FARMER Robert Barraclough is helping to build ties between West Yorkshire farms and the local Asian community.

And it's all thanks to a rather unusual crop - coriander.

The pungent herb, a staple ingredient of many Asian dishes, is usually grown in the Mediterranean - not 700ft up in the South Pennines, as Mr Barraclough has successfully done at his 200-acre Farnley Tyas farm.

The 53-year-old has been surprised and delighted with the success.

The idea of growing coriander emerged from a meeting three years ago between Mr Barraclough - then chairman of the Almondbury branch of the National Farmers' Union - and Tony Milroy, director of a charity, the Arid Lands and Sustainable Communities Trust.

Mr Milroy was trying to help regenerate a historic but struggling food economy in West Yorkshire. Mr Barraclough wanted to link farmers directly to local consumers.

"We found there were 12m people within an hour of the M62 and 3,000 farmers struggling to get rid of their produce," said Mr Milroy.

The pair became two of the driving forces behind setting up the Grassroots Food Network in the South Pennines.

This not-for-profit organisation is open to local food producers, consumers and community groups working to rebuild their local food economy. It is paid for with the aid of the Countryside Agency.

During this activity the coriander question was raised. Mr Milroy asked if he "could have a bit of land to grow something different".

An Asian group came to the farm to discuss the idea. "Punjabi families were growing coriander in their allotments," said Mr Barraclough. "They came up and asked if I could grow it more extensively."

On a small patch of land he planted a pilot batch of coriander, along with spinach and fenugreek. A grant was secured from the Farmers' Fund.

The first yield of coriander wasn't too successful and the fenugreek failed altogether.

"But the spinach grew like Hell!" laughed the farmer. "We cut about 35 boxes and one of our Asian advisers, Hanif Assad, took it to a Bradford wholesaler."

Mr Barraclough's next batch of coriander was far more impressive. And this year, his first full year of cultivating it, he has double-cropped 10 acres of coriander and spinach.

"It has been more difficult than I thought, more demanding," he said.

As he can only use a relatively small number of acres for coriander Mr Barraclough said he would be more than happy for other farmers in the area to give it a go.

And Mr Milroy said: "We need brave farmers to have a go at growing these alternative crops - and that's exactly what Robert is doing."


* Coriander grows as a plant up to 3ft tall, with white flowers, indigenous to southern Europe

* The fruit and the leaves are used for many purposes

* It is used in medicines, often to treat colic but also to disguise unpleasant tastes

* It is accepted as an aromatic and spice, used as a basic ingredient of curry powder

* Coriander is a staple part of many Asian dishes

* Distillers use it to make gin