Greenham Reach - Mid Devon
Nestled in the rolling hills of Devon and within a stone’s throw of the River Tone, Greenham reach looks like it’s been a part of the landscape forever.
Before planning permission was granted the site was conventional farmland typical of south-west England. Made up of two intensively managed arable fields and permanent flood plain pasture the land had been farmed for a single crop with inputs of fertilisers and agrochemicals.
In April 2013 the ELC was granted temporary planning permission to develop three affordable - and residential - smallholdings for new entrants to ecological agriculture.
Thousands of trees later and with each successive growing season, the site has been transformed into a mosaic of perennial herb beds, shrubs, fruit trees, vegetable production and wild flower meadows for livestock. In 2019 permanent planning permission was granted enabling the farmers to build their permanent dwellings.
The three small farms have worked tirelessly to bring beauty, wildlife and food production to Greenham, illustrating the productivity and beauty of ecological farming.
Helen & Stuart run a five and a half acre organic medicinal herbs farm. Elder Farm works to reconnect people to sustainable growing methods and to the healing power of plants through their produce and learning opportunities.
Wild Geese Acres
James & Sukamala run a no-dig intensive salad and veg production garden which also grows cut flowers to supply local shops and restaurants. Wild Geese Acres, also includes a small flock of sheep, geese and pigs in its fold and has recently planted over a thousand native trees to incorporate more woodland into the landscape.
Ruth & Alex run Steepholding, a mixed enterprise made up of a community supported agriculture veg box scheme, fruit tree propagation, chickens and a micro dairy herd of Golden Guernsey goats.
All three farms demonstrate that the ELC model works, land-based livelihoods are possible, that agriculture and ecology can work and live hand in hand and that there is a desire to create a thriving, dynamic countryside.
All three families show that with creativity, enterprise and labour, ecological agriculture — the application of ecological principles in the interaction of plants, animals, humans and the biosphere alongside the social values needed of a sustainable and fair food system - is a real, living option for future farmers.
Martinsfield - East Sussex
In August 2018 we were granted temporary permission by Wealdon District Council to create three affordable smallholdings for new entrant farmers on our site in East Sussex - a 18.5 acre field in the village of Arlington. In autumn 2019 two couples made the move to set up their farms.
When Sinead and Adam were growing up in London and Essex the prospect of farming was a distant dream. Their deep interest in the natural world and where our food comes from propelled them to volunteer at the urban farm Audacious Veg in South London. It turned out that growing was infectious, and their hobby soon became a career when they took over operations on the farm.
Impassioned about the urgent need for more ecological agriculture in the UK, that can fix our broken food system and provide healthy food to local communities, they set their hearts on farming their own land as a profession and way of life. The pure joy that the diversity of plant life, colour and insect population brought to them stirred a deep longing to get out there and do more. But with land prices at £9000/acre, their aspiration seemed impossible.
“It’s no secret that access into farming for new entrants is really hard in the UK,” says Sinead. “Given our backgrounds growing up in cities with no links to food and farming, the chances of us being able to pursue livelihoods in this sector were going to be slim.”
With the help of the Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC) they were able to secure 4.8 acres of land in East Sussex, which they named Aweside Farm, after a trip to Loch Awe in Scotland that inspired them to get out of the city.
“The ELC has really shaken things up and created opportunities for a new generation of farmers to create the changes that are needed within agriculture.” Sinead explains. “Without the ELC navigating such a tricky space, we wouldn't have been able to make our passion and dream a reality.”
They can now start their enterprise to grow an astonishing array of edible flowers, cut flowers, herbs, heritage veg and leafy greens direct to restaurants and online. This is all done through regenerative farming practices like "no-dig’ which works to undo the damage of intensive farming by rebuilding soil structure and locking carbon into the soil. Not only do these methods reduce the need for pesticides and fertilisers, they also boost biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
At Aweside Farm Sinead and Adam are doing this by planting thousands of trees in new hedgerows, orchards and woodland; growing food, fruit and flowers and creating new habitats for wildlife.
With the support of the ELC Sinead and Adam’s dream has become a reality, where they are working with, rather than against, nature and showing us that it’s possible to grow food at the same time as regenerating and restoring landscapes.
“What the ELC is doing is truly radical — opening up new land for people from a range of backgrounds, with different insights, experiences and methods. We believe this to be a huge part in building a more resilient and diverse agricultural sector.”
Fanfield Farm likes to think big. On 3.5 acres, Emily and Chris are working to make their life long ambition a reality.
