Making the case for a UK transition to Regenerative Agriculture – Huxham’s Cross Farm

Learning to heal from and connect with the land”

In June, we at the Biodynamic Land Trust had the opportunity to visit the team at the Apricot Centre@Huxhams Cross Farm in Dartington. The day was a celebration for Land Trust shareholders and investors who have supported and enabled this farm to transform from just a few fields in a poor state in 2014 to a thriving biodynamic food system.

We’re at a critical juncture in the progress of a real UK food policy where government agricultural grants are changing from the EU common agricultural policy (CAP) to a system of paying farmers ‘public money to deliver public goods’. In short, a shift is taking place to encourage farmers to transition to more sustainable forms of farming. The specifics of a supportive framework in how farmers will make this transition swiftly and effectively is far more complex and a topic of much heated discussion. Additional enquiries form a landscape of much broader questions in this debate, particularly in relation to how more sustainable, regenerative systems of farming can provide a financial return for current farmers and future new entrants. Are these systems supportive enough to sustain livelihoods and generate income, provide for local food security, and regenerate the land? The question then becomes one of how to make farming [GK1] pay in more ways than one? And is there enough evidence to support those ready to take the leap?

With the help of the Biodynamic Land Trust purchasing the land back in 2015, Huxhams Cross Farm has gone from strength to strength. We heard from Co-director Rachel Philipps what it means in practice to “make the activity on the farm pay in more ways than one” through the framing of ‘enterprise stacking’. From a mixed farming model, the farm produces fruit, vegetables, eggs and wheat (which is processed by their sister company Dartington Mill, sold under the brand “Reclaim the Grain”) which is feeding 300 local families a week. With the financial support of Devon County Council, the team’s Wellbeing Centre provides therapy to children and courses on regenerative farming methods. Models of land-based enterprises such as Huxhams are no longer in their infancy, with more farmers across the country making similar transitions. Groundswell, a regenerative farming conference we attended recently, confirmed this by the high number of farmers in their late careers sharing their reasons of interest in regenerative farming. Many explained a curiosity in farming practices that not only regenerate and care for the land but also reciprocate the same for body and mind.

There is still much work to do in making the case for a broader and faster transition to regenerative (including biodynamic) agriculture. Many a critic argues that these systems can’t feed a growing UK population. But along with many others, we welcome with open arms the new report Feeding Britain by Sustainable Food Trust which provides a rich evidence-based case for a UK-wide transition to sustainable and regenerative farming practices. The report evidences how such systems could “tackle the climate, nature and public health crises, produce enough food to maintain and potentially even improve current levels of self-sufficiency, provided we ate differently, ate less and cut food waste”.

To round off, back at Huxhams after a long, idyllic walk across the 34 acres, a sense of hope and gratitude washed over me. It is clear, that developing such diverse systems that benefit and strengthen local livelihoods and food security is no easy task. But with models such as theirs thriving and evidencing their successes and failures along the way, is the beginning of lighting a path of confidence for many more to follow.   

Amber Lawes-Johnson – Biodynamic Land Trust

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