The Save The Oak Tree Crowdfunding site is now live!

The #SavetheOakTree crowdfunding campaign is now live at the link below! Please help to save our much loved little ecological farm which is ignored by the powers that be, but punches above its 12 acre weight to care for the enviroment and people. Thank you.

Save The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm Crowdfunding Campaign

A beautiful naturally grown sunflower!

Of course we would be very grateful for any money you can pledge, but we also ask you to spread the word, by talking about us to friends and family, to email people you know. Many people will want to ask questions about the farm and what has happened. You can direct them to our Frequently Asked Questions  about the #SavetheOakTree campaign.

And another great way to help is to spread the word on social media:

  • Please on Twitter and remember to use the “hashtag” #SavetheOakTree when you talk about us! Retweet our messages, and make up your own.
  • Visit our Facebook page! and share (don’t just “like”) posts about the campaign!
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A hopeful look into the future: The Sunlit Uplands

The last few weeks, since announcing the Save The Oak Tree Crowdfunding Campaign (to be launched in about a week’s time -we’re now busy preparing the video, the rewards for pledges, the campaign webpage etc, etc…) have felt tough. It is a bit like taking your clothes off in public, saying that something had gone wrong with a beloved project, and that if we don’t raise enough money, it will have to be shut down.

Join me on the sunlit uplands

Join me on the sunlit uplands

But that really isn’t what the #SavetheOakTree campaign is all about. No, the whole project, the whole dream of producing good food, while caring for the environment, and the community of people involved, is above all a message of hope and optimism.

Why on earth would growers Eric, John and myself work very long hours on low wages (even if the crowdfunding is successful we’re only seeking the minimum wage) in extremes of weather and often physical discomfort? Why do our lovely farm members come and join us to help with the endless tasks on the farm, as well as offering encouragement and support in countless other ways? The answer, of course, is because we believe in what we are doing (and hopefully, on balance, we enjoy all it!)

So, in this post, I am going to focus on the positive. The Sunlit Uplands of the Future, where the farm’s future is secure and our harvests more productive, and the farm infrastructure less rudimentary! That is why we are campaigning to #SavetheOakTree because it will see us through this rough patch to …. now these advances won’t happen straight away, but they most definitely form an important part of our plans for the future!

The soil will be far better and more productive.

Forrest and Gump August 2014

Forrest and Gump August 2014

We are trialling the amazing methods of soil life scientist Dr Elaine Ingham to improve our soil, as well as using mob stocking methods on our pasture with our two bullocks. Not only with this improve our yields, it will also sequester very significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere into the soil. These are just two of the array of methods that we are using to restore our soil which had been depleted by decades of Industrial Agriculture.

The Forest Garden will have matured

Martin Crawford's amazing Forest Garden in Devon

Martin Crawford’s amazing Forest Garden in Devon

Our cultivated “edible young woodland”, which has been planted over the first few years of the farm, will be producing plentiful orchard fruit, soft fruit and perennial leaves, all while supporting the environment! A huge percentage of fruit eaten in the UK is imported, but this really is daft (a result of crazy policy incentives).

The farm will have a beautiful community building, complete with area for members to relax, space to welcome courses and visitors, a proper kitchen which will enable us to produce value added products from our harvest, and simple accommodation for farm apprentices, not to mention proper composting toilets! At present we are working on a feasibility study – sadly endless rules, regulations and goodness knows what else make it all terribly complicated, but we are making definite progress/

Our cut flower business will be thriving!

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British cut flowers are very popular, and we are currently seeking the best ways to market our expanded cut flower harvest. Once we’ve learned the best way to go about this for us, we’ll have a healthy, and ecological, income stream for the farm. Most cut flowers are imported, heavily doused in chemicals, and some are the result of dubious labour practices. Needless to say, ours are grown without chemicals, and are grown right here in Suffolk!

 

 

 

 

 

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Low carbon cut flower update!

Our beautiful, ecologically grown cut flowers are coming on a pace!

We have been growing flower for cutting for a few years now, but we have expanded the range and quantity that we grow this year, and we are also working on extending the season.

Most cheap flowers in the supermarkets, and florists, are grown with lots of chemicals, imported and may even involve very poor employment condition where they are grown. Which isn’t very nice to think about when you are buying something beautiful for a loved one.

