This 41-acre (17- hectare) farm, just outside Stroud, was purchased by the community through the Biodynamic Land Trust in November 2015. Previously known as Lot 3, Hammonds Farm, the community renamed it Oakbrook Community Farm, inspired by the land’s beautiful spring-sourced, oak-lined brook. The farm is Demeter certified organic and in conversion to biodynamic.
The recently established Oakbrook Community Benefit Society (OCBS) signed a 99-year lease with the Land Trust in April 2020. OCBS is developing the farm infrastructure and raised £125,000 from a pioneer share offer. The funds will be used for tracks, fences and a barn. The share offer is still open. See the OCBS website for more information.
The farm is currently home to a cluster of farm enterprises.
Stroud Micro Dairy
Stroud Micro Dairy, run by farmer, Kees Frederiks, produces raw milk, kefir, yogurt and cheese for the people of Stroud thanks to its Holstein-Jersey cows. Following its establishment in March 2017, Stroud Micro Dairy now farms 36 hectares with Oakbrook Farm’s 13 hectares at its core.
They have launched a door to door delivery in Stroud to serve those that can’t travel to the farm and they are especially proud that their raw milk, yoghurt and kefir now comes in glass. The cows have enjoyed the good summer weather and the company of their first bull, a very docile Hereford called Damien. So, now they no longer rely on artificial insemination.
The micro dairy runs on a community membership basis: a share is the number of litres of raw milk, kefir or yogurt that people want every week for a year. You can sign up to support Stroud Micro Dairy and to place your order for raw milk, kefir and/or yogurt.
Stroud Micro Dairy are offering free Muddy Fingers soil and forest school sessions for children. See here for more information.
A volunteer at Stroud Micro Dairy, Ellie Price, established her own business rearing pasture-fed chickens. The chickens move slowly (usually weekly) around the farm. As a result their enthusiastic scratching doesn’t damage the pasture too much. In fact it actually helps to aerate the sward, and the chickens can fertilise lots of the grassland. It is also good for the chickens to be on new pasture regularly as there will always be new bugs to be found and they don’t get bored. In turn, this helps keep the high quality of the eggs and is also the best way to prevent parasitic worms.
Nesting boxes, a shed and a mobile chicken coop constructed on a caravan chassis are now in place alongside a movable feeder, sand bath and shelter to support the chickens’ health and wellbeing. Ellie’s first year was highly rewarding, hard work and a great learning experience. The feeder is a little more interactive than conventional feeders as the hens have to peck a little paddle for the feed to drop down. This is a great addition as it provides the girls with a bit more entertainment and also doubles as a climbing frame!
The chickens will hopefully integrate well with the upcoming agroforestry trial (see below). They will be moved up and down in between the rows of trees which they will love. Their fertilisation will enrich the grass and soil below. The new track will be most welcome, making that area of the farm much more easily accessible for looking after the chickens. Eggs are available via Stroud Micro Dairy.
Stroud Community Agriculture starter farm
Now home to “Rosie and Nell’s Veg”, this is a 4-acre market garden established under the umbrella of Stroud Community Agriculture (SCA). It allows new growers to develop their skills with the support of SCA. There is a polytunnel and small greenhouse to assist with the growing of Mediterranean vegetables and raising seedlings.
Rosie and Nell have had an incredibly challenging first year building their fledgling business in the midst of a global pandemic. Finding customers has been an ongoing difficulty, as everything changed so frequently. They had planned to sell almost exclusively to restaurants, and had to radically change their business model after these closed. They quickly opened their farm stall and focused on selling direct to the public. Growing-wise however, they have really excelled. Their muddy patch is now a lush, green and productive space and, despite the odds, they are managing to make an income. They are starting to see renewed interest from the recently reopened restaurants and cafes. Coronavirus permitting, they are hopeful that this will continue throughout the winter months.
Designed by Christian Gruetzmacher, the Bee Observatory at Oakbrook Farm is a meeting place for humans and honey bees. The project aims to encourage individuals and groups to discover and develop their unique relationship with bees. There are three self-built observation hives on display plus a national hive with surprise observation features, too.
Open for the first time in 2019, the garden hosts free open days for the community. Visitors of all ages and backgrounds can visit on these days. They can watch, listen and contemplate honey bees in the hives. There is no need for any prior experience or protective clothing. Some spend quiet time contemplating the undisturbed bees. Others ask many questions or discuss honey bees, nature and humans in view of current challenges and opportunities. The Bee Observatory can also host children’s parties and offers birthday gift vouchers.
The bees enjoyed the sunny weather over the summer. Two new swarms are growing inside the two new hives the Bee Observatory put up in the spring. They are also delighted that a feral swarm has taken up residence in one of the old ash trees in the brook at the Haven Field. They have had no open days in recent months. However, their volunteers have been slowly and steadily working in the bee garden adding fencing and a new terrace. Open days will be announced on the Bee Observatory website.
Jessie Marcham is drawing up plans to plant a pilot phase of the agroforestry project this autumn and winter. They are hoping to put in two rows of apple trees just south of the veg plots at Oakbrook. These will be underplanted with a combination of soft fruit, spring bulbs for cut flowers, and green manure mixes. This will enable them to test out many aspects of the agroforestry concept on the ground. These include: row spacing; suitability of different soft fruits; and the labour required for planting, weeding, and harvesting in this pioneering system. They have also started propagating some of their own trees, with 75 little apple trees grafted this spring.
The ZeroDig plots at Oakbrook run by Mario Peters and Christopher Upton were sown with green manure crops in the spring. This is to help prepare the land for planting next season. It helps to protect soil health and fertility by increasing biological activity and adding organic matter. They have also planted a shelterbelt of trees at the southern end of the plot. In time, this will help to improve the microclimate for veg growing on this exposed site.
Visiting Oakbrook farm
The farm is located near the gates to Hawkwood College on Painswick Old Road, Gloucestershire GL6 7QW. The entrance is through a gate about 50 yards south of Hawkwood College’s entrance. Please feel free to walk on any of the marked public footpaths.
’This project is a brilliant demonstration of how restoring and enhancing the ecological fertility of land can have huge social and economic benefits for local communities. Re-localising our economies around sustainably productive land, as is the case with this land in Stroud, can help provide food security while providing education, training and job opportunities for local people’