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

Current Rating

Average rating: 4.5
Based on: 44 votes


  • Posted by user563181 December 10, 2013 at 23:00

  • Posted by user798313 December 11, 2013 at 10:51

    It is also proved that working and learning of any kind outside increases uptake of the ideas, probably by reducing stress and monotony in the learning process. I'm for any site with facilities which can accommodate groups learning, especially nature and wellbeing work. The wellbeing aspect isn't drawn out enough in the summary above but clearly exists.
  • Posted by user721685 December 11, 2013 at 14:02

    Fabulous initiative!
    In Beirut there is a Cafe also that only serves the food cooked from the locally grown produce each day. The growers prepare and cook (usually the women) the daily menus based on local seasonal food. On Saturdays the gardeners/farmers themselves serve in the cafe (the women usually preprepare) the food as on Saturdays the women run the stalls at the local farmers market. The cafe inspires and promotes seasonal, local eating and occassionally also runs cooking classes of local recipes with local seasonal produce. Perhaps something similar could be included perhaps with the Winterborne Medieval Barns Trust.
  • Posted by user926527 December 11, 2013 at 18:35

    This is a great project - right time and place, holistic and practical too! Good local food production, food networks, food on-processing opportunities, skills development, employment, community partnership, cafe and shop, best land use ......... It Ticks every box! Just to get families down exploring the land and helping with bits of planting and growing is an essential way to enrich our urban experience and reconnect with the land. It's worth 5*s.
  • Posted by user721621 December 13, 2013 at 19:03

    This would really help to scale-up urban agriculture in Bristol, providing a supportive and inspiring environment for people who want to make this their career.
  • Posted by user690930 December 14, 2013 at 16:14

    Its a Total Win / Win Idea so lets get the Supermarkets to BID FOR THE RIGHT to fund it and they can advertise their names at the same time
  • Posted by user478247 December 17, 2013 at 13:55

    Great project-important for Bristol's future..a real green belt at last
    Martin Large, Biodynamic Land Trust
  • Posted by user678301 December 20, 2013 at 22:17

    Such a great idea on so many levels. To much good agricultural land is being built on, we need to protect it for food production. Small scale local food production is the future, connecting local communities with where their food comes from. Good luck Beacon Farms!
  • Posted by user142959 December 23, 2013 at 12:24

    This land (and grade 2 land round Bristol) is under serious pressure for housing development. As transport prices go up, our food supply may depend on good land round the city. We need something like this project that will protect this land for ever.
  • Posted by user984431 December 24, 2013 at 00:26

    What a great idea, just what is needed to do with this top land that surrounds the city. Growing sustainable food and bringing community together!
  • Posted by user261492 December 31, 2013 at 09:38

    Brilliant idea. Will support this all the way.
  • Posted by user279439 January 03, 2014 at 16:07

    Great stuff and you'll need some machinery to build it...tractors,'ll need some machines from the global village construction set.
  • Posted by user675375 January 13, 2014 at 15:15

    I really like the equal value given to habitat and biodiversity and growing food. We CAN live in harmony with our environment - we don't have to degrade our soil with fertilisers and poison the pollinating insects to grow our food! And there are huge benefits for community integration, skill sharing, teaching the young about food sources and wildlife, food security and so many others - all to be had from a closer contact with the land. It' a really good idea. Why on earth not go for it? Something Europe's Green Capital should definitely be doing, and showcasing to the rest of the country - actually, the rest of Europe!
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