Our flower are grown with no artificial chemicals at all, are all grown on our little farm in Suffolk, and any revenue from their sale goes to running our ecological, not for profit social enterprise community farm. Added to that, they are very beautiful!

We are planning to offer our bouquets by Special Delivery post very soon – in the meantime here is farm grower Joanne perfecting her bouquet making skills with farm member Clare who, as it turns out, has studied floristry!

Clare and Joanne with flowers

And here is a closeup of the training bouquet…

A close up of Joanne and Clare's bouquet...

A close up of Joanne and Clare’s bouquet…

And finally here is a "test posting" of an Oak Tree Bouquet

And finally here is a “test posting” of an Oak Tree Bouquet

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Frequently asked questions about the #SavetheOakTree Campaign

What is is all about, what is the problem?

We were expecting a large financial contribution to the farm from a lovely crowd who have been contributing to the farm for some time. Through no fault of their own, they have been unable to go ahead with this large sum, which has left us with a big, and unexpected, hole in our finances.

Why are you in financial trouble?

We made plans based on the expected financial contribution, indeed the farm would have been struggling months ago if it weren’t for their preceeding kind help. Now we either go forward, or else. Shit or bust.

But you have been going for seven years, why now?

In the early days of the farm Joanne Mudhar worked on little or no wages and took few, if any, holidays. She isn’t getting any younger, and it was all getting far too much. To ever be able to take anyone on as a fellow grower we needed to pay more than the pittance she was on. We lost one lovely grower, Tom, because he couldn’t afford to continue on the dreadful wages when his wife Kirsty had their baby Leon (you can chat to they about it, they are still a members of the farm!).

Joanne’s fellow growers, Eric and John, work ridiculously hard. We need three of us to cover sick leaves, holidays, and the sheer volume of work running the farm and looking after our lovely farm members. Until recently, all three growers were on the minimum wage thanks to our financial supporters. Since the financial support stopped we are holding the farm together on ridicuously low wages (Joanne on under £3 per hour). We can’t afford to buy essential equipment.  For the moment, we can’t continue much longer without external help.

Is there any hope you’ll ever be financially sustainable?

Yes, yes, yes! Thanks to our innovative community supported agriculture system we don’t waste any food, and as our soil improves (it was in a dreadful state when we started, a hangover of Industrial Agriculture) our yields will improve. We have low levels of oil based inputs, as oil prices rise, we will become more competitive.

We are developing a promising low carbon cut flower business, and our fruit trees and bushes are slowly growing. Added to this, we are in the early stages of planning a community building which will enable us to welcome visitors and run courses, drawing in much needed revenue to the farm. We are hoping to trial a “farming on prescription” service for people with mild mental health problems next year.

We are also planning to talk with our members about the possibility of variable pricing of our produce at our annual farm meeting in August (see key dates for CSA members), but we are very keen that our farm should remain accessible to as wide a group of people as possible.

We also hope that one day, a UK Government will realise that treating our soil as blotting paper for chemicals is a suicidal way of ruining our enviroment and health, and will cease to unfairly advantage large scale, cruel, destructive Industrial Agriculture. And realise that little farms like ours are making a significant contribution to addressing climate change.

How much money do you need?

Our crowdfunding campaign will have two targets. We will set a deadline towards mid September for the end of the campaign.

The first, the “survive” target of £27,000 would allow us to continue our work at least to the end of 2016, hopefully longer, but we can’t guarantee it. The growers would earn up to the minimum wage (in some cases less, to ease the farm budget) and we would have the minimal additional composting and irrigation equipment we need to make our work more efficient, and our farm more productive.

Max and Milo, the cats from next door

The second “thrive” target of £38,000 would secure our future into 2017, giving us time to develop our low carbon fruit and flower gardens, and to overcome the red tape blocking building our community building to welcome visitors and to run courses. With the this extra money we could top up the farm income enough to pay our growers  the minimum wage.

If you’re so short of money, how on earth can you afford such a professional film?

In short, we couldn’t, it was the sheer generosity of two farm members who happen to be talented film makers, who made the film as part of their farm work commitment.

What will happen if we don’t reach the lower target?

We won’t receive any money from the Crowdfunding Campaign. We need the “survive” amount to, well survive – we pared it down to the minimum we thought we could get away with.

