With a backdrop of Pendle Hill and all its folk lore and history, Emma and Ian O’Reilly are building a farming business which they seek to make fair to the land and its history, sustainable and organic in its practices, respectful and caring to the animals they farm, an integral part of the local community, and, just as important as these, something sufficiently financially sound as to have a future.
Gazegill Farm lies down a couple of miles of winding single track road just off the A682 between Gisburn and Colne. Its in the heart of the Lancashire countryside, and has been farmed by Emma’ s family for at least six generations – in other words as far as records go back. During that recorded time it has always been farmed organically and with respect. The rewards for such an approach can be seen across the farm. The remains of a Roman road, for example, run across the farm – an ancient droving track where a plethora of Roman and later coins and other interesting artefacts have been found. Bizarrely the road stops at the boundary hedges adjacent to neighbouring farms where the neighbouring land has been ploughed and work, so destroying this heritage. Along with the road is clear evidence of a medieval ridge and furrow system and what looks very much like the remains of a pre historic village with several small stone circles surrounded by a larger seemingly protective circle. Right across the farm the hedges around the fields are also part of an ancient system, looking suitably gnarled and wizened and adding to the atmosphere of Pendle mytique.
Emma and Ian are building on this inheritance. Their sixty strong herd of dairy short horns forms the centre piece of their operation, which is supplemented by rare breed pigs, sheep and hens*. All continue to been farmed organically. Sustainable energy sourcing is also inevitably important in the thinking. A 4Kw of solar PV and a 20Kw wind turbine on a hill overlooking the farmhouse currently supply about 75% of the energy needs for the farm, whilst there are plans afoot to eliminate that remaining 25% main grid draw down with further renewal options.
A major change introduced when Emma and Ian took over the running of the farm, and with major social implications, is an ambition of selling all the output direct to the public. To this end they have created a micro-dairy – Emma’s Dairy – which processes and sells the milk unpasteurised and unhomogenised (believing this to be healthier as well as more environmentally friendly) direct to local households as well as through whole food outlets across the north west, whilst the meat is now butchered and sold on site in the shop installed a couple of years ago.
The isolation of the business is broken by the steady trail of visitors to the shop, whilst Emma and Ian also encourage school party visits with a classroom specially created on site, and which is also an operating base for a local charity supporting those with learning difficulties. Over 250 schools and groups have come every year to learn about and see sustainable agriculture at first hand. The education centre is heated by an air source heat pump and the water that washes hands is heated by a solar thermal array. Emma and Ian are a buzz with ideas, be they a low impact visitor village or the making of calvados from the apples in the orchard
The comings and goings which form an integral part of Gazegill mean that the farm is in effect ‘open house’ for most of the hours of daylight, a feature which Emma and Ian not only tolerate but encourage with visitors being able to look around the immediate farm operations. This is an openness and transparency which, at least in my experience, is rarely seen in mainstream farming and one which made my visits such a rich experience. Future reports will cover the butchers shop, milking and the dairy, and the flora rich meadows among other things!
* plus a horse saved from the knackers yard after years of pulling landau along Blackpool prom!
For more see the Gazegill farm website