FarmED: Farming and Food Education in the Cotswolds
It is always exciting when a new local venture opens up, but it is doubly so when that venture is riding the wave of public dialogue on global issues. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you ‘Farm-ED’.
This stunning 107 acre farm is 5 minutes up the road from us here at Kingham Cottages, hidden behind a smart stone wall on the A361 between Chipping Norton and Burford. Only a subtle sign gives away the entrance, however once through the gate the land drops away to reveal a classic Cotswold valley view of pretty cottages nestled into a patchwork landscape of arable heaven.
What is Farm-ED all about?
The mission of Farm-ED is to “accelerate the transition towards regenerative farming and sustainable food systems by providing space and opportunity for inspirational education, innovative research, practitioner led knowledge exchange events, and personal development.”
This impressive aim will be achieved by working with the local community and showing that lots of people can work off a small amount of land, thus highlighting the economic value of farming and the rural way of life as well as the importance of high quality food production techniques. This is in stark juxtaposition to the idea that 1 man and his tractor can farm 1000 acres of 1 crop; that is not good for the land, the economy or the locality.
To that end, Farm-ED is walking the talk, making itself the example it wants others to follow. There is an apiary managed by Chris Wells of Cotswold Bees Ltd producing not only honey but bee keeping courses in the summer.
There is a market garden run by The Kitchen Garden People, an exciting community supported agriculture (CSA) scheme encouraging local food production by locals, for locals. The scheme aims to provide a veggie box to 120 households when it is fully established.
The heritage orchard aims to save many rare varieties of apple, pear and cherry that are not grown commercially as well as other fruits. They plan to produce cider…yum!
Other areas of the land will be home to seed trials, a tree seed plantation, shelter belts, rotation planting, cattle grazing, mob grazing and more…proving the point there is so much that can be achieved off a relatively small amount of land producing food, bi-products (wool), jobs and all the while improving the soil and caring for the environment. Reader, it was a truly inspirational visit!
An important part of Farm-ED’s message is that of farm to fork. To develop an understanding that how things are farmed effects how they taste and how nutritious the food is. Preparing that lovingly grown food in a healthy manner is an integral part of being educated about good food. Good eating, I’m going to call it!
To achieve this, Farm-ED has built a space that can be dedicated to food events – based around Pizza ‘because everyone loves pizza’. These guys are so right, in all they do and say! Including, I might add, the bases made out of their heritage grains once this part of the farm gets going which will be ground at the local Shipton Mill, barely half a mile down the road.
A central part of the Farm-ED’s philosophy is the idea that there is strong economic benefit to rural communities to develop viable business in the countryside. To this end, they have incorporated an area where people can hot-desk and mix with others interested in rural affairs and in particular regenerative and sustainable business’. If nothing else it will be one of the most inspirational places to hang out locally – but of course the opportunity to rub shoulders with like minded entrepreneurs is so much more. Networking is far too townie a-word to describe what I think will happen here!
As Celene Wilkinson says:
“The FarmED buildings are intended to provide food and farming experts and educators with an inspirational venue in which to engage with a wide and varied audience. In addition we hope to encourage new entrants to farming both young and old, by providing opportunity to establish micro businesses in order to gain knowledge and experience enabling them to progress onto bigger and better projects as time goes by.”
In the centre of the plot will be 3 beautiful new buildings inspired by farm barns, though they can’t really be called barns clad as they are in larch with lots of glazing to make the most of the knock-out views. These highly insulated flexible spaces are warm yet airy making the most of their position. One is an open space (with very efficient log burner) which can be used for conferences, film screenings, meetings and more. The other has a pizza oven that, I was reliably informed, could cook 18 pizzas at the same time. Trust me, it’s big! This space can be laid out as a cooking demonstration area, a pop-up cookery school, a venue for dinners …. and more.
Both these ‘barns’ offer huge scope for all manner of events. They are either side of a grass lawn which will be closed off on one end by the back of another barn which is the only actual ‘farm’ building of the complex. It will house heavy machinery, a micro-dairy and be the workshop for the land. Therefore, this carefully constructed farmyard will be a sheltered courtyard providing a place for people to dwell and mix at whatever event they are gathered for.
The buildings are clearly to such a high standard it is easy to see the land will be equally well thought through. Architect Timothy Tasker has drawn on his love of the countryside to inspire his designs at Farm-ED.
These fantastic buildings are purpose-designed to be flexible. I went with several hats on including looking for a venue for a school fundraiser, seeing if the local scouting pack could visit and were there drop-ins our cottage guests could enjoy? The answer is yes to all of these, and so much more. Upcoming events include film nights with panel discussions, specialist farming conferences, farm walks to learn more, military families rural insight day….and more.
The enthusiasm of the team to find out what we could do together and how we could engage the local community was infectious and a joy to be part of.
So who are the visionaries behind Farm-ED? Something like this always requires a team but there are a few names that can be identified as being key players.
Farm-ED has been developed by Ian Wilkinson MD of Cotswold Seeds who for over 3 decades has been developing seed mixtures to improve soil health and becoming a bridge between farmers and the scientific community. As Ian says;
“As farmers we are custodians of the land and we can’t keep taking from it without putting something back…But the beauty of diverse farming is that it’s a win-win system. For instance planting trees and hedges provides shelter, making it easier to bring livestock back onto arable land. This in turn enhances the soil, adding value to food products and at the same time creating a habitat for wildlife.”
An enthusiastic expert in the field, Ian is in demand as a speaker at conferences and adviser to organisations such as the National Trust. He always wanted a farm centre to provide a platform for deeper debate and discussion.
Co-founder of Farm-ED and wife of Ian, Celene is an integral member of the team and brings with her a passion for understanding the ‘farm to fork’ philosophy. Celene met Ian at Berkshire College of Agriculture where she was training as a veterinary nurse and through her knowledge of diet on breeding animals and later the importance of feeding her own children healthily, she understood the huge importance of affordable and easily available food produced by sustainable regenerative farming methods.
“Farmers are literally the first rung on the ladder of the health of the entire population and I’m guided by the concept that we are what we eat. At FarmED we want to explore new routes to market via the Honeydale Food Hub and to encourage people of all ages to become really interested in how and where their food is produced and ways to support a new local food economy.”
When I visited on a cold and windy day Jonty’s enthusiasm was warming from the inside out. Oozing passion for regenerative farming he brings over 2 decades experience in the sustainable farming and environmental sector including hands on experience as a National Trust farm tenant in the Cotswolds. Jonty summed it up so well I’ll leave it in his words:
“My role as Manager of FarmED combines my passion for regenerative farming and knowledge exchange, which will go hand-in-hand here. Our aim is to promote and accelerate the transition towards regenerative farming and sustainable food systems by providing inspirational education, innovative research, and personal development opportunities. FarmED will provide an inspiring platform to stimulate debate and inspire a diverse range of audiences, from school children to farmers and rural entrepreneurs as well as any individual or organisation with an interest in agroecology and the countryside.”
Kingham Cottages Supports Farm-ED
For some of our lucky guests visiting Kingham Cottages there will be open days to go and discover more about this amazing centre. For others, their visit may coincide with an event such as a film screening or pop-up food event.
We suggest all our guests keep an eye on the Farm-ED events page to see if there’s anything going on when you are visiting us.
And for those visiting Farm-ED for a conference or course who want to make a trip of it, we are just 5 minutes down the road. We look forward to hosting you in our own well built and thoughtfully designed cottages!