Here at The Oak Tree we are working on the assumption that we will succeed, for example we are still planting out leeks for the winter 2015/2016 harvest!

But, it is a reasonable question to ask, and after a lot of reflection we have decided that, if we don’t achieve the “survive target” then, with the greatest regret, we would close down the farm Community Supported Agriculture Scheme from the beginning of October 2015, and Joanne and Richard may well sell the land which is currently The Oak Tree.

In this situation, the last vegetable boxes would be harvested in the final week of September. We would ask members who pay monthly to cancel their standing orders before the beginning of October, and we would  pay back (pro rata) those members who have paid the full year in advance where asked to do so. This may require Joanne to sell the land which is currently The Oak Tree Farm so we may need to ask for your patience, but Joanne makes it a personal undertaking that you would be offered your money back where you have paid in advance even if it takes her a little while to achieve.

What about all the veg left in the ground if you closed down!?

It would probably get overgrown with weeds then be ploughed up by the new owner. I know, it breaks my heart too.

What can I do to help?

Please see our Update on how you can help to Save The Oak Tree. And, thanks!

Surely big scale agriculture is more efficient, so farm like The Oak Tree will inevitably go under?

No, it isn’t. Small scale agriculture has been shown, time and again, to produce more food per unit area, with fewer harmful inputs, than industrial agriculture. We also employ more people per unit area in jobs which can be creative, health an satisfying. But that story doesn’t suit the Establishment.

There are countless petty rules and regulations that are particularly onerous for small farms like our, but work fine with the economies of scale of bigger ones, such as animal factory farms.

There is also the red tape that makes it so very hard to put buildings up on farms under 5Ha in size (like The Oak Tree which is 4.96 Ha in size – and no, we can’t just buy an extra bit).

No-one takes into account the damage caused by energy intensive Industrial Agriculture on the climate, our wildlife, the quality of our food (mineral levels in veg have dropped dramatically over the past few decades). Never mind the appalling conditions of  cruelly treat factory farmed animals…

Why don’t you get EU agricultural subsidies?

Because The Oak Tree, at 4.96 Hectares in size, is just under the threshold defined by the UK government (the EU allows a lower limit). We can’t buy a strip of land to get above the threshold, and the problems are wider than just the subsidies anyway.

Is it just because you’re badly organised, or just not very canny business people?

Our three growers have extensive experience in business before running The Oak Tree. An accountant once commented that we were unusually organised for a not for profit social enterprise. Joanne has worked in successful small business for years, John is a Chartered Accountant (as well as being into Amateur Dramatics!) having worked for a small local business for decades, and Eric a is professional project manager and a very canny and bright chap. Were not daft, we’re imaginative, we work hard and we are entrepreneurial.

We’re just up against an (almost) insurmountable system that tells farms to “get big, or get out”. Don’t just take it from us, listen to George Monbiot on the subject.

George Monbiot from Oxford Farming Conference on Vimeo.

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The Oak Tree Farm Summer Party.. or yet another reason to #SavetheOakTree!

Thank you all who came along to the lovely farm Summer Party last Saturday! Yet another reason to #SavetheOakTree !

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When the going gets tough, The Oak Tree CSA members get on an party to celebrate all that is good at the farm!

P6272216_sm

 

Wonderful food and drink was shared, the wood fired clay oven cooked members’ pizzas to perfection, the wood fired barbeque worked a treat and Richard played a fantastic mix of music with his “Stoat Solar (battery powered) Disco!

 

 

Little Owl

 

Towards the end we all sat round a midsummer bonfire, gazed at the stag beetles & stars and listened to the owls on their nighttime rounds!

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Update on how you can help to Save the Oak Tree!

It is a week since I announced our campaign to Save The Oak Tree, and so much has happened since then! I have been truly overwhelmed by the support and friendship shown to the farm by our members and friends of the farm… too numerous to mention here. I am so very grateful to everyone who shares my belief in the ecological, community farming that we do together at The Oak Tree! Thank you all :)

1st Box Mar 2015

We plan to launch our crowdfunding campaign in about three weeks time, towards the end of July, which will be the time to pledge money to safeguard the future of the farm! Rest assured we shall publicise the crowdfunding page far and wide as soon as it is launched!

 

IN the meantime we have lots of work to do to prepare, including making a video, setting up the rewards, organising a launch event and contacting the press.

How much are we going to ask for?

