If you travel by train into Bristol from north of the city, there is a point two miles from the center when you can catch sight of a tiny farmyard. Nestling at the bottom of a railway embankment between houses, builders yards, and a car rental depot, it has sties, snoozing Gloucester Old Spot pigs, a paddock with caramel-colored Dexter cattle grazing and vegetable plots in which you might see the farmer and her three young children at work.
It is not, as you might assume, a visitor attraction. Founded on the council-owned site of a former market garden, Purple Patch is a fully functioning four-acre smallholding that turns a profit from vegetable boxes, bagged salads and meat. Mary Conway, the 32-year-old who formerly worked for a veg-box scheme in Norwich, set it up five years ago and has become something of a local hero. Her salads – blends of unusual leaves, herbs and edible flowers – are popular in the nearby liberal enclave of St Werburghs. She lives in a converted shed on Purple Patch, with her kids and her husband, Jona, a carpenter, and finds any missing suburban comforts amply compensated for by the friendships she makes.
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