Welcome to FarmED at Honeydale Farm. Based in the Cotswolds, these 107 acres yield far more than their land mass in terms of fruit, vegetables, crops, natural habitats, and a wealth of information for its visitors. Bought back in 2013, the farm has become home to one of the most exciting, innovative agricultural projects. Soil is regarded as the farm’s greatest natural capital and techniques such as crop rotation, tree planting, mob grazing with sheep and flood management are used to keep it rich and fertile. I spoke to Ian Wilkinson, founder of FarmED, to find out about this fantastic initiative.
Q. Tell me about the type of farm you have.
A. It’s a combination of arable and animal. I’ve found that farms based on a monoculture, that’s a one yield system, are not the way forward for the future. So, we want to show that having a mixed farm can provide a lot of the solutions to problems that we have.
Q. So how does it work?
A. It’s about starting with the soil, the farm’s natural capital, and how we create a system that improves that. For example, we thought about being organic and we aren’t. We just don’t use pesticides and fertilisers because we use crop rotation to keep the land fertile. We want to show our visitors how this works, so at the farm we have the educational building, FarmED, as well as an agricultural shed and FarmEAT.
Q. FarmEAT– does any eating go on there? I heard you recently installed a pizza oven.
- Well, the building’s 6 weeks away from completion. The idea is to have local food served, cooked, or demonstrated in the building. It will be a place for groups to come and eat after their farm walk or information session. We have got some people who have come forward already but the hope is to allow the space to be used by as many people as possible who’re interested in things like baking and producing secondary products from dairy. We want to gather people connected with all these processes in one place to debate and discuss – farm journalists, farmers, cooks. Traditionally it has been difficult to get into the agricultural world unless you have land to farm. We want to change this to ensure that people who have few opportunities can come and get started.
Q. Is the farm open to the public all the time?
A. No. We aren’t a tourist attraction; instead, we hope to provide a platform with lots of information for people who affect our food systems, such as those connected with food banks and other organisations, to find out more about how it is grown, cooked and produced. In this way we hope to inspire people to think about food and the way it’s farmed.
Q. It sounds like hard work.
- It’s part of life. If it’s light, we’re working and if it’s dark we’re scheming. I’m lucky that both the team around me and my family are keen, so I’m not working in isolation.
Q. You’ve clearly worked hard to make the wildlife feel welcome. How many bird species do you have now?
A. I think we’re currently up to 85, it could be 86. I guess the number of species will rise but probably more slowly now. Just by changing the mixture of what we grow we’ve created more habitats, particularly with water and areas within fields. When we started spring barley was the only thing grown. The skylarks love it and we had masses of them. Now we have fewer skylarks but a lot more species.
Q. The beauty of land diversification. Do you have any other animals at the farm – other than the bees, of course?
A. We have a flock of sheep which belong to our young farmwork, Hallum. They come to FarmED each year to mob-graze the herbal leys. We hope to start a micro-dairy soon.
Q. How did you get into farming?
A. I worked on a local farm when I left school. Then I went to agricultural college. In those days if you weren’t a farm manager, you went into agricultural trade. It was only after 35 years of being in the seed industry that I was able to farm and not in the traditional, commercial sense. I wanted to bring a diversity to farming and see things going on that involved people.
Q. Have you been affected by the pandemic?
A. Not really. Life will go on here and we have small groups of people coming now. We’ve got a big space with sell-ventilated buildings, so we will do what we can. The main thing is to keep engaging people and see how they want to engage with the centre. Part of our work is to connect people with the food that they eat so that when it comes to the choices they make about the food they buy / consume, hopefully they will be more aware on how their choice affects the way it is farmed. I don’t have an agenda as such as long as the way forward is sustainable.