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Annual Report: Education, Training and Research Activities 2013-14

Overview

The Directors of Tablehurst Farm are pleased to report on the education, training and research activities that have taken place on and in the name of the farm for the financial year 2013-14. This has taken a number of forms, from routine study to hosting visits by school children, college students and interest group. Of particular note is the continuing commitment to train new entrants to agriculture and horticulture, to support staff study and development, and to play a full role in school and community-based education. At over £60,000 of value, this commitment amounts to approximately 5% of turnover, or 2 full time equivalent staff, and is well in excess of the annual rents paid to St Anthony’s Trust and the Biodynamic Land Trust.

Tablehurst Farm continues to be at the leading edge of education and training in biodynamic community farming, as befits its status as one of the largest and oldest farms of its type in the UK. Through its apprenticeship and staff development programmes it prepares significant numbers of people for fulfilling careers in farming and gardening, whether at Tablehurst or elsewhere. It also continues to train all of its permanent staff in social care, to ensure that it offers a vibrant and meaningful life to three people with disabilities who live on the farm.

In addition, Tablehurst maintains a commitment to research and development, whether in terms of the study that the farmers and gardeners routinely undertake, or in terms of collaborations with universities and colleges. Following a number of projects with urban farms and gardens, Tablehurst has this year chosen to work with the Public Health Research Group at the University of Brighton to support the Group’s work on DNA-based source tracking of pollutants. Not only has this work provided vital information on new tests that can locate sources of water pollution, but it has also provided data on the quality of water at the farms (in Tablehurst’s case the result is good, but could be improved through a number of simple interventions). It is intended that this work will be developed in future years, while the farm is currently in the process of developing a new proposal, with a number of farms and local authorities in the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands, to develop good practice guidance on approaches to land management that offer ways of adapting to climate change.

 

Future work: funding enlightened agriculture

In addition to its commitment to support the water and land management research, Tablehurst has made active steps to engage with a new initiative developed by the Real Farming Trust, to establish ways of funding farming that do not require land as a capital asset. While being a requirement of its recent loan from St Anthony’s Trust, Tablehurst has long had a desire to harness the power of its community and name in new ways, to support the future development of the farm as a model of biodynamic community farming unencumbered by capital debt. Although at an early stage of development, the farm is interested in the concept of slow money, a movement started in the USA and now also working in Continental Europe. Its founder, Woody Tasch, has described slow money thus:

“We must bring money back down to Earth in order to enhance food security, food safety and food access, and to improve nutrition and health … we need to learn to invest as if food, farms and fertility mattered and to connect investors to the places where we live, creating vital relationships and new sources of capital for small food enterprises.”

The types of investment vehicles favoured by the slow money movement include investment clubs and crowd funding schemes. Investment clubs involve local people taking the place of conventional banks and risking their investment on their knowledge of the farm and farmer, rather than the market price of the land. Crowd funding schemes, such as Buzzbnk, are internet-based platforms that bring social ventures looking for start-up or growth capital together with like-minded people keen to participate in a new way of funding social change. Tablehurst will work actively over the next year to develop proposals for new capital funding schemes that ensure that its future is protected without the need to mortgage land.

Activity TypeActivity Cost to the farm
Training4 apprentices have been registered on the formal Biodynamic Association scheme. This is a 2-yr structured programme of practical activities, courses and assignments leading to a level 3 qualification. Students work full time on the farm in the summer, and have study time in the winter, covering attendance at courses and private studyWages, accommodation, food (assume half total cost to reflect benefit to the farm) = £33,000 paTraining costs = £8,000pa
Staff developmentAll members of staff are expected to undertake training appropriate to their role. This is typically machinery handling on the farm and in the garden, food safety in the shop, café and kitchen, and care provision for all concerned with the residents (all staff have formal care training)General training = £7,500pa; care training, including level 5 registration for the house parent = £2500 pa
Staff studyAll permanent members of staff are encouraged to undertake private study, or to join facilitated study groups. Most members of the farm and garden staff take up these opportunities, usually for around 30 weeks a year (outside the summer work schedule)Say 8 staff, 4 hrs per week for 30 weeks per year @ £8/hr = £900 pa
Staff libraryThe farm is developing a library of books and study materials to support all members of staff. This is currently held in the farm office, but will move to a designated quiet space in 2015Budget is £1000 pa
Education visits to the farmThe farm encourages local schools, colleges and interest groups to visit the farm for a guided tour. Numbers of visits vary annually, but regular attendees include the village schools and Plumpton College. Other visitors include farmer and visiting research groups.The farm also runs a programme of farm and garden walks, a tutored preparations week and the very popular lambing events.c. 600 hrs @ £8/hr = £4,800 pa
Research activitiesThe farm actively encourages researchers to use the farm as a resource for their work. The farm has been involved in a series of national Connected Communities research projects, in partnership with Spitalfields City Farm in London. In the current year it has hosted 5 Masters students from the Public Health Research Group at the University of Brighton, who have been involved in a project to develop techniques for microbial source tracking of water pollutants, while providing information to both Tablehurst and Plaw Hatch Farms about the quality of their spring and dam water. The farm is also involved in two research proposals to the European Union, one focussing on the role of land management in climate change adaptation, and the other considering how to increase the number of sustainable community  farms in Europe.c. 300 hrs @ £8/hr = £2,400 pa
External eventsMembers of the team regularly attend events away from the farm, often as guest speakers. People and organisations  increasingly look to Tablehurst as an example of what can be achieved in biodynamic community farming, and it is certainly part of Tablehurst’s mission to support new initiatives in their early developmental stages.c. 300 hrs @ £8/hr = £2,400 pa
TOTAL£62,900 pa