We have spent some 37 years addressing the breakdown of rural and urban communities across the developing world in very practical ways and always at a grassroots level.

For nearly 15 of those years, we also had the opportunity to assist many women in South London from a wide range of backgrounds to encourage each other to start up their own small businesses.

01

Our Journey

We decided in 2002 to turn our attention to the tragic degeneration of healthy village life in rural England.
 
When we looked at how best to apply ourselves to that issue, we swiftly saw that the shape of the farming industry (as it has come to be known so very sadly) was at the heart of what needed to change.
So, we found a suitable 250-acre farm and started from scratch in 2002 with plenty of enthusiasm but no knowledge of farming and none in our blood.
 
We were there for nearly 20 years.
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We never thought we could invent something new.

Rather, our approach was to find a way that replicated the best cooperative elements of a traditional village and thus increase the numbers of people earning a livelihood from a given acreage of land, with the farmers helping each other when needed.

Our overseas experience of village microcredit programmes, across Asia and Africa in particular, gave us the courage to build a local market and to establish a common identity for all the farmers’ businesses by having all of them sell under a common brand name.

The supermarkets, with their predatory pricing policies, have done more than any other factor to denude – no, to ruin – rural communities.

In response, farmers have, in the main, found themselves doing all they can to reduce the numbers of people that are needed, to increase the size of their farms, to treat farming purely as a self-contained, commercial venture with only a rare glance, often, at the well-being of the villagers nearby (with many notable exceptions), and to operate in an increasingly intensive and mechanised fashion.

02

Community Breakdown

And whilst the land has suffered more and more under these seemingly unavoidable conditions, the villages have gradually lost their young – and their hearts.

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We knew from the outset almost intuitively that the use of chemical fertilisers and sprays on the land, the prophylactic use of antibiotics and other standard interventions in conventional livestock systems, and intensive farming practices were wrong in principle.

03

Soil Health

We converted to organic, started a diverse group of eight farming businesses and later set off to sequester more carbon than our entire operation emitted – and the health of the soil, of the farmers, of the water courses and of the ever-increasing and varied wildlife confirmed this.

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It is our experience over the years that to be largely in control of one’s own economic activity leads both to a greater desire to succeed than when employed by others and to more dignity and a deeper sense of self worth.

04

Share Farmers

So we developed a form of share farming (or land sharing) agreement by which there is no need for a farmer to own the land on which they run their business. They share broadly the same aims and the same risks as the provider of the land.

These are largely based on trust – that trust, and sense of belonging, that used to come with living and working next to, or near, the other inhabitants of a village.

Over the years, it was rare that we sat down for a communal meal fewer than 15 to 20, our apple-picking days involved around 60 friends and our open days every year attracted well over 1,000 people.

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Overall, we trained up well over 30 potential farmers and many of these have gone on to take their experience elsewhere and are applying it on other farms in different forms across the UK and abroad.

05

Spreading Out

Almost all who came through have taken on some of the community-building and restoration themes that have enabled more people to have a real sense of belonging to something worthwhile.

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Lizzie and Rupert

‘We arrived on the Farm knowing very little of how to farm and run a business. We left 16 months later with experience, knowledge and confidence in small-scale organic farming.

Without this opportunity, we would not now currently be based on another organic farm nor have a desire to steward the land and animals in a way that regenerates the soil and involves others.’