A 450-acre mixed arable and livestock farm now in organic conversion, near Totnes in Devon. Farmers Jon and Lynne Perkin took on the tenancy of the farm, owned by Dartington Hall Trust, in March 2015. They established Dartington Dairy in 2016, selling products from their goats milk, and their Jersey cow milk going to a local cheesemaker. However, although the dairy was popular, income levels were not sufficient so Jon and Lynne have re-designed the farm. They aim to create an economically and environmentally sustainable farm and needed help to embark on putting the redesign into practice. The Biodynamic Land Trust, together with very generous support from a local resident with strong connections to the area, provided funds to facilitate this process.

A sustainable farm

The farm will produce a range of artisan arable crops. These will be milled in Dartington Mill (based on the farm), sold to local bakeries and retailed locally with their partners the Almond Thief and the Apricot Centre, or sold as organic animal feed. The farm will have a pasture fed suckler herd, selling the calves on. It will also have a small goat micro dairy, producing milk, kefir and yoghurt.  Additionally, they aim to nestle a number of micro businesses into the farm. These will join those already in place including hemp, cider and honey production alongside agroforestry, for financial and cropping resilience.

The farm aims to be innovative, and experiment with new and novel crops such as pulses, buckwheat and lentils. It also aims to have a small demonstration aspect. For instance, offering farm walks to farmers thinking of re-localising their food sales and moving into agroecological farming methods. The farm is next to Schumacher College which trains people from around the world in sustainable systems including food production. It is also adjacent to the Biodynamic Land Trust’s Huxhams Cross Farm, designed and run by the Apricot Centre.

From design to implementation

It was a testing corn harvest at Old Parsonage Farm this year. Wheat was low to average while the oats were average yield. The wheat needed extra drying due to the regular rainfall.

The straw was low in yield and quality due to the dry spell in the spring followed by a very wet August, but the farm should have enough. Other than the oat straw which was sold to an organic mushroom grower, the farm made it all into small conventional bales. This took Jon back to his childhood of sore hands and knees!

The hemp has taken a battering from the high winds and rain, so time will tell how much that affects the harvest. The wet spells have, however, given Jon the chance to start field preparations in good time. So far seed beds are looking favourable for drilling winter cereals of oats, barley and wheat. This will be the first drilling for most of the farm under organic conversion which has been applied for. The soon to be fully organic agroforestry field will be planted with organic YQ wheat for the Apricot Centre, organic Millers Choice wheat and one other speciality bread making organic wheat. These will all destined for milling through Dartington Mill next year.

Jon has recently installed a second hand feed mill so he can now mill the graded cereals for animal feed. He will use this for the farm’s cattle and goats, and try to sell some to local smallholders. All the cattle are doing well with ample grass about. The farm’s recent successful TB test means continued freedom from that particular concern.