Our recent Family of Farms day was a real cause for celebration – bringing our community of biodynamic farms together after a long period of disconnect due to Covid.
The space was held by each of our farmers sharing their lived experiences of running a biodynamic farm business and the different types of enterprises that work for each unique place and community. We heard from four of our farms – Marina at Huxham’s Cross Farm – the Apricot Centre in Devon, Peter at Tablehurst Farm in Forest Row – East Sussex, Eden and Claudia at St Giles Farm in the New Forest, Lucas at Oakbrook Farm in Stroud and Amber delivering on behalf of Kees at the Micro Dairy also situated at Oakbrook. Each farmer provided rich insight into how they make biodynamics work within their business model along with exploring some of the challenges experienced over the years to get there.
We think it would be beneficial for our wider community to hear about some key takeaways of the day:
At the centre of most biodynamic operational, thriving farms is a community of people. This might be in the form of volunteers, employees, neighbours, directors, or trustees. Each farm forms a much wider and richer community that can aid in decision-making processes, the day-to-day runnings of the farm and step in when times get tough. Community can be multi-layered and is a vital ingredient for building a long-standing thriving farm and business.
Time and Resources:
Farmers and land-based workers are always up against a never-ending to-do list, no matter what season they enter. Often the weight of varied responsibilities becomes greater than just stewarding and farming the land. Communicating their work on social media, setting up events on-site, running farmers markets, diversifying their business streams to make farming work financially are just a few of the many hat’s farmers wear today.
Diversifying Business Models:
All small-scale organic/biodynamic farms need to find ways of diversifying and getting creative with their business models to make the farms pay and provide a financial return. In doing so, farms can usually pay living wage to employees and maintain a consistent workforce year-to-year. Huxhams Cross provided a few examples of ways they have diversified. For example, creating value-added products such as jams and chutneys from their surplus and grade-out stock has enabled the business to generate an extra income stream, and has given the team a more diverse mix of jobs to do throughout the mundanity and heavy labour of tasks that winter sometimes has to offer.
The Biodynamic Land Trust has enabled many farms to sustain and invest in the work they do through the application of long-term tenancies. Building long-term relationships and meeting the basic needs of farmers (securing access to land) is a fundamental part of what makes up a thriving farm business model. By buying land with community investment or securing very long term tenancies itself, the Trust can offer farms and farmers security, moral support and some expertise in community engagement and fundraising. It can also offer a variety of perspectives on different farm models and mixes of enterprises. Coming from the other direction the Trust can help communities engage in the process of securing land for local food production.
Highly Skilled Labour:
As it stands a 1/3 of all farmers in the UK are over the age of 65, which means in the coming years many long-standing generational farmers will be leaving the workforce. This requires a new succession of young individuals to become skilled in the agricultural sector and step up to the new challenges of farming. However, there are still several barriers that young entrant farmers face to building any sort of long-term career in the world of farming. To name a few: training in alternative farming methods, access to land, limited capital to get started, mentorship and support from a wider community, and of course gaining the skills how to grow and run a successful business.
Creating a different story is possible but this requires building opportunities and support services for those who want to make a career out of farming. There is a gap in many small-scale farms where skilled labour is required and is increasingly becoming harder to find. Many people turn to the Land Workers Alliance for their training programs, as well as our custodian tenant farm Huxhams Cross who deliver biodynamic training and permaculture design courses at their on-site premises – The Apricot Centre, and other more extensive practical and online courses are offered by the BD Agriculture College.
In the world of agriculture many farmers can feel time-constrained. We want to share our gratitude for all those that attended the Family of Farms’ Day. From all your feedback and the inclusion of our reflections, it was apparent how beneficial the day was too many. It is rare we get to sit down with one another and share honest thoughts about each of our unique journeys of farming and running a Biodynamic business. We recognise the call for another opportunity to explore a new theme for the next Family of Farms’ Day. We’re in the process of gathering our thoughts after your feedback to see when the next can be organised and the core theme for it.
For now, we wish you all well as we welcome the new season of shorter and slower days.
Published by: Amber Lawes-Johnson