Tag Archives: community

Community buy-out to secure biodynamic farm

Bluebell WoodThere was a time when the earth was free and belonged to all. People grew food and grazed animals, to eat, to live. Then the land grabs started. With legal stealth and physical violence, “enclosures” were enforced over several centuries in Britain. The commons – the earth and soil and woodlands used by peasants for farming – became the property of warlords who exploited the need to grow food for survival.

It does not need to be this way! We do not need to run the world for the benefit of might-is-right profiteers!

Fast-forward to the 21st century. One of the problems of producing food in the UK is the lack of available land. Who will be lucky enough to inherit? Most of the land belongs to a small percentage of the aristocracy.

Farming land is rare. Land is seen as an “investment”. Investors buy land to lock up their money, using it like a savings account. This means land becomes prohibitively expensive and makes it difficult for would-be farmers to find a foothold.

But I bring encouraging news. Community farm ownership seeks to break the “land-as-investment” deadlock, and make land accessible for farming.

Let’s take a closer look at this model by visiting Rush Farm in Worcester – which I had the good fortune to do as part of my work with Greenhouse.

Lleyn sheep Rush Farm

Rush Farm is an 150-acre mixed traditional biodynamic and organic family farm in the heart of England. In 2012, its current owners joined with the Biodynamic Land Trust to form Stockwood Community Benefit Society Ltd. The aim is for the Benefit Society to buy Rush Farm and its ethically-run 27-unit eco-property, Stockwood Business Park, from its current owners.

Pic below of current owners, Sebastian, Tabitha and Sophie, three siblings of the Parsons family.

Sebastian, Sophie, Tabitha_6269

In this way, the land can neither be passed down to the next generation as an inheritance, nor can it be sold. Stockwood Community Benefit Society ensures the land remains as a community-owned biodynamic and organic farm – for ever.

Is land a community resource for the benefit of many, or a commodity to be bought and sold to profit but a few? In his article Transforming Capitalism, Martin Large of the Biodynamic Land Trust argues that managing land as a community resource can alleviate the current economic crisis.

This is the mechanism: Stockwood Community Benefit Society is selling shares, from a minimum of 100 £1 shares (£100) to a maximum of 20,000 £1 (£20,000) shares. Unlike commercial shares, community shares cannot be sold. Instead, shareholders are supporting a sustainable enterprise.

IMG_0400However, it’s not all one-way – Stockwood Community Benefit Society anticipates paying-out 5% interest a year to its community share holders. Here is a pic of its stall selling shares at Rush Farm fete on the 3 August. The £1 million share offer was launched in May and has already raised about half a million pounds. Offer ends 31 October 2013 so invest now!

A bit more background: Sebastian Parsons, and his two sisters, Tabitha and Sophie, bought Rush Farm in 2005. Their parents, Anne and Adrian Parsons, have managed it as a biodynamic and organic farm ever since.

WOW. Thanks to these enlightened farming methods, the soil is revitalised, carbon-rich, and brimming with fertility. Its native Lleyn sheep and Hereford cattle are beautifully cared-for. The farm’s mixed habitats –  ancient woodlands, wetlands, herb-rich meadows and grassland – are nurtured and wildlife has returned, including bees, butterflies, lapwings and curlews.

IMG_0405

Demeter biodynamic-certified and Soil Association organic-certified Rush Farm sells meat and fresh produce, and also earns an income from the rental from its on-farm Stockwood Business Park (see my pic of a light industrial units) – a vital rural hub employing over 100 local people, and making it viable for them to stay in the countryside. The business park is full of groovy businesses, too.

teiner/Waldorf kindergartenStockwood Business Park even has its own Steiner/Waldorf nursery kindergarten. (Please can I be three-years-old again, and attend?).

Wrapped around a working farm with lush nature, the business park has to be one of the most blissful places in he world to work.

Sebastian Parsons

Sebastian Parsons is also the CEO and co-founder of Elysia, which includes the UK distribution of Dr.Hauschka‘s organic skin care products, and is based at Stockwood Business Park. The voluntary chief executive of the Biodynamic Association, Sebastian also applies Rudolph Steiner’s far-out but incredibly practical philosophy on the interconnectedness of everything (anthroposophy) to to Rush Farm, Elysia, and Stockwood Community Benefit Society.

Makes sense doesn’t it? Because everything is connected!

