Liz McAllister: farm manager

Estimated reading time:8 minutes, 25 seconds

Everyone has a story. Here’s hoping you already know that Islington has its very own farm, Freightliners Farm. It’s a place for city people to get up close and personal with animals, and come to terms with anxiety and loneliness. Find out more from farm manager Liz McAllister. Interview by Nicola Baird. Photos by Kimi Gill

Liz McAllister, Freightliners Farm manager. Photo by Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

Stepping through the heavy gates at Freightliners Farm you enter another Islington. Expect the geese and Indian runner ducks in their pond enclosure to welcome you by raising the alarm. Soon you’ll notice a riot of plants, colours, scents and sounds that make it hard to believe you are still in central London’s N7 in the year 2018. And in this early autumn season you can also walk under the orchard trees, watch hens peck at windfall apples, measure yourself against a sunflower, stroke a cow, admire goats… It’s a magical chance to meet animals and see the ways farmers diversify and one Islingtonians of all ages can benefit from.

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Liz McAllister, Freightliners Farm manager. Photo by Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

“Most people have an idyllic idea about what farmers do,” says Liz McAllister who has been the Farm Manager at Freightliners since 2001. “I often have people say it’s ‘so relaxing here’, but it’s work, and comes with stresses and strains just like any job. This is not a hobby, you can’t say today ‘I don’t want to do the watering or look after the animals’. It has got to be done.”

When Liz first joined the farm, any strangers met on nights’ out always heard her job title as fund manager.  In fact, a good portion of the farm manager role is about creative fundraising. So, when you visit the farm you may see Liz in the Strawbale Café serving up delicious coffees/lunches/teas (it’s an amazing place to eat and you should make a date with yourself to go there soon). Or she’ll be supervising the building of a new roof on the hen pens, helping corporate volunteers, healing a cat’s saw paw or in the office  dealing with admin or filling in those fundraising applications thinking of creative ways to source a minimum annual £220,000, “although we really need £250,000,” says Liz who fortunately has a hugely practical streak.

“I’m a hands-on person and I like making things – food or barns,” adds Liz, now 40.

Liz McAllister, farm manager. “Anita came here to do some filming for Country File live backdrops in 2017. She was nice, but on a tight schedule and got down to business fast.” Photo by Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

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Runners in the annual Easter holiday cow v pig race which raises funds for Freightliners Farm in Islington. (c) freightliners farm

Places Islington farmer Liz McAllister likes locally

  • I like the Barn on 60 Holloway Road. I’m typical Islington ordering avocado or poached eggs on toast.
  • I love the space at the Union Chapel, Compton Terrace. It’s a spectacular building. We’ve had three fundraisers. All sorts of comedians have supported us including Alan Davies and Tiffany Stevenson.
  • We’re always popping to Moonlight supermarket at 135 Holloway Road. It has good bread and food. My last purchase? At the weekend, sugar, hummus and pide (Turkish bread).
  • Walking the Cow v Pig race route I discovered the dog agility equipment in Barnard Park, Copenhagen Street, and had to stop and do it with my dog, Ozzy. He liked that!
  • They do nice ice cream and smoothies at Outside the Box on 489 Liverpool Road.

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More than 40,000 people visit Freightliners Farm each year and there are around 60 regular volunteers. Photo by Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

It’s 5.30pm when Islington Faces meets Liz on a hot summer afternoon (July). Liz, in shorts, is locking up the animals for the night so this interview is done by the pens of Dexter cows Matilda and Olivia. With the cows busy munching, cockerels’ crowing and a cockatiel cheerfully calling out, Freightliners Farm, which is so close to traffic-choked Holloway Road, seems like a country paradise with paddocks and an orchard. There’s also a collection of poultry, beehives, small animals, sheep, goats and the cow duo. Two new pigs are due to arrive once the stabling in the big barn has been upgraded this September.

But for such a calming spot it’s also quite busy with around 40,000 visitors annually and around 60 regular volunteers.

