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.

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!

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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 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, so 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 make every effort to pay back (pro rata) those members who have paid the full year in advance where asked to do so.

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!

How to help: Spread the word! 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: Give the farm “Rewards” that we can offer during the crowdfunding campaign offer to people who pledge to save the farm. Can you spare any crowdfunding “rewards” that we can offer to people who support our  crowdfunding campaign? These would probably be things that would be of interest to people who support small, ecological community farms (so probably not a bag of coal, for example ;)

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If you are an artist, perhaps you be willing to offer one of your works of art as a reward? If you are a poet, perhaps you would write a poem for the supporter? If you are a professional, perhaps you might be able to offer a service, for example a massage, some training or tuition, a photo portait with the Oak Tree pigs….?

If you are a farm member, perhaps you would you be willing to share some of the skills you have learned at the farm? The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations! If you can help please do contact us!

And obviously…

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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The Oak Tree Wild Food Walk 2015!

Our annual wild food walk and lunch is a traditional point in the farm year, another string to our members’ bows as they learn to survive and thrive in the hungry gap.

This year’s walk took place last weekend, and we were delighted to welcome friend of the farm Tasha who gave our members a new angle on the whole business of foraging.

Tasha, foraging queen!

Tasha, foraging queen!

After a walk round the farm (no need to go any further!)…

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Then it was time to take stock of our haul…

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And finally it was time for the serious business of preparing it all!

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For some recipe ideas, please see this article on the Guardian website about our wild food walk last year!

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The 2015 Oak Tree Farm Wild Food Walk!

Please note that this event is only open (free of charge) to members of our farm Community Supported Agriculture Scheme.

One of the key weapons in our arsenal against the hungry gap is our annual members’ wild food walk. This year, I am delighted to report that you will have two guides to your foraging and cooking! The wild food walk and lunch will take place on Saturday 2nd May 2015 – meet at the farm at 11am. Here is the article in the Guardian about last year’s wild food walk.

My friend Tasha Tucker, farmer from Somerset who was the creative force behind the Abundance Feast, and who also runs a runs a stall at the Glastonbury Festival “The Peasants Lunchbox” will be visiting the farm that weekend, and she has kindly agreed to share her foraging and cooking expertise with you.

Also guiding your foraging and cooking will be our very own seasonal grower Gemma Sayers who is something of a pro when it comes to making the most of the wild harvest.

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And they call this the “Hungry Gap”?

Another veg box to be proud of in the depths of the “Hungry Gap”. Still, the advice on how to survive and thrive in these months still holds!

[picture to follow]

  • 250g Sprouting broccoli
  • 250g Swiss chard
  • bunch of 18 radishes
  • 175g salad leaves
  • 2 lettuces (either one large and one small, or two medium)
  • 100g borecole flower sprouts
  • 2 Spring cabbage OR 1 cauliflower

 

 

 

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