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Head Grower - RAU site

GREAT Zerodig Project
Royal Agricultual University, Cirencester

Posted: 21 Nov 2023

Deadline: 14 Dec 2023

Compensation: £25,000 - £27,000pa, full time

Paid Full-time Flexible hours Permanent Fixed term / contract


Job description

This Head Grower role is a key recruitment for the GREAT Zerodig Project, delivered by the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and ZeroDig Earth, in collaboration with a range of project partners, including the Royal Agricultural University (RAU).  The land, 7.4 acres adjacent to the RAU, is leased via a 5 year farm business tenancy and will be used to produce a range of vegetables and fruit for local sales.  It is also an experimental site where Zerodig market gardening methods are tested in the field, measurements made and recorded and systems refined.  The market garden operation is a commercial operation and aims to be profitable to demonstrate the viability of small scale and local market gardening. This project will also embed agro-ecological learning in the curriculum of the Royal Agricultural University, engaging its students and the wider academic community in the development of this site. The Head Grower will support this integration of the ZeroDig project into the wider RAU community, from engaging with academic staff, students, contractors, and other key partners.

Working on a Zerodig site also includes participating in the Zerodig climate action programme which removes carbon from the atmosphere by increasing the stock of carbon in the soil.  Growing practices should be adapted to meet this objective.

The Head Grower is in charge of the production of fruit and vegetables at the site – including the propagation of plants, planting out and harvesting; and the maintenance and improvement of soil quality.  Soil with a healthy set and diversity of soil micro-organisms will do much to grow healthy plants.  However, the Head Grower should also be developing above ground plant diversity around the margins of the beds to provide hosts for beneficial predator insects and planting trees to coppice for woodchips.

The site should be kept in a suitable condition which fits with its high profile location, which will include weed-free growing beds, with all tools and equipment kept clean and in good order. The viability of the crops should be prioritised, to ensure high quality produce for ongoing selling to a range of customers.  Good hygiene, health and safety practices should be followed at all times.

As the main demonstration and research market garden plot for Zerodig, there will be frequent events and visitors. The Head Grower role has a strong public facing element and the successful applicant will be expected to engage with these events and play an active role in their delivery,. There will also be many visitors – clients, members of the public and people generally interested in what is going on, and others – who should always be engaged with and treated with friendliness and courtesy. Support will be available from project partners, and the Head Grower won’t be expected lead on the majority of these events, but rather play an active role within a wider events programme.  

The Head Grower will also participate in sales initiatives and is expected to assist in developing friendly relations with the local community and a range of stakeholders working with Zerodig. 

Zerodig accepts that the Head Grower cannot be held responsible for actions and outcomes where there has been insufficient training and/or facilities are not in place.

Employer and Manager

  • Christopher Upton, ZeroDig Earth

General responsibilities

  • Follow and promote Zerodig farming methods
  • Follow the Zerodig growing principles
  • Build soil carbon and a healthy, diverse soil biology
  • Build above ground plant diversity including by planting trees and shrubs
  • Produce adequate quantities of good quality fruit and vegetables
  • Maintain a welcoming and pleasing site appearance
  • Develop positive, open and friendly community relations
  • Develop and follow lean and efficient systems
  • Keep regular timesheets on a weekly basis, to optimise the specific project delivery in tandem with the terms and conditions of the Esmee Fairbairn Grant funding their post

Specific responsibilities

  • Produce an acceptable cropping plan no later than 31st December for the following year
  • Maximise plant diversity by having, where practicable, three different plants in each bed
  • Ensure all required consumables (seed, compost, etc.) required for the growing season are ordered and delivered well in advance of their need
  • Plan for and arrange all casual labour requirements – especially those required to help with harvesting
  • Harvest during the cool of the day – early mornings and evenings – and ensure that harvested produce is placed in a cooler as soon as possible after harvest (generally not more than one hour)
  • Reduce direct operating costs by 5% each year.
  • Maintain plant cover throughout the year – this will require over-wintering of several crops and companion/relay planting
  • Add approximately 2-3 centimetres of compost (20-30 kg per 100 m2 of bed area) to all beds each year
  • Ensure that paths are kept topped up with wood chips so that they are level with beds
  • Make compost in ways that ensure pathogenic micro-organisms are killed
  • Apply compost extracts as drenches and composts teas as foliar spray to improve plant health
  • Make regular (daily, weekly, monthly, yearly – as appropriate) data readings as required
  • Increase the carbon content of the soil by 0.5% each year

Measures of success

  • Annual production of vegetables allows sales per m2 of bed (growing area) to exceed £25
  • Carbon content of top 50 centimetres of soil is never below 4%
  • Maintain a fungal:bacteria ratio in the soil of not less than 1:1
  • Spring and autumn earthworm counts show 16 earthworms (including 8 adults – one of which should be anecic) per spade-ful of soil
  • The soil biology is diverse and includes adequate numbers of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, earthworms and insects
  • Soil structure is at least 50% air
  • Brix values for growing crops exceed and average of 12

Ideal skillset and previous experience

  • At least 2 years of growing experience
  • Commercial acumen and interest (sales and cost control)
  • Confident with crop planning, sales and the day to day tasks associated with market gardening
  • Experience with post-harvest activities (timing for freshness, cleaning, presenting, packaging, delivery logistics, etc.)
  • Ability to work in a team and alone
  • Open and positive attitude - enjoys working with people (e.g. can manage and keep motivated a group of volunteers on site). 
  • A strong interest in agroecology and promoting these principles
  • An interest in soil biology

Accommodation may be available, subject to discussion.

Applications close Friday 14 December, 23.59

Application information

Applications may be made by CV and covering letter, setting out your suitability to meet he responsibilities and experience required for the role, to Liberty Nimmo:

Please mention Roots to Work when applying for these jobs

About GREAT Zerodig Project

The GREAT Project is putting Gloucestershire in the vanguard of the transition to regenerative agriculture. GREAT stands for Gloucestershire Regenerative Environment and Agriculture Transition. It’s a three-year project, funded by Thirty Percy, to boost the transition to farming methods that restore the soil, water and air.