Our crowdfunding campaign will have two targets. We will set a deadline towards mid September for the end of the campaign.

The first, the “survive” target of £27,000 would allow us to continue our work at least to the end of 2016, hopefully longer, but we can’t guarantee it. The growers would earn up to the minimum wage (in some cases less, to ease the farm budget) and we would have the minimal additional composting and irrigation equipment we need to make our work more efficient, and our farm more productive.

Max and Milo, the cats from next door

The second “thrive” target of £38,000 would secure our future into 2017, giving us time to develop our low carbon fruit and flower gardens, and to overcome the red tape blocking building our community building to welcome visitors and to run courses. With the this extra money we could top up the farm income enough to pay our growers  the minimum wage.

What will happen if we don’t reach the lower target?

Here at The Oak Tree we are working on the assumption that we will succeed, for example we are still planting out leeks for the winter 2015/2016 harvest!

But, it is a reasonable question to ask, and the answer is in our Frequently Asked Questions list.

Would you like to help us?

Many kind people have asked, “What can I do to help?”. Here are some concrete things you can do, right now, that would really make a difference!

A beautiful naturally grown sunflower!

How to help: Help to spread the word! Please vote for farm member Anne Gould’s article on Contributoria – your vote will make a real difference to our chances of being picked up by national media! It really is quick to do, and free of charge, we promise.

How to help: Social media support!

Please on Twitter and remember to use the “hashtag” #SavetheOakTree when you talk about us! Retweet our messages, and make up your own.

Visit our Facebook page! and share (don’t just “like”) posts about the campaign!

Email and talk with your friends and family. Many people will want to ask questions about the farm and what has happened. You can direct them to our Frequently Asked Questions  about the #SavetheOakTree campaign.

How to Help: Please do reserve as much money as you can to pledge to our crowdfunding campaign when it gets under way in late July. We need as sustained success to encourage lots and lots of people to get involved! But even if you are feeling hard up, a small contribution is still a big help, and adds to the “snowball effect” of the campaign. Remember, if we don’t reach the “survive” target, we will receive nothing.

How to Help: Sell things on ebay to have more to donate! Maybe you have a few things lying around that you don’t need, but which you could sell on ebay and then contribute the proceeds to the Campaign? Reusing stuff is all very much in the spirit of the farm – remember – much of the farm infrastructure is built out of stuff that other people threw out!

 

 

 

 

 

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Save The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm

It is with a very heavy heart that I am writing this post, but also with hope.

To cut a very long story short, a planned donation to the farm has fallen through, through no fault of the donor (a very generous crowd who really supports our work). This lovely group was donating money regularly to the farm, and was planning to give the farm a substantial lump sum this May to really set us up, but is no longer able to do so. We had made plans based on this donation, and the cancellation happened unexpectedly suddenly, and we are left with a really difficult situation at the farm now.

Our three growers: myself, John and Eric are on significantly reduced wages (which were only the UK minimum wage to begin with) – I (Joanne) am personally am earning less than £3/hour at the moment which, frankly, is a struggle. The farm bank balance is looking worryingly low. We’re carrying on because we can’t bear to see the farm close down, but we can’t carry on for much longer.

For seven years I held out the hope that we could turn The Oak Tree into a viable business on the basis of selling our produce, just to show it could be done without damaging the environment! I truly hoped, and even believed, that it was possible. We lost one lovely grower, Tom, because we couldn’t afford to pay him a proper wage when his wife Kirsty had their first baby, which I personally found heart breaking – he just couldn’t afford to keep working on the farm. The farm will not survive into the future if we can’t pay younger people a wage that they can live on.

But the reality is that governments around the world, particularly ours, support big, industrial, environmentally destructive farms. They actively undermine small ecological farms like ours.

It is an utterly unfair playing field, pitched against us with daft EU subsidies paid to our competitors (we get nothing), crazy rules that make no sense for little people like us, no recognition of the damage that industrial agriculture is causing, or of the benefits that we offer, such as capturing significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere as organic matter in our soil, giving people the opportunity to really get involved in food production, giving a wonderful habitat for wildlife, and growing proper food with minimal carbon emissions, treating our animals with respect, not the insane cruelty of factory farming …

In reality, for a long time, our farm has been subsidised by a host of sources. The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, The Big Lottery Fund, and a number of very kind individuals have contributed both money and equipment to the farm.

