The time leading up to the shortest day and longest night, the winter solstice (21st December this year) is a special time for me as it feels as if the world is slowing down, and there is a unique peace that is hard imagine at midsummer. Farm veg crops grow only very slowly and I suffer from what fellow grower John tactfully terms “winterbrain” – a sometimes shocking mental slowness that can only be countered with a fair bit of strong coffee (which I have just drunk, so you can risk reading on!)
Traditionally this was a time of fire festivals, and you could argue that Christmas keeps some elements of this with lights and candles. I have no wish to promote a particular spiritual outlook: regardless of our beliefs, I think we all need to be reminded of the promise of the return of the lighter, warmer, drier days. For now I simply want to step back from all the rush and excitement of the last year, and reflect a bit on where we are, and where we are going.
2016 has been a busy and productive year. Grower John and I were grateful for the stability that the sucess of our 2015 “Save the Oak Tree” campaign gave us, and I have taken the opportunity to work to consolidate the future of the farm. Much of this is “work in progress”, but now is good time to share where I have got to, and what I am hoping to achieve in the future.
The farm is still losing money, and struggles to retain younger growers as the pay is low, and the work is hard. John and I are self employed earning the equivalent of the minimum wage for a 40 hour week, pro rata three days a week in John’s case, though we work longer than this, particularly in the Spring and Summer – often considerably longer, though this time of year offers some respite. John and I can afford to do this as we have paid our mortgages off, but I fear the farm would need to make more money to retain younger growers.
We have enough money in the farm bank account (thanks to the “Save the Oak Tree” campaign) to keep going as we are until early 2018 so long as we don’t suffer major equipment failure or something similar – by early 2018 we need to be bringing more money in. We are a not for profit social enterprise, but we do need to balance the accounts. We plan to do this in a number of ways, and we’ll keep you updated on how all these plans develop in the months to come:
- We plan to raise funds to buy a four wheeled tractor to create low-till permanent veg beds to improve our crop yields while reducing the workload.
- We plan to offer a traineeship over the summer months of 2017 to someone who is committed to working in ecological farming – we will recruit nationally to find someone with ideas and enthusiasm, and who is used to hard work on the farm.
- We are just on the point of submitting a planning application for our Farm Community Cafe and Training Centre to provide facilities both for members and for wider visitors to the farm. We should get a formal response from the planning authority within two months. Very many thanks to the Big Lottery Fund for supporting the work to get us to this stage!
- I am at a very early stage of discussions with the Ecological Land Coop about the possibility of transferring the farm’s land to community ownership to secure the future of the farm (I own the land, and its value is my pension).
- Richard and I plan to continue our work using Elaine Ingham’s soil biology improvement techniques, documented on our new website Green Mantle, with a view to further improving the productivity of the farm.
- We plan to offer “pick your own” flowers for DIY wedding in 2017. If you know a practical, down to earth bride or bride groom who would like to enjoy beautiful low carbon flowers for a reasonable price in 2017 then please do encourage them to sign up for our occasional email newsletter for updates.
- We shall continue to develop our fruit venture following enjoying our first saleable harvest this year.
- We are at at early stage of an application to the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation (who have generously supported our work in the past) for some funding to help us with 2, 4 and 5 above, along with general support with our running costs. No guarantees at this stage.
So, in the background, alongside all the harvesting, growing, animal case and community fun, I am working away to secure an ever brighter and busier future for our community ecological farm which punches above its 12 acres weight! While there are no guarantees, and we remain as reliant on the support of our wonderful community of members as ever, I am excited about the future. We’re still looking out for our appearance on BBC TV’s “Escape to the Country” filmed earlier this year…