A visit to Stroud Community Agriculture has to be a visit to a well heeled farm of the future! It’s co-operatively run with its farmers employed on a reasonable and fair wage, financially sound, producing food for use locally in Stroud and surrounds and involved in both vegetable and livestock production. Oh, and it’s not just organic in methodology, it also follows the principles of Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic growing.
Stroud Community Agriculture is a registered Community Supported Agriculture scheme which leases 23 acres of land at Hawkwood College just a 1 mile from the centre of Stroud, along with a further 23 acres of land leased at Brookthorpe, three miles away on the way to Gloucester. There is also a half acre walled garden down on the very edge of Brookthorpe. Founded on the basis of cooperation and mutual support, the risks and rewards of farming are shared between the farmers and consumers. Typical of community crop share programmes, members pay an annual fee, but here its a sort of universal deposit because there is then further individual payment related to what produce they take from the scheme. Through membership consumers commit themselves to supporting the farm and providing a fair income for the farmers who in turn are then charged with developing the health and fertility of the farm, its wildlife and environment. All the produce from the farm is shared between the supporting consumers or sold locally if there is a surplus. As such it provides a direct link between the people of Stroud and their food production. Decisions are reached by consensus, and the farm business is owned and controlled by the members.
The principles on which the scheme is run were established by the members at a public meeting in 2002 when the scheme was set up. Starting from a small base of 80 members, it now supports some 220 plus households with fresh, local organic produce – and is looking for more land to enable expansion! It has thus made significant in roads into establishing a significant proportion of Stroud population are buying local sustainable produce.
Livestock-wise the farm has cows, sheep and pigs. By keeping a small herd of beef suckler cattle it is possible to maintain soil fertility and ensure good crops of vegetables without relying on external sources of manure and compost. The herd is maintained throughout the year on the farm’s own grass and hay. The sheep are a newer addition and are Wiltshire Horns. The pig part of the operation started as an independent community enterprise called ‘Hog Hands’ where a group of people undertook to share responsibility for their care in return for received a share of the meat. The pigs are now though fully incorporated as part of the whole farm.
I visited the Hawkwood College site at the invitation of Mark Harrison, head grower Its a beautiful and tranquil location and that has been farmed organically for many years and neatly overlooks Stroud. It’s largely given over the field veg production. Mark and a young biodynamic apprentice from the United States were calmly working the land. Co-farmer, Sam who is in charge of the cows and pigs, was away at the Brookthorpe site. It was a haven of peaceful productivity and respect. A small notice on the barn door where weekly shares are distributed seemed to say it all – just the mobile phone numbers to contact Mark or Sam, available to all. It all seemed a million miles from the frenzied neoliberalism of the 21st century – yet it was very real and very thriving. Surely, very much a pioneering of the future.
For more on Stroud Community Agriculture see the enterprise website.
For more on biodynmaic growing and Hawkwood College see the link above in the text.
[Double clicking on any of the images below will open up that image up in a slideshow format. You can then run the slide show using ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. Personally I prefer to go also to full screen having opened the slide show – F11 on my PC, don’t forget to get out of full screen is the same button , not ESC]