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 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) is developing the farm infrastructure. OCBS has launched a pioneer share offer with an invitation to invest to support this community farm. They are seeking to raise £247,000 for obtaining planning permission, building tracks, services and barns. 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.
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 were replaced at the end of October 2019 with 100 young pullets at point of lay. For the older hens, it was not the end. New homes were found for all, as they make good pets and still continue to lay, albeit a bit more unpredictably. The new girls are getting along very well. As they are so young and ready to go, they are laying very well, despite it being winter. There are a couple of different breeds from last time and it will be interesting to observe their qualities and behaviours. At the moment the recent wet weather has meant muddy ground is a bit of a challenge, and the grass that they are on, even after a couple of days, is turned into a rather more brown than green area! Nevertheless they are happy and healthy and with the benefit of 18 months observations and experience, the knowledge gained will help ensure their happy lives at Oakbrook. Eggs are available via Stroud Micro Dairy.
Stroud Community Agriculture starter farm
A 4-acre market garden established under the umbrella of Stroud Community Agriculture (SCA). This 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. Kit Whitney has been a “starter farmer” at the site for three years.
As the light returns over March and April, the starter farm will slowly wake up from its peaceful wintry doze. Early crops of young kale, chard and salad will burst forth from the polytunnel joining those crops that have been holding on outside through the winter. Two new starter farmers have taken up the reins for the next two years: Nell (who worked with Kit over the summer); and Rosie (fresh from an apprenticeship at Abbey Home Farm in Cirencester). They have been plotting and planning how to best to use the space and are sure to have some tweaks and innovations up their sleeves on both the growing and marketing fronts.
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.
With some ups and downs the stock has increased from two colonies to five. All four hives on site are currently occupied. Working with natural rhythms of the bees and experimenting with alternative hive designs and management leaves a good part of the processes to the bees themselves. It will only be possible to assess the outcomes of this year’s natural and artificial swarming next year.
A small group of volunteers and supporters is forming bringing great prospects to the project’s development. Christian hopes to expand the (observation) beekeeping activities and other offers by 2020. He is also grateful for all financial donations made to the project so crucial at this early stage. For more information or to get in touch visit the Bee Observatory website.
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’