Photo 03-12-2006 07 01 49 PMSebastian’s grandfather was David Clement, a pioneer of Britain’s biodynamic movement. In 1933, Clement bought Broome Farm (also in Worcester) which became an agricultural research centre, and for half a century, the Biodynamic Association’s headquarters. But, sadly, in the 1980s, Broome Farm was sold  and lost to biodynamic and organic management– to the Parsons’ chagrin.

“My sisters and I never spoke about it at the time,” says Sebastian. “But much later we found that each of us had resolved to one day buy Broome Farm back. We never did. However, when we bought Rush Farm, we felt we had achieved our aim, and fulfilled our commitment to the land.”

More social history, this time about Rush Farm. Under its previous owners in the 1950s, Rush Farm inspired the writing of The Archers, the world’s longest-running radio soap opera.

Radio Times Nov 1951

Radio Times Nov 1951

Early episodes were recorded at Rush Farm and its nearby pub, The Bull, at Inkberrow, while Rush Farm’s fireplace featured as the Archers’ fireplace on a Radio Times cover (viz pic). And if that is not enough farm gossip, Olympic showjumper, Pat Smythe, used to ride at Rush Farm, when it was a stud farm in the ’50s and ’60s.

Now Rush Farm is in the limelight again, thanks to its Stockwood Community Benefit Society share offer to secure the biodynamic and organic farm’s future – for ever.

Community investors – be part of the solution! Invest in this worthwhile sustainable enterprise (with 5% return). Deadline ends 31 October 2013.

Coed Hills magic and more hemp

Wind turbine Coed Hills ++

What is it about living outdoors that feels so good?

Last weekend I was camping on a Welsh hill outside Cardiff.

End of September autumn solstice and time for a mini-festival at Coed Hills, the off-the-grid 20-strong arts community.

A fine excuse to live outdoors in a festive atmosphere with 200 other people with similar interests: music, healing, eco-education, meditation and other forms of consciousness-raising and eating delicious healthy mostly organic vegetarian food.

Coed meal after sauna

I went to some great talks including from BBC5.tv, saw The Age of Stupid, and gave two writing workshops myself, sitting in a yurt with talented students.

And followed the art trail in the 100-acre woods.

Indian summer autumn light but unseasonable climate-change warmth.

Being close to nature seems to open my heart. It hurts to take stock of our wasteful world.

But here at Coed Hills, people are living the dream, putting planet-saving sustainable ideas into action.

I loved the compost loos where poo is not flushed away to join our water supply but will go to feed the soil, and the willow reed beds that clean the site’s waste water.

Inspiringly, the site runs on sustainable energy including the wind turbine (see pic above) that presides over us.

Festivals are green networking cities – if not synchroni-cities.

Or just good timing.

Before leaving, I don my hat as hemp ambassadress and present a packet of Amaru Hempower porridge to the Coed community.

Richard, the cook from Lost Horizons, and Coed communard, says I must meet Derek.

Soon – in festival-chaos style – I am sitting next to Derek Bielby, hemp consultant, on a deckchair in front of an open fire between the wooden sauna and a teepee.

Hemp keeps crossing my path, first at Shambala and then at The Organic Food Festival.

Incredibly nutritious, hemp is also perfectly suited to the UK climate.

Fast-growing , it is ready for harvest after 100-days of growth – and good for the land.

Hemp is super-sustainable – growing hemp for paper gives four times the yield than trees, Derek told me.

It also has many uses including for eco-building, paper and textiles.

As Derek showed me:

The many uses of hemp

1. In the plastic bag on the left: the woody chips, or hurd.

2.The thing that looks like a round goat’s cheese? That, and the fibrous block it sits on, is hempcrete.

Forget the C02 criminal of the building world – use hempcrete instead.

3. Above are squares of hemp felt, a natural fibre. No more toxic fibres when you insulate a roof.

4. Next to the hemp felt, a ‘log’ of hemp waste for burning – this could be used to power the on-farm hemp-processing machine, or primary processor. Talk about sustainable.

5. ‘Woodchip’ made from hemp with a garden pot made of hemp. Plus boards of resin, also made from hemp. And swatches of hemp fabric.

I did not want to leave the magical world of Coed (pronounced coid, Welsh for wood ) where you live outdoors, treading the ground unmediated by cement,  and lit at night by fires and candlelight.

But I did.

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