Beacon Farms: Starter Farms for the Future
The idea for Beacon Farms is one that is strongly rooted in Bristol but could equally become a national or even global (!) movement...
The aim of the farm/s would be:
1. To protect Grade I quality land, so that it can be used now, and in the future, for the production of food for local urban populations.
2. To make land available for new growers and groups wishing to develop small-scale commercial enterprises to produce food for the local area using organic and sustainable methods and to sell into local markets
3. To providing training, and access to accredited qualifications where appropriate, in sustainable production methods and growing techniques, appropriate technology, and all aspects of running a sustainable horticultural business.
4. To ensure that habitat conservation is undertaken on the land.
5. To work with the local community and customers to ensure that the enterprise is supporting their local food needs and providing opportunities for local people to engage with the land
6. To expand the farms income streams in appropriate directions to support a sustainable business and the needs of the area, whether this is through developing renewable energy on barn roves or establishing production kitchens to add value to produce, or preventing food going to waste by supporting wider local initiatives such as fruit tree gleaning and processing.
An IPS called Beacon Farms has already been formed with many of these objectives in mind to acquire land near Winterbourne to set up the first farm: Beacon Lane Starter Farm. The land is on the Blue Finger and is partly privately owned and partly owned by South Gloucestershire Council who would consider an asset transfer.
There are other bits of land that are also really good quality – including bits of Stoke Park and Ashton Court (some of which is Grade 1) There are also great project like Simms Hill Shared Harvest and Feed Bristol already established on the Blue Finger. Beacon Farms could become a banner and a vehicle to establish a whole network of productive, socially minded, and future orientated enterprises that help more people to get into human scale commercial growing, providing skills for the future, confidence and healthy food. If Bristol wants to be truly resilient it need to reinstate its market garden roots and connect its city dwellers back with the soil.
What would the learning aspects of the Beacon Farms offer?
· Training in sustainable production methods - growing techniques, use of appropriate technology, soil management, propagation, plant raising, seed saving, crop planning, protected cropping and many more elements.
· Access to mentoring, training and horticultural qualifications, this could include weekly horticultural classes/workshops and tuition in marketing and business planning. We hope the education aspects of beacon Lane Starter Farm can be delivered in collaboration with the Winterbourne Medieval Barn Trust.
· Services such as a contractor to do all tractor work, running a seed bank and group purchasing of plants, plugs and seeds.
· Access to and maintenance of shared infrastructure such as water, equipment, composting, fencing.
· A marketing group to ensure all produce finds a supportive local market.
· Habitat conservation and ways for local people to engage with the land e.g. orchard picking and forest gardening.
· Collaboration with the community and other customers to ensure that the enterprise is supporting their local food needs. There is likely to be an element of CSA to the business with local people and other loyal customers being able to have a closer relationship with the land and paying in advance for produce to cash flow the farm through the year.
How would the site work?
This business may be similar in some ways to FarmStart in Canada, and now in Manchester thanks to The Kindling Trust. There may be a cooperatively run farming education enterprise with a graduated system of adjacent plots of different scales to suit different levels of experience amongst the students - from entrants who have only ever had an allotment to those with a couple of years of growing experience. Students would be responsible for working within the cooperative on shared tasks and deciding who grows what where, as well as ensuring the productivity of their allocated plot. Other units of land could also be available for graduated growers, small complimentary enterprises and groups and organisations wanting to help people to build positive future skills and confidence e.g. people on probation.
Why the contribution is important
Protecting Grade 1 Blue Finger Land for Local Food Needs
· The need to protect this land and produce more local food is highlighted in A Good Food Plan for Bristol (Bristol Food policy Council 2013) Objectives 3 & 4; and Who Feeds Bristol: Towards a Resilient Food Plan (Carey, Joy, 2011) as well as through recent submissions to Bristol’s planning strategy.
· This project practically fulfils the objectives of The Blue Finger Alliance, which includes CPRE, which was formed to raise awareness of the value of these soils and ensure their appropriate use.
· It also contributes towards combating the lack of available land for community led growing which is a prime concern from the Community Land Advisory Service, run by the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, based in Bristol.
· The South Gloucestershire Core Strategy (2011 Policy CS34 – Rural Areas) specifically aims to “Protect the best and most versatile agricultural land and opportunities for local food production and cultivation to provide for nearby urban areas and settlements”
· The same strategy aims to protect Green Belt land, provide local employment, sustain rural and village life and recognise the role that rural areas can make to initiatives that address and adapt to the challenges of climate change. The strategy’s vision is that “In the period to 2026 and beyond the rural areas will be an important asset contributing to the economy, biodiversity and heritage of the district; providing public access to the countryside ...and supporting local food production”
Evidence of a wider context for this project can be found in Food From the Urban Fringe (f3/ Countryside and Community Research Institute, commissioned by Making Local Food Work, 2012) in which Peter Couchman, Chief Executive of Plunkett Foundation, and Director of Making Local Food Work, said: “The urban fringe is a valuable asset for the resilience of our food sector. By supporting agricultural use of this land and welcoming food production near towns and cities, we are safeguarding our own food future, and that of generations following us.”
Supporting the next generation of growers
Through an agriversity and short courses we aim to be part of a wider movement helping to address succession in organic horticulture by helping people up the ladder towards running their own sustainable growing enterprises.
· This project meets the West of England LEP goals to create jobs and share skills in rural areas.
· It aims to provide a pathways for budding growers, like as volunteers from local projects such as Feed Bristol, to further their skills development and confidence by giving them land-based mentoring and training
· We will also be providing ongoing career development opportunities, complimenting programmes such as Soil Association’s apprenticeship scheme, and providing a more cooperative and hands on training than many conventional horticultural courses.
This project aims to ensure the next generation of growers are equipped with a fully rounded understanding of the needs of sustainable production, including community engagement skills. As summarised by Simon Michaels, lead author of the Food From the Urban Fringe report and CEO of f3: “By inviting the consumer community to get closely involved with the business... it involves much more than just selling; it includes education, leisure, nature conservation and community development.”
Triple bottom line benefits
Through our core objectives we will provide triple bottom line environmental, economic and social benefits. Although overlapping, these can be divided into the following :
• Precious top grade soils will be safeguarded for the exclusive use of sustainable food growing, with high quality, fresh produce being sold into local communities (c .80 acres on Beacon Lane Starter Farm and possibly more in the future as other projects evolve)
• Habitat conservation along the Bradley Brook and foot paths will be undertaken to increase the biodiversity of the area, which can be enjoyed by local residents.
• Sustainable growing skills will be taught, alongside sales and marketing skills, to an increasing number of budding farmers, thus ensuring they are well equipped to find employment in this sector (numbers are dependent on the business model but are currently thought to be around 30 at any one time)
• Jobs will be provided to local people through the enterprise itself (currently anticipated to be 6 roles equivalent to 4 FT posts at Beacon Lane Starter Farm) and by providing land to new growing businesses (again this will be decided by the business model but maybe around 20 acres on the first farm)
• Local people will be given the chance to own and be involved with local land and be a part of local growing and habitat conservation, providing them with connection and learning. Courses will also be run for schools, businesses and disadvantaged groups.
• Local food and learning needs will be explored and met collaboratively by developing close links with local communities, businesses and other educational establishments.
by user955021 on December 09, 2013 at 06:45PM