Starting farming

The Biodynamic Land Trust AGM took place in October at Hawkwood College attended by Land Trust members and supporters. Following the formal business, the open discussion which followed raised a number of points. One of these was the apparent shortage of suitable candidates wanting to work on the land being experienced both within the biodynamic movement and beyond, with many farms and market gardens struggling to fill vacancies.

Although people may be interested, they also need the necessary skills. The point was made that it is a big challenge to take on your own project and is not something to be taken lightly. Perhaps there is more that we as an organisation, and the biodynamic movement as a whole, could do to encourage and support those who are interested in growing and producing quality food in an agro-ecological, biodynamic way to do so. In light of ongoing concerns about the negative impacts of industrial agriculture and the environmental benefits of biodynamic farming and growing, as highlighted previously, there is a clear case for more biodynamic land.

Education plays an important role here. The Biodynamic Agricultural College provides the only hands-on professional training in biodynamics in the UK but they too have spaces. Perhaps we could reach out to the Royal Agricultural University and other training establishments to work with us, and also look to ensure education at a younger age helps to encourage people to work on the land.

Training is important but we also need to help trainees progress on their agricultural journey. It was reported that the situation in the UK is very different to that in France, for example, where a ten-week training course is followed by one year of government funding while trainees begin a starter farm. It is obviously much harder to get started without the benefit of such a financial cushion. However, starter farms are something that the Land Trust is keen to support, and our project at Oakbrook Farm features Stroud Community Agriculture’s own starter farm as one of its enterprises.

The presentation from Oakbrook and tour around the farm in the afternoon following the AGM included a look around the starter farm. We heard from the current grower who has been there for two years and has really welcomed the experience gained. A new grower will shortly be taking up the reins.

Starter or incubator farms, smaller independent enterprises within larger holdings, offer great opportunities for trainee farmers and growers to gain experience and skills within a supported setting. They also provide access to land which otherwise can be a barrier for new entrants. A joined-up path from training establishment to starter farm could help to encourage more people on to the land with the skills necessary to create a sustainable agro-ecological farming future.

Tom Brenan
Operations Manager, Biodynamic Land Trust

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