Farm School make their way across a beautiful green field at Huxhams Cross Farm

The 34-acre farm near Totnes established on land secured by the Biodynamic Land Trust in September 2015, is now fully operational. Designed and run by the Apricot Centre applying biodynamic and permaculture principles, the farm achieved full biodynamic status in 2018.

THE FARM

In the months preceding the land purchase the Land Trust in partnership with the Apricot Centre went through a design and planning process for the farm that then took the following four years to fully implement. Just as the farm was fully occupied and the main development phase was complete, Covid-19 struck. Since then the farm’s delivery customer numbers have gone up by a factor of three, and the takings on their market stall have doubled. Managed and directed by Marina and Mark O’Connell and Bob Mehew, the farm has championed health and wellbeing from the start. The farm’s wellbeing service is very busy with a constant stream of referrals.

The functions of the farm were set out as to:

  • mitigate climate change;
  • be resilient to climate change;
  • offset biodiversity loss;
  • produce plenty of healthy food;
  • provide a wellbeing service and access to the farm for children in particular.

Part of the remit for the farm was to measure their impact. At the beginning of the farm’s life they took a series of baseline counts. With a small grant from the Devon Environment Foundation they have spent some time examining how the farm has changed over the first five years.

CLIMATE CHANGE MITIGATION

They have used the Farm Carbon Toolkit methodology, and measured the farm’s soil organic content at different depths in the soil. This found that the organic content of their soils has gone up by 38% on average. The farm is now sequestering 112 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year, and sequestering three times as much carbon as it is emitting. The average CO2 emissions per person in the UK is 5.3 tonnes per year.

RESILIENCE TO CLIMATE CHANGE

The farm has experienced two of the driest summers and one of wettest winters on record in its first five years. They have managed to keep growing crops throughout, and their policy of growing a great diversity of crops has proven to be successful. There may be a few failures but the majority are productive. It was particularly noticeable that the Population Wheat grown achieves a steady yield of one tonne per acre per year. Even in 2020 when overall yields in the UK were down by 30% due to the very wet winter, the YQ quietly produced the same amount of high quality grain.

They have capacity to collect 124,000 litres of rainwater that is used for irrigation. In the four years of cropping they have had to top up with mains water every year apart from 2020, but it was a wetter year.

OFFSET BIODIVERSITY LOSS

There was a lot of biodiversity on the land to start with. Horseshoe bats, Buzzards, Deer, Owls and Herons to name a few. They have not been able to do in depth biodiversity analysis. However, they have observed an increase in predatory insects flying out of the agroforestry rows into the crops to parasitise the cabbage white caterpillars. There is a small flock of linnets that weave in and out of these rows of trees. A kestrel turned up in the summer of 2020 and hunts on the farm on a regular basis. The Orchid count in the wetland meadow has increased from less than 100 to 260 in 2020. They put this down to the conservation grazing of their two Shetland cattle, Damson and Daffodil.

PRODUCE PLENTY OF FOOD

The farm is growing a range of 100 crops and varieties of crops. Total annual yields are in the region of 15 tonnes of nutrient dense fruit and vegetables, six tonnes of wheat, 38,0000 eggs and approximately 100 bales of hay and 350 bales of straw. This is sold in the main directly to the consumer along with other local products. They employ five people full time, a further four to seven part time, and three apprentices per year. On the Wellbeing team there are a further four full time equivalents and a team of 20 therapists that work on individual contracts.

Coventry University Centre for Agroecology and Water Resources carried out a social impact study on their produce and the results are presented in the infographic.

Social-Impact-1p-Apricot-Centre-Oct-2020-1-1

WELLBEING WORK

The Apricot Centre offer a one to one therapy service for children who are “looked after” or adopted. In 2020 they worked with 167 families, delivering 3,500 hours of therapeutic interventions. At the farm, Rachel Phillips has been developing a series of interventions and workshops for children and young people. They now have funding for and run groups for young people coming out of the care system, for young carers, and for veterans coming out of the army. Many of whom have themselves come out of the care system in the past. They run Mud tots and Farm Club after school forest groups. In the summer of 2021 they hope to run workshops for children who would be in receipt of free school meals, so they can pick, cook and eat their own meals on the farm or in a satellite base they have in Torbay.

In 2020, a total of 1,400 people came to the farm for activities, even in and out of lockdown. They made a short film with the Landworkers’ Alliance about public engagement on the farm which you can see here. These are outstanding results that are the outcome of a great deal of hard work from a fantastic team, plus the initial support and opportunity from the Biodynamic Land Trust and the shareholders who invested in the farm. The farm also wishes to thank the Devon Environment Fund for the grant that gave them enough time to extract this data.

trAINING

Landscaped into the hillside, their beautiful eco-building training centre is bedding in, in addition to the lovely pod next door. The farm has piloted three core training courses: a four-day Introduction to Biodynamic Farming and Gardening; a two-day course on  Agroforestry; and a 12-day Permaculture Design Course. All of these went extremely well, and they will run them again in 2021.

VOLUNTEERS

The farm takes volunteers on the first Thursday of the month, 10 am till 4 pm. They also have an open day on Open Farm Sunday every year, that is the first Sunday in June, and hope to have a regular open farm event on their birthday at the end of September every year.

For more information about the farm see the Apricot Centre website.

The entrance to the farm is on Rattery Road, Dartington, Totnes TQ9 6AA.

‘If children are given the opportunity to make connections to nature and growing healthy food, then in the long-term this will lead to them having healthier diet, a broader palette, a greater sense of wellbeing – and it forms the basis for respect for place and nature.’
Marina O’Connell, Farmer, www.apricotcentre.co.uk

well-being and education centre

Huxhams Cross Farm’s centre was completed in September 2018. Part-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, the project’s aim was to build a 99 square metre well-being and education building for occupancy by the Apricot Centre. This would provide:

  • a multi-functional space for training purposes, to host visitors and school groups to the farm;
  • office space;
  • a kitchen with food processing facilities for the creation of products from farm produce and refreshments for staff and visitors; and
  • a meeting /consultation room. 

Now the project build is complete, the Apricot Centre team are able to offer the following:

Delivery of Training Services

The multi-function training room enables the Apricot Centre to deliver training in sustainability. This includes courses in permaculture, biodynamics and sustainable horticulture for instance. In addition, the room can be used for other purposes, and is available to hire by businesses whose ethics are in line with the Apricot Centre.    

Food Processing 

The kitchen and food processing facilities enable the creation of value-added products such as jams, chutneys, fruit leathers and compotes. They can also be used  in conjunction with the training room to deliver courses in cookery and nutrition.   

Well-being Services

There is also a private room to deliver therapy services to families and children.

The European Agricultural Fund
for Rural Development:
Europe investing in rural areas
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