Freightliners Farm: country life in the city

Estimated reading time:8 minutes, 5 seconds

Everyone in Islington has a story… especially at Freightliners Farm, which began life in old railway goods vans behind Kings Cross Station in 1973, before moving to Sheringham Road in 1978. You can still find one old carriage housing a mix of pheasants and quails. The farm is a lovely place to visit – plus it promotes animal welfare, showcases sustainable farming and growing, creating a community where all people in Islington are welcome. The farm relies on a team of staff and volunteers, read on to meet them… Interviews by Nicola Baird.

Turning the manure pile: Coryn, Danny, Jisanne, Julia, Jane.Every three months the muck heap at Freightliners City Farm has to be turned to help speed up the rotting process. Everyone collects tools and then climbs on the heap – ready with jokes – to fork rotting muck to the other pile. After another three months it will be ready to use as a soil enricher at the farm’s lush vegetable and fruit garden, or bagged up and sold. Sorting the manure pile is one of the many jobs that the 60+ plus volunteers and trainees get involved with on a regular basis, like Jisanne (3rd from left in pic above).  “Wherever Jisanne goes, I go,” explains his support worker Danny happily shifting the heap, “we’ve come here once a week for eight or nine years.”

Also hard at work on the manure pile is Coryn McGovern (left of pic): “I was a volunteer for about six months. But now I’ve been a farm worker on and off here for over 12 years.” On the right(at the highest point) is Education Assistant Julia Taylor.

Jean Jeakins: has a knitwear stall at Freightliners Farm where she sells her own designs, many inspired by the animals.

Cockrels enjoying a windfall apple in the paddocks.

Jane Gregory: Young People & Volunteering Worker at Freightliners Farm.

Overseeing the muck heap is Jane Gregory, Young People & Volunteering Worker. “I live in Islington and when people find out I work on a farm they say it must stink. But once they come and see the farm I think a few people do get a little bit jealous.” And well they might get jealous as Jane’s job means she’s outdoors a lot (which keeps her fit) and involves working with chickens, goats, pigs, ducks, geese, cows, sheep, rabbits, guinea pigs, bantams and aviary birds like parakeets and finches. “It’s hard work but I love it all. I don’t think I could be cooped up in an office. I like working with young people and volunteers and members of the community, and the café is a nice resource for mums.

Freightliners Farm is a magical place – even this noticeboard is a work of craft genius. Even the barn roof is used to harvest energy from the sun, using solar PV panels.

The muck heap challenge is also one of the regular special event days that you or the 45,000 annual visitors can take part in to delve deeper into farm life. There are also opportunities to learn about animal care, work in the garden or the vegetarian café.

[slideshow]Most people at the half-hectare site between Mary Magdalene Academy and Paradise Park, just behind Liverpool Road are visitors, but anyone over 13 can help out regularly once they have filled in a volunteer application.

Want to have a go working with animals?
“It’s best if you pick the form up from the farm so you can come in and have a look around,” adds Jane. “At the farm you do get dirty, there’s lots of mucking out, digging in the garden and animal care. The farm helps a lot of people too. Young people who are having difficulties at school can do placements here – it can be very successful. We’ve seen our young volunteers go on to do work at Capel Manor (gardening college), London zoo and nearby Paradise Park café.  And if you’re unemployed we can give you tasks to do to build experience and give you references that may help you get a paid job.”

Q: To Jane Gregory, Young People & Volunteering Worker, what’s your favourite animal?
A: “I like the chickens, some really do have characters and you get to know them. I especially like old Harry (who started life as a part incubated egg for veterinary students to see how an embryo develops that was smuggled home and hatched in an airing cupboard and later donated to the farm).”

Ian Jackson, Farm Finance Manager: “I was born in Holloway but grew up on a farm in Jamaica. I love the farm – I’ve been here five years. I like all the animals, and have even done a school tour, but my main role is doing the accounts.”

Farming finances
Since 2002 Freightliners Farm has to generate its own income. Everyone knows small farms struggle to make a living, but city farms are particularly hard to run. The irony is that they offer a priceless taste of the sights, sounds and smells of country life. Every Islington toddler should be taken to the farm at least once – and after that they’ll probably keep on pestering you to visit again.

People don’t outgrow farms – farm shops have never been so popular, and here in Islington we can just pop to Freightliners to buy seasonal produce including eggs as well as well-rotted manure or even pet food/bedding. Many people send their small furries (eg, rabbits, guinea pigs and even hens) to board there while they are holidaying. There is also an exciting food project just starting up and the opportunity to visit the farm’s own café.

What’s it like running a city farm?
Liz McAllister has run Freightliners City Farm in the heart of Islington, N7 since she was just 23 years old (see pic below).  “My friends aren’t surprised I manage a farm, but some are surprised about where it is. The classic conversation which I had quite a few times when I first started was if I was in a club meeting friends. They’d say ‘What do you do?’, and I’d say ‘Work on a city farm.’ And they’d always say ‘Which City firm?”

Ten years on Liz is skilled at finding grants, organising deliveries of essentials like hay and straw and working with a host of volunteers. A city farm throws up extraordinary challenges – where to host a pop-up restaurant, how to keep a touring theatre company dry if it rains, what to do with a retired sheep, how to clean the main barn’s solar PV panels… But what Liz loves best is the animals. “You can learn to feed and water but need empathy to pick up on clues when things are not quite right,” she says. “You have to love animal care. It’s 24-hours a day if required. It’s not something you can say ‘this will wait until tomorrow.’

Farm Manager Liz McAllister has lunch in the farm’s Strawbale Cafe. It really is made from straw bales.

Canine Wizardry is Liz’s dog training club which she runs on Sundays with a couple of friends, Anna and Dayle.  We run puppy and basic training classes in Enfield and also do behaviour modification sessions.  “Over the last year I have brought some of our work to the farm as we are seeing many young people with dogs who just don’t know were to start with training and behaviour. We hope to set up a young people’s dog training club based at the farm and to train up some interested young people to help out with running classes.  Have a look at Canine Wizardry, and young people interested in taking part in the training at the farm can email me at or Jane (our volunteer co-ordinator) on Or drop by the farm and talk to us.”

Knit one, purl one
Jean Jeakins (see photo at top of page) grew up in St Peters Street, N1, near the canal and runs a stall on Tuesday and Thursday at the farm selling hand-knitted children’s wear. Recently she’s added cushions depicting farm favourites like Matilda, the brown cow. “I’ve always got knitting in my hand,” says Jean who gives a donation to the farm each week.

Meet you at the cafe
Freightliners Farm runs the fabulous Strawbale Café, open Thursday to Sunday from 10am-4pm (summer) and 10am-3.30pm (winter). It has a vegetarian menu, with items between £2-£5. It offers volunteering and work experience opportunities and all profits got towards farm projects.

Freightliners Farm is a registered charity. Sheringham Road, London, N7 8PF Tel 020 7609 0467 The farm is free to visit and open every day except Monday. Come and see from 10am – 4pm (summer) and 10-4pm (winter). You can always become a Facebook Friend to keep in touch with what’s going on, or a twitter follower.

Over to you
What do you think of farms in the city? What did you enjoy doing at Freightliners? By the way, if you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via Thank you. And yes, this islington people blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.