Our growers (including myself) have ourselves been subsidising The Oak Tree Farm in countless ways – through accepting very low incomes, using our own equipment and vehicles without charge, and in my case, supplying 12 acres of farmland worth £120,000 for a very low rent. I have no savings left. Everything I have, and more, has gone into the farm.

So Eric, John and I have decided to launch a crowdfunding appeal to ask for help from our many supporters, in the hope of surviving to fight another day. We will ask for help towards paying our growers at least the minimum wage! Help to buy equipment to make us more efficient, and for training to help us to be better at what we do.

In short we are going to ask for help to keep our farm going as an example of what can be done until people in power wake up to the realities of climate change and the destruction of our soils, wildlife and food quality. Maybe, just maybe, if farms like ours can keep going long enough, we can show others how to farm without destroying the natural world around us when the tide turns.

There is hope.

We are slowly (due to the endless red tape that affects small farms like ours) working on getting a community building to offer not only shelter for our lovely members, but also training courses and visits which will bring much needed income.

We are also in the early stages of expanding our cut flower sales to also bring extra income to the farm, but it is at too early a stage now to provide much extra money.

PLEASE DON’T DO ANYTHING NOW – PLEASE WAIT UNTIL WE LAUNCH A CROWDFUNDING WEBSITE – a successful crowdfunding campaign achieves a “snowball” effect when others see money being donated and decide to join in. As soon as we have a crowdfunding website complete with video I will spread the word here, and via social media.

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Lithuanian Cold Beetroot Soup, by Tom

“Comes out a lovely pink colour – ideal lunch for hot summer days.“, Tom.

Ingredients:

  • Half a cucumber (grated),
  • Three good sized cooked (or raw for a crunchier texture) beetroot (grated),
  • 1 litre of kefir (if you can get hold of it) or thinned yoghurt (half and halfish with water),
  • Good handful of chopped herbs, ideally: dill and chives,
  • Pinch of salt,
  • Optional accompaniments: chopped boiled egg (very nice :)), Potatoes – wedges or roasties.

Method: Simply mix together all ingredients.

Bon appétit!

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Chard Pancake, recommended by Tom

Chard Pancake

Chard Pancake

 

“Need more ideas for all those lovely green leaves in the hungry gap? This quick and simple recipe is made with chard but pretty much any leaves can be used.“, Tom.

Ingredients (serves 2 – scale as needed)

  • 1 egg,
  • 100g plain flour (I like to use half and half wholemeal/white),
  • A generous half pint of milk,
  • Large bunch of chard (or spring cabbage, sprouting broccoli, cauliflower leaves etc.),
  • Seasoning to taste
  • Optional: herbs/spices (e.g. cumin, turmeric, coriander powder, etc.)

Method:

  1. Beat together the egg, flour and milk to make a smooth pancake batter.
  2. Finely chop the leaves (the finer the better. I use a ‘mini-chopper’, possibly a blender or some sort of food processor might be just as good. Basically you want the leaves to be more or less mush!) and add to the batter.
  3. Season with salt, pepper and, if you like, herbs or spices. I use a pinch or two each of cumin, turmeric and coriander powder.
  4. Fry in a little oil or butter, like you would a regular pancake, flipping after a minute or so. The only tricky bit is that it’s a bit harder to get the batter to spread than if it were normal pancake batter.
  5. Serve with cheese, chutney or anything else you would normally have with a savoury pancake.

Bon appétit!

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Joanne’s simple cauliflower cheese with hard boiled eggs

Here is a simple way to make use of both cauliflowers and eggs from the farm!

Photo to follow when I remember to take one before eating it!

If you can’t use your cauli’s straight away try blanching them, and putting them in the freezer, until you need them (I actually blanch mine by steaming them and then putting them in cold water, but it is the same principle).

  • Hard boil as many eggs as you’d like (Richard and I have two each after a hard day on the farm!), cool in cold water and remove shell.
  • Cut your cauli into florets, and then steam until cooked but still firm.
  • Meanwhile make a cheese sauce (this is as good a method as any!) Keep a bit of grated cheese back.
  • Put the cauli and the eggs into an ovenrpoof dish, pour over the cheese sauce, top with a little grated cheese, and put under the grill until slightly browned.

 

 

 

 

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