Fast-growing pub company The Oakman Group reveals fruits of its labour with unveiling of new kitchen garden at Bucks pub

When Peter Borg-Neal started his pub group, Oakman Inns, he told his friends and investors: “We aim to run a business that we’re proud of, leaving things a little better than we found them for our neighbours, the environment, and our guests.”

That commitment will, literally, come to fruition at their first Open Day on Saturday 23rd July, when The Oakman Group unveils their new 1.2-acre kitchen garden in the grounds of The Akeman Inn at Kingswood near Aylesbury to their Buckinghamshire neighbours and the local community.

Philip Jones in Oakman kitchen garden

From midday to 5pm, the Oakman Garden team, led by Philip Jones, the company’s Gardens & Sustainability Manager, will be on hand to show visitors the fruits of their labour so far with guided tours. Additional activities and garden games will be laid on for the children and plenty of refreshments will be served from a food truck and outdoor bar.

As well as planting over 500 native trees to create a new woodland margin, and apple and damson orchards, Philip and his team have been quietly working away over the last few months building new beds, paths and poly-tunnels. They were enriching the soil over the winter and have created a series of highly productive plots that will allow for rotational planting, propagation, and healthy, sustainable crops for their restaurants. The growing list really is an impressive cornucopia of seasonal fruit, vegetables, salads and herbs ranging from multiple cultivars of cucumber, tomato, beetroot, radish, mint and turnip to French beans, chilli peppers, edible leaves and herbs for seasoning.

Philip said: “There’s nothing quite like fresh produce. In time, we hope that the Oakman Kitchen Garden will not only be a valuable and sustainable resource for our restaurants but will eventually develop into a valuable educational and community asset. We believe that by growing our own fruit, herbs and vegetables, we will deepen the relationship between our guests, the environment, and our neighbours. For example, starting at the kitchen’s back door, undervalued “waste” such as vegetable peel, coffee grounds or wood ash from the pizza ovens, will be recycled into our compost production.”

The Oakman Group has often been at the forefront of a sustainable approach to good hospitality practice. For example, they were the first multi-site pub company to withdraw single-use plastic straws and cocktail sticks which were later banned in the UK.

Peter Borg-Neal said: “We’re investing in what I recognise is a very tiny step, but for a multiple-site pub group like Oakman, I think this is a first. It is so much more than being about food – although, of course, we will be producing our own fresh and superior-tasting produce – but it’s also about reinforcing the connection between our guests and the natural growing cycle through our seasonal menus. As well as re-using our natural waste for composting, the Kitchen Garden will help us to take small steps in reducing our carbon footprint for food sourcing and deliveries. Then, of course, there is the opportunity to create an educational resource to inspire young people to think about growing their own – even if it is just some salad leaves or spuds in an old tub.”

The pub group is not aiming to become self-sufficient; it has after all grown from one to nearly 40 pubs in just under 15 years and employs over 1,500 people. However, it is conceivable that Oakman’s Daily Specials will one day all feature plant-based ingredients harvested in their own Kitchen Garden. Add to that the benefits of reduced deliveries, zero plastic wrapping or packaging and the Oakman Kitchen Garden seems like an idea that could – and should – grow and will hopefully encourage others in the hospitality industry to “leave things a little better than they found them.”