If you’ve been along the Lewes Road recently, you might have noticed the abandoned Field House at Preston Barracks looking less like if Chernobyl happened in Brighton and more like something commandeered by an urban Willy Wonka; and that’s kind of what’s happened. The building is now home to a dozen start-up projects, invited to utilise the rent-free workspace to make sustainable principles a reality, through innovative technology, ecology and good old-fashioned people power.
One of the more traditional and leading proprietors is the Old Tree Brewery, the botanical brewery which first made its name amongst customers of zero-waste restaurant Silo. Thanks to FIELD, Old Tree now has a place to call its own. It not only provides sustenance, it’s also an open invitation to the public to discover FIELD, while epitomising the project’s community spirit.
When we arrive, Tom, one half of Old Tree’s founding duo, tells us how he’d managed to fix various household items at their Repair Café held earlier that day. Something tells us this isn’t your normal booze outlet.
The brewery itself is dedicated to the zero waste policy at the heart of Silo, whereby their drinks bottles are cleaned and refilled, and upcycled jars are used as beverage receptacles, eliminating the need for printing and packaging methods and energy intensive recycling. All the ingredients used in the drinks are grown in the café garden and/or foraged, and naturally fermented on site (and at Silo), to maximise quality and health benefits absent in most mass produced products.
According to Tom, the most popular drinks are the organic cyder and the elderflower bubbly which, naturally, we sample. Both are delicious, particularly the elderflower which is sweet, tangy and crisp, with barely a bitter note of alcohol. We also sample the pineapple wine, which tastes fresh and fruity, though not too sweet. They also do a nettle ale, which curiously tastes like cider, with a pleasant earthy tang.
Other drinks include kombucha, a fermented green tea with many health benefits; kefir, a fermented milk made from grains; and oxymel, an ancient cordial of vinegar and honey with medicinal properties. They make traditional lemonade as well, and lots more.
“We’re drink producers at heart,” Tom tells us, after revealing that they’ve only recently started doing food. Despite this admission we’re suitably impressed, especially when we learn that the mushroom on the sourdough all-day breakfast we ordered was grown on site on an oak log.
We also order the field wrap chocked full with homemade sprouted hummus, salsa, sauerkraut and scattered with sprouted seeds. As well as being flavourful, both are a testament to the homegrown, small scale, quality production values they represent. Also on the menu are sourdough toast with a choice of topping, and miso soup with nori seaweed (trust us it’s a thing).
All food and beverages are very reasonably priced with everything, even the food, coming in under five pounds.
Through workshops held in their new space and an internet-based work cooperative, the Old Tree folk aim to share their knowledge freely and widely, to expand their production means through a local and healthy work ethic, cutting away the unnecessary layers of costly and detrimental mass production. All profits will go to regeneration projects such as ‘The Acorn Project’; the restoration of a forest in Sussex where the canopy of oak trees makes it impossible for other plant life to flourish.
However, there are plenty of exciting projects flourishing at FIELD. Alongside the Old Tree cooperative, several other groups were chosen for being “meaningfully different and utilising innovation for the greater good,” as project leader James Nettleton puts it.
Union Motion are leading the way to a sustainable future in transportation through their production of electric motorbikes, while the MakerClub provides ‘maker spaces’ that combine play, creativity and education to teach children technology and programming. More controversially, The Bug Boys are a duo of cricket breeders that swear by the nutritional value of the lively critters (apparently a great source of iron, magnesium B12 and omega, among others). So far their start-up has resulted in cricket flour available for sale at their online shop. There’s even a recipe for a cricket flour smoothie.
Elsewhere at FIELD you can learn to repair your bike at the relocated BikeHub, purchase a hand crafted wooden camera from Intrepid Camera, decide on some upcylced wood furniture from The Wood Store, or just hang in the garden and get tipsy, all for the greater good. We like to do our bit.
Old Tree Brewhouse Café, FIELD, Preston Barracks, Lewes Road, BN2 4GL
Words and photos by Cat Thompson