Stories of Hope in the Face of Climate Change – Biodynamic Farmers in the South of England

Stewarding the Land at Huxhams Cross – The Apricot Centre | Dartington Estate, Devon

Huxhams Cross Farm – The Apricot Centre | Dartington Estate, Devon:

It’s been a big year for Huxhams Cross Farm on many accounts. At the beginning of the year Huxhams won the Rural Business Award for the “Best Rural Social Enterprise, Charity or Community Project”. Not long after receiving this honorary title, they were awarded a produce gold with Food Drink Devon for the farm’s YQ Population White and Wholemeal Flour Varieties in partnership with Dartington Mill. A huge congratulations to the team at Huxhams Cross, as this reflects years of hard work and commitment to the cause of farming regeneratively, in harmony with the land and building a community of people who care and support the need for nature-friendly food and farming.

Developments are also taking place at Huxham’s Cross Apricot Centre, with the introduction of the School of Regenerative Land Based Studies (click on the link for more details). Traineeships will offer an Accredited Level 3 Course in Regenerative Land Based Systems, with a specific focus in Agriculture and Woodland activities. This programme has been funded by Devon Environmental Foundation, Vivobarefoot ‘Livebarefoot Fund’ and Devon County Council.

From the outset starting the farm in 2015 Huxhams Cross focus has been to address the issues of climate change, in terms of mitigation or sequestering carbon, and being resilient to climate change, to offset biodiversity loss, and to produce food whilst being economically viable as a farm business, as well as providing a wellbeing service for young people. They have achieved these ends and were able to measure their impact on the 13 hectares over a 5-year period.  These measurements were extensive, covering on-farm environmental, social, and economic factors, in part using the Farm Carbon Toolkit. The work was made possible by receiving funding from the Devon Environment Foundation which supported Rachel Phillips (Huxham’s Education and Well-being Manager) to carry out and lead this project.

Published earlier this year, The Environmental, Economic and Social Impact of Huxhams Cross Farm 2020 report is populated with in-depth analyses of the study across biodiversity, food production output, economic viability of the farm and social impact. Full report details can be found here but in short, their findings suggest:

  • Huxham’s Cross are carbon negative, meaning they are sequestering approx. 5 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year more than they use, and the process has shown how they can improve on this even further.
  • Biodiversity on the farm has gone up, they are producing lots of delicious food that their community love whilst simultaneously being economically viable (as a farm separate from the wellbeing service which is also viable). They have many weekly visitors to the farm developing their nature connection and therapeutic work.

On the back of this work and as previously mentioned Devon County Council is funding the new School with a focus on Regenerative Land Based Systems which will enable this work to travel further and teach people how to do similar assessments and have an impact on their farms across the country. Additionally, The Diocese of Exeter has offered the Apricot team a tenancy on the 20 acres of the Glebe Fields next door to Huxhams Cross farm so that they can carry out the same development and impact study that has taken place at Huxhams Cross farm and offer demonstrations and farm walks to the other 250 farmers across the 2000 acres of Glebe fields in Devon. This will support The Diocese of Exeter’s aims to be carbon neutral by 2030-35. 

A letter from the farmers of St Giles Farm, Godshill, New Forest

Autumn has arrived, with its bounty of produce from the vegetable garden, all grown outdoors, for our veg box customers. We are at the beginning of vegetable production on a moderate scale, but this year gave us an idea of the potential the small, deer fenced growing area could have in the hands of a dedicated grower.

Autumn Harvest for Market – St Giles

On the last Saturday of September, we hosted the first ‘Southern Biodynamic Study Group’ in the village hall, and we met new people interested in biodynamics. It felt new and fresh and there was a lot of enthusiasm, so we are planning to meet regularly. In the afternoon, we made preparation 500 with the manure from our cattle, filled cow horns proudly held aloft. A week later we hosted the ‘BDLT Family of Farms’ event, again in the village hall. The weather was suddenly atrocious with heavy rain and strong wind – what an irony after a largely dull and very dry summer, which gradually turned into a creeping drought. But despite the weather and the short-lived fuel crisis, 18 people involved with biodynamics from as far as Devon and Sussex came together to share with each other what has been happening in various biodynamic centres over the last year. Working under the auspices of the Biodynamic Land Trust is what brought us together. What became clear once again is that each place is completely unique in the way the being of the place – the Genius Loci – finds expression. 

With us in the New Forest it is the close vicinity to the unique cultural landscape of the open forest which exerts a strong influence. St Giles Farm boasts a stunning view onto Hampton Ridge, one of the highest points in the New Forest, and the semi-feral ponies and cattle freely roaming the hillsides can be seen in all seasons and weathers.

The gently undulating farmed landscape of which we are guardians is different but blends seamlessly into its surroundings. Many centuries ago, and through the back-breaking labour of many people it was prised away from the forest and turned into much more productive grazing land, yet still retaining to this day some of the original landscape features which allowed the native flora and fauna to hold on, even thrive.  It is our task today more than ever to keep the fine balance between farm productivity and allowing the natural world to have an equal say. This is where the observational skills of the people working the land are invaluable.

With winter approaching, the upcoming task is to plant more hedges and specimen trees. After the exhalation of summer, the Earth now breathes in, and little happens above ground. Most activity takes place underground, in the soil. This is the perfect time for getting bare-rooted saplings in the ground, and their roots will orientate themselves in their new environment and start growing. Like we have done before, we will create a wide planting strip by taking the turf off with the aid of a mechanical digger, then put staggered double rows of mixed species in – hawthorn, hazel, field maple, whitebeam, rowan, hornbeam, dog rose, and plenty of hollies – interspersed with specimen trees typical for our environment.

Here in the New Forest, the English oak dominates. We also have old ash trees around us, but they are increasingly looking sad because of the fast-advancing ash die-back disease. People have stopped planting ash, but some trees are supposedly more resilient to the disease-causing fungus. So perhaps we all should be planting more ash? What a loss if this beautiful, loose-crowned, graceful tree, which in the biodynamic work we associate with the Sun, were to disappear. We learned in a recent tree planting webinar that out of 65000 tree species worldwide, 104 have disappeared forever. Now, humankind is finally waking up to the fact that every animal and plant species we lose is undermining our very own existence.

It would be interesting to see if the work with the compost preparations can help to turn the fortunes of ash and other beleaguered species around. The healing, balancing qualities of the preparations should have a hugely beneficial effect. We are quite excited to have an increasing amount of compost at varying stages of transformation from our cattle and horses. This compost will begin to benefit the land next year. The composting area has had a lot of input recently – turning last year’s compost and making a new wind row with that wonderful mix of cattle dung, urine and straw coming out of the barn where the animals were winter housed. We ordered the compost preparations from the Biodynamic Association – now for the putting in.

Claudia Weis

On behalf of the team at St Giles Farm

Published by: Amber Lawes-Johnson

Published by