Stroud Starter Farm

Clare and Stroud Community Agriculture grower Mark Harrison inspecting salads in the polytunnel

Clare and Stroud Community Agriculture grower Mark Harrison inspecting salads in the polytunnel

Stroud Community Agriculture is launching a new project, and looking for land. The four-acre ‘Starter Farm’ will be a springboard into sustainable agriculture for new growers from non-farming backgrounds.

SCA is a thriving community farm created twelve years ago, supplying biodynamic vegetables and organic meat to 220 households in the Stroud area. With the farm going from strength to strength, and a waiting list for new members, it’s time for a new initiative – an offshoot of the main farm where young growers can train, learning vital practical and business skills which will help them on their way to running their own eco-friendly veg-growing enterprises. Vegetables grown at the new site will primarily be supplied to SCA, so yet more local people can benefit from their weekly share of delicious seasonal produce. The Starter Farm aims to cater for fifty new members.

The average British farmer is now 59 years old, with conventional farming declining in popularity, partly due to its dependency on chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. Who will provide the locally-grown, chemical-free produce that will feed our future?

The rising generation of farmers are here – but they need a bit of help. In recent years, there has been an upsurge of interest in small-scale sustainable farming in young people from non-farming backgrounds. Many volunteer on organic or permaculture-based smallholdings, or undertake an apprenticeship (such as the popular Biodynamic scheme whose participants include Ruskin Mill and SCA). A great start – but how to take the next step? For many just starting out on their journeys, the barriers to accessing land and markets are too high.

All over the UK, starter farms are springing up to meet this need. These intermediate structures allow fledgling growers to test their wings in a supported environment, giving them the best possible grounding with which to face the challenges of today’s food system.

Sylvie harvesting rhubarb

Sylvie harvesting rhubarb

Sylvie Planel (a former Ruskin Mill apprentice) and Clare Whitney, both interns at Stroud Community Agriculture, provided the initial impetus for the Starter Farm project, and will be the first ‘starter farmers’. Taking on the land for a three-year term, they’ll be growing independently for the first time, with some mentoring from the SCA team. A guaranteed market for their goods will give them the secure base to develop their gardening expertise, with the potential to expand to new markets as their confidence grows. At the end of their term they’ll set out to establish their own enterprises, taking their newly-gained know-how and confidence with them – and handing over the Starter Farm for another entrant grower to step into their shoes.

Stroud Community Agriculture is seeking four acres of land to rent for its starter farm, and will be launching a crowdfunding bid later in the year to provide essential infrastructure for the new site.

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