Growing up in rural areas the importance of food to community, culture and health was planted in their minds. As adults leading city lives, the idea of growing good food, on a field scale for the local community still held root during their family visits in the countryside.
The yearning for something real has seen many young idealists fly the coop that is city life and pursue a different way of being. The time to get into small-scale ecological agriculture has never been riper. With ideas, tools and knowledge at your fingertips, getting back to the land hasn’t seemed easier.
But hurdles still exist. In the case of England & Wales: land price and planning policies. And this is where Emily and Chris got stuck. However their combined business sense and passion wasn’t going to allow the matter of planning and land prices wrong foot them. And this is when they met the ELC.
“It is our dream and mission,” says Emily, “to feed local families with organic, and great quality food. The opportunity provided by the ELC allowed us to build that dream and get started.”
Wishing to bring good food to as many people as they could locally, Fanfield Farm Community Supported Agriculture came to be and plans to grow organic seasonal veg to 200 local households in the years to come.
The seeds for Fanfield Farm CSA were planted early on. At a young age Chris worked at a greengrocer’s and spent summers on his great aunt’s dairy farm, Fanfield Farm (the very same name of the ELC plot which both a continuation and celebration of Chris’s time spent on his family farm). Emily grew up on and around farmland and conservation areas giving her an insight into the concerns and life of rural communities.
Working with the ELC gave the young couple confidence and courage to choose farming as a career. And the space to grow food and to set their ambitions high.
Before the ELC, Emily and Chris worked in media, marketing and hospitality— key ‘soft skills’ for running a growing operation. With the help and mentoring of the ELC Emily and Chris felt they could go further than if they had gone alone.
"At first glance it seemed that the ELC were too good to be true. Their mission is genuine. After our initial chats we are now Stewards on a brand new farm. We couldn’t be happier.”
Furzehill - Gower
We are currently in the process of applying for planning permission to create two residential farms on our 18 acre site in Furzehill, Gower, South Wales. The third plot at Furzehill is being stewarded by a social enterprise called Cae Tan and we are working with them for the third plot to become an incubator farm for new entrants to train themselves in market gardening.
Cae Tan is a Community Supported Agriculture scheme (CSA) set up five years ago by Tom O’Kane who remembers when the Gower had lots of market gardens growing local food for local people. But since moving away in his youth they all but disappeared. On Tom’s return to the area he became the grower for Cae Tan - now Wales’s largest CSA feeding over 120 local households with an abundance of seasonal veg all year round.
A CSA veg box scheme is where the community buys into the idea of supporting the growers from the get go. This means the growers get a guaranteed, fair income throughout the year. This gives the grower financial security as members share the risk of growing whilst getting a share of the harvest - in the leaner times and during the summer glut.
Community Supported Agriculture is as much about growing community as it is about vegetables.
Set amongst fields that were once the veg basket of Swansea, Cae Tan have worked tirelessly to bring good food to local people. Despite early misgivings and scepticism that veg could be grown on Gower, Cae Tan have gone on to win the hearts and minds of locals and provide seasonal, ecological veg to over 120 households.
From educational projects to welcoming international volunteers to hosting stars in the horticultural world, Cae Tan puts great energy into the people side of agriculture.
“People are craving something that makes sense in our natural environment,” say Tom O’Kane founder and head grower at Cae Tan. “They really like the connection of knowing the person that’s growing their food and seeing the place where it’s coming from. There were loads of market gardens on Gower, people were running businesses on areas much smaller than this and it’s been a really short timescale since everything stopped. There’s no reason why it couldn’t be turned around again.”
The confidence and faith Cae Tan members have in their CSA is ploughed back into the project’s busy social diary of fundraisers, field trips and successful intern projects (which has helped launch two subsidiary businesses in the five years Cae Tan has been operating).
Putting the community back into agriculture the Thursday veg box collection days are not only an early morning scramble to harvest fresh veg straight from the field but a chance to catch up with customers, share news and shoot the breeze.
One of the co-founders of Cae Tan, Ant Flanagan, told Tom when they were setting up the CSA, “If you want to go fast, go on your own. If you want to go far, go with lots of other people.”
The ELC is delighted to be working with Cae Tan who are stewarding five acres of the 18 acre site at Furzehill to help them expand the production of good, healthy and local food - meaning Cae Tan no longer need to buy in winter field crops.
The site at Furzehill differs from the usual ELC model of three residential small farms. The plan is for one of the plots to be an ‘incubator farm’ with residence for apprentices to live and learn the trade of market gardening alongside Cae Tan - helping new entrant farmers find their feet before taking on their own plot of land