Key elements we think will make it work

Selecting people who:

  1. share the ethics behind the project – the desire to create something which facilitates biodiversity[i], is climate friendly[ii] and is good for people[iii]
  2. want to make the land productive[iv]
  3. have already demonstrated initiative and focus in their lives

A few (almost) non-negotiable elements:

  1. The four aims of the project[v]. These are to make the land productive, to facilitate biodiversity, to live and farm in a climate friendly way and to care for people, both on site and more broadly.
  2. Households will have separate plots with clearly defined boundaries and security of tenure (after an initial period)[vi]
  3. Relationships[vii] will be given a central role in the project, even though residents will ultimately have their own separate homes and land. Many things will also be shared, including the process of shaping the project. From the outset participants will work together to create common agreements and values that support healthy relationships. For a project of this kind we believe this needs to be a priority.
  4. The residents will shape the project themselves before moving onsite
  5. The process will be shared so that any learnings can be used by anyone who is interested in doing something similar and so that we can learn from others
  6. The project needs an investment system that is fair to the residents and enables them to minimise their outgoings in order to spend time working on their land-based businesses – which may not earn much money given the current market value of food and other products directly produced from the land[viii]

[i] layered vegetation, diverse microclimates, no poisons, careful land management etc

[ii] This applies both to the farming techniques and lifestyle. We anticipate that this could be challenging on some sites because they may not be an easy walk away from facilities like schools, shops, entertainments, etc. Some kind of plan will be needed that avoids building regular car journeys in, e.g. driving to a school twice a day to drop off/pick up children.

[iii] This means considering relationships with the neighbours, the authorities, passersby, other residents, visitors. Also, how to include people who have less opportunities and who would benefit from a connection with nature/outdoor work/healthy food. The principle behind this is that to have a truly sustainable small farm community, it needs to be inclusive.

[iv] By productive we mean producing something useful from the land for people to use directly (as opposed to biodiversity, which can also be seen as productive), e.g. food, seeds, plants for other people to grow, clothing, fuel, building materials, medicines etc. A challenge in producing things on a small scale as a business is that the essentials of life are very cheap in the UK at the moment relative to historically. But if we are to have rich biodiversity, carbon sequestration etc then it’s hard to see how to arrange this without small scale detailed land management systems.

[v] We believe that small farms which are centred around the four key aims of productivity, biodiversity, climate care and people care could be an important part of solving the many environmental and social problems we are currently facing. They need to be small so that people can live and work them on a micro scale and benefit from resource cycling without needing to use large equipment to move stuff and address the problems that farms face in production without needing to use chemicals or big machinery. We have the impression that there are a lot of young people with energy and creativity who would like to try living a land based life, but it is currently very difficult to make this happen in the UK (and quite possibly in many other places). Food is cheap relative to at any other time in history and, perhaps more importantly, property is very very expensive. Money given in rent contributes to capital accumulating in a few hands, while money given to grow food could, under some circumstances, enable a more environmentally and socially beneficial way of farming. Given that there seems to be considerable enthusiasm for farm life, we would like to experiment with removing some of the obstacles that make it difficult for people to follow. On the other hand, it’s not easy and when people visit us and see the wonderful aspects of it, they aren’t necessarily seeing the challenges in setting things up and making them work, both in terms of growing and selling, and also the human relationships which have the potential to be either a blessing or a curse! We anticipate that there will be a lot of interest from people who are not fully engaged with the challenging realities so we will be looking for people who have already taken some action to realise their dream of living and working on the land.

[vi] We have a lot of respect for people who share their home and business with others and make it work harmoniously and also profitably, but we think they are in a minority. We definitely don’t think we could do this – perhaps a reflection on us, but perhaps also a testament to the challenge of sharing things that your home and livelihood depend upon. (see Chris’ section on the Commons in A Small Farm Future). Historically shared resources cause a lot of friction and take a lot of time to sort out. Also, in order to properly invest energy into a home or business and for creativity to flourish we think that most people need control over their part of it. This isn’t to say work and property can’t be shared, just that we’d like to start our project with very clear boundaries about ownership.

[vii] Why have such a central focus on relationships? Even though we aim for each ‘household’ to have their own separate space, there will be some shared resources – probably a road, boundaries and perhaps water. In addition, the group will be neighbours and the difficult work of setting the project up will be shared so we think it’s important to give due consideration to how people relate to each other. A restorative culture means intentionally developing ways of living and working together in a community based on common agreements and values that support healthy relationships. In this case, the community will start with the people who want to run small farms. Although they will each have their own separate land and home, the process of deciding how they will resolve tensions when they arise, what the project will look like and how the four core aims will be met will, we hope, lead to a resilient community that can deal with stresses and challenges as they arise – and they inevitably will.

[viii] Independence from the broader economic system. We’d like to look at investment options that focus on local and on making things work environmentally and socially with as few steps between the investor and the individual as possible. Perhaps crowd funding, perhaps direct loans between individuals. People who are passionate about growing food/other land based products are not necessarily passionate about making money. Many people don’t have the kind of job that will enable them to get a loan easily and the kinds of businesses you can run on a small piece of land may not make much money, but may have numerous other benefits which people might like to support by loaning money.

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