Careful analysis by the agency Rocket Science has shown that volunteering or visiting the farm has real health benefits. People feel less worried and anxious. They feel a bigger part of the community and many feel fitter. The farm is a place where you learn things about looking after animals; it’s also where you can develop your career and stop feeling so lonely. See more about the farm’s impacts here. https://create.piktochart.com/output/20761125-freightliners-impact-report

One of the farm’s aims is to teach city people to have respect for animals – a perfect mission for Liz, who grew up in Haringey and now lives in Wood Green with her parents. Liz always loved naughty animals and hankered to be a vet, but remembers struggling to get large animal experience. Eventually she volunteered at Canterbury Oast Trust, an open farm which specialises in therapeutic support of people with learning difficulties. She also volunteered at Freightliners.

Liz McAllister, farm manager: “I don’t have favourites…. but my favourite sheep is Jasmine (because she’s the oldest). On the farm we have several breeds, including the Portlands, white-faced Woodlands and Herdwick.” Photo by Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

Freightliners was set up in the 1970s – moved up from Kings Cross. “The space here is so important and always has been. I found a flyer from 1978 recently that says things about people and animals that we are still saying today,” she says.

Just occasionally – and when the weather is right – Liz has taken the animals for visits around Islington. “They are quite interested in going out,” she says, but “in an ideal world, I’d rather people came here.” So you may have seen the goats and sheep at Angel Canal Festival; a menagerie at the Angel Centre (when it was the N1 Centre) or hens and rabbits at the New River College summer fair. An absolute favourite event is Capel Manor Farm show. “It’s a chance for people here to meet up with other people doing similar things. It’s a good activity with a chance to show off a little bit for the young people,” says Liz.

Liz McAllister, Freightliners farm manager checking for apples. Photo by Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

Despite the slog, and being out in all weathers – the relentless heat, wet and finger-numbing cold – Liz points out the farm offers magical moments.

“I like opening the gates on those crisp, early spring days when it’s cold but a bit sunny,” says Liz looking across the vegetable garden at the summer butterflies playing chase.

“But the best days at the farm are when you are reminded about what it is that we’re doing – when one of the young people has got a place at university after working through various different routes to get there; or someone brings their kids in or stops me to say how much they appreciate being able to visit. It’s the people stuff that tips this job over, and a reminder of the fact that the farm does serve a purpose. It makes a difference to people’ lives, which is probably why we’re all in it.”

Freightliners Farm: it’s where people and animals thrive.

You can visit the farm for free or join in some of the annual events including Easter Cow v Pig race; harvest festival, Halloween celebration and Christmas Fair (see the website for details). A treat for you – but good for the farm and the volunteers – is to eat at the Strawbale Café. It’s super insulated (made from straw bales), and run by talented gardener and seasonal chef Peter. Liz recommends the feta salad with red rice, beetroot and roasted onions). If you are in a salaried role you could contact the farm to organise corporate team building days at the farm. And if you are lucky enough to have a place to live in Islington (N4, N5 and N7) help boost their fundraising by letting the farm admin team know that you are happy to have an advert for a Freightliners Farm event being put up on an estate agent’s board for approx four weeks outside your home when the next publicity campaign starts for a farm event (eg, Halloween).

  • Freightliners Farm, Sheringham Road, N7 https://www.freightlinersfarm.org.uk
  • Free to visit. Open Tuesday-Sunday.
  • The Strawbale Cafe on the farm is brilliant. Open Thursday-Sunday, 10am-4pm.
  • See the farm’s Facebook page and twitter @Freightcityfarm
  • Next events the farm will take part in: Saturday 1 September Paradise Park fun day, 1-5pm run by Friends of Paradise Park. London Harvest Festival on Sunday 29 September, 10am-5pm at Woodlands Farm.
  • If you enjoyed this interview you might also like to read an earlier interview on Islington Faces (Oct 2012) with staff and volunteers at Freightliners Farm, see here

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird dot green at gmail dot com. If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola