I have just returned from the first BDLT members meeting all fired up to invest in Rush Farm and the Stockwood community business. For me it seems right, it resonates with my heart and rationally it makes good sense, I believe that “holistic human involvement in life requires the heart, head and hand”.
My father was born into a wealthy family in the London cloth industry. He was disgruntled with the widespread exploitation in the factories and felt farming was the only honest employment, so I grew up on a farm. I imbibed my father’s dislike of chemical farming and distrust of the impractical advice of the Men from the Ministry. To-day I am really saddened to see the destruction of our countryside and food by agribusiness. For a long time I have felt angry and disempowered, my protests to the DEFRA consultations ignored. However, hope is being restored; I see a rebirth of agriculture through the Biodynamic Association and tremendous optimism and energy expressed at the recent Biodynamic Conferences. At the last one I had a long chat with Martin Large and shared his vision of community owned land for biodynamic cultivation. Suddenly, here was the opportunity to fund the change I wanted to see” to rephrase Gandhi.
I have just finished rereading Soil and Soul, the story of one island’s fight to recover community custodianship of its soil when they formed the Eigg Community Trust and eventually evicted their landlord. This lit the fuse which was to revolutionise land ownership and crofting in Scotland. Author, campaigner, poet, philosopher and mystic Alastair McIntosh quotes Jung, “ The individual who is not anchored in God can offer no resistance on his own resources to the physical and moral blandishments of the world”. Alastair persuaded a Professor of theology and chief Sulian Stone Eagle Hearney from Canada to present the spiritual arguments at a General Enquiry which was judging the rights of Redland, a minerals company, to excavate an entire mountain in the Hebrides. This was the foundation stone of the crofters’ victory. World wide solidarity and publicity led to the crofters regaining their sacred mountain freed from the chains of corporate ownership and exploitation.
The BDLT and Stockwood Community Benefit Society are not fighting corporate business head on, like the water they are going round the rocks. The banks have threatened to pull the plug on Rush Farm by withdrawing the mortgage for arbitrary, possibly misselling, reasons even though it is a profitable farming concern, building up year on year and has always paid its bills. The partnership of the BDLT and Stockwood Community Benefit Society is fortified by its social, financial and business connections with the Elysia Partnership and the profitable Stockwood Business Park, which is based in the converted farm buildings and stables. This is an atypical farm which does not meet the actuarial model. This is an opportunity to develop a model of community ownership for mutual benefit, with BDLT as both midwife and godparent.
I really enjoyed my tour of the farm, unfortunately there was not time to look at the gardens, it was really amazing the changes that have taken place. In 2005 there were no fences, no machinery, no farm tracks, no water in the fields and horses on the bridleways strayed all over the place, now all this is put right. Drainage has been improved with a “scrape” so that despite the wet weather our wellies were really unnecessary.
The only farm building is a large dutch barn so the animals have been selected to be cared for in the open. Llewyn sheep and Herefords are sensible, intelligent animals who can calve and lamb with little or no help from man, reducing manpower, anxiety and the need for buildings. I have lived on clay soil and Herefords were my father’s favourite cattle, they were the great colonisers of Canada where he worked as a young man in the 20’s. Unlike other breeds they had the intelligence to “dig” down through the snow for grass.
It makes sense to have a rotation which only has an arable component for 2 years out of 9 as clay is difficult to work – either concrete or treacle most of the time. This will be improved gradually of course as the biodynamic composted manure is spread on the fields each year. The modern fashion for slurry spreading started in the 60’s which creates tremendous nitrogen and water imbalances, destroying soil structure whilst the opposite extreme to-day of ploughing in stubble and straw means that only 2% of the carbon in the plant material becomes sequestered in the soil. At Rush farm the sheep are grazed on the stubble, and sometimes even the cows when they are being dried off.
Machinery is a big capital outlay and needs to be used 24/7 throughout the season to be viable, so Rush farm uses farm contractors. Seeing is believing and now neighbours can experience first hand how Biodynamic practices improve soil and cropping.
I was hoping to buy produce from the farm shop and came with a full purse. I was disappointed, this is a project for the future and they hope it will be a retail hub for neighbouring farms to sell their produce as well. At present they manage to sell 50 whole lambs for the freezer direct to the local public and the rest either go to Worcester market or Craig Organics.
Of course none of this Vision works without the right people and enthusiasm. Meeting Gabriel and Martin and the Parsons family I was able to ask questions and listen to them. I feel I can trust them to make sure this all works and is not just wishful thinking. I look forward to lots of other people joining the enterprise to make this a true community partnership ensouled with roots deep in the Soil.
- Alastair McIntosh: Soil and Soul – People versus Corporate Power
- Be the change you want to see
- Soil Association: Carbon Report
- Soil Association: Carbon Report states that biodynamic farmed land sequesters the highest levels of carbon of any farming system. Reduction in carbon (humus) leads to direct destruction of soil and mining of mineral content including NPK, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium.