’re accustomed to eating average tasting tomatoes in January because supermarkets fly them over in refrigerated aircraft. Surely we should give more value to the food we eat?

During the growing season we have such an abundance of great tasting veg that it forces us to eat seasonally (eating less meat) and we’re loathe to let anything go to waste given the effort we put in to grow it. These are good habits to learn and we’re keen to share our experiences to inspire others to grow their own too.

What is your location and how big is your growing space?

We are based just outside of London in a commuter town called Bishop Stortford in Hertfordshire. The land is owned by the local council which can be rented for a nominal yearly fee (around £30). The size is roughly 70m2.

What are you planning to grow this season?

This is our first year and we’re planning to grow squash, courgette (zucchini), tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, beetroot, beans, potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and a few others.

We’ve chosen many vegetables that store well so we can try to avoid having a glut at harvest time.

How does this project have an effect on your lifestyle?

We love gardening as it’s one of those journeys that you will never complete as there will always be more to learn and every day things are still being discovered.  We’ve been reading a few books by @merlin.sheldrake and @PaulStametsrecently and fascinated by the world of fungi which is still very undiscovered. I think only 7% of all fungi has been documented and I’m sure a lot of the world’s problems could be solved in this space. @PaulStamets is doing some great things on this already.

What has been the hardest part of the journey so far?

Looking at the receipts of how much soil we have paid out for maybe hehe.  The soil we are growing on is really thick dry clay so we have taken the @charles_dowding no dig method which I really recommend for anyone starting out.  I don’t think there really has been any hard parts as such as the whole point was to get us off the sofa and make this project come to life during lockdown.

Have there been any unexpected bonuses?

Jon – Another passion of mine is photography and I have found that this project has been a great way for me to have a live project to work on, so I’m getting to combine two passions. So that’s a definite bonus!

Where do you see this project in 5 years time?

We haven’t really looked that far ahead yet as it’s a passion project but it has been surprising how well the @forkingearth page has grown in such a short space of time.  The real driver for documenting it really is to try and inspire as many people as we can to just get out in nature and plant some seeds. We are no experts so it’s good for them and the planet!