The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm is a twelve-acre field just outside the boundaries of the borough of Ipswich, in Rushmere St Andrew, but almost all of the households who are members of Suffolk's first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Scheme based at The Oak Tree are Ipswich residents.
The Soil Association describes CSA as a way for farmers and customers to share the "risks and rewards" of farming, giving customers food direct from the farm, and farmers a secure income. Here at The Oak Tree Farm we take the CSA concept a little further than most; our members not only enjoy a weekly supply of fresh vegetables from the farm, they also help to grow them.
For £8 per week, and a work commitment of two hours per week (on average) in the summertime, and one hour a week in the wintertime, members enjoy an equal share of the vegetable harvest, as well as having the opportunity to buy eggs, flowers and pork from our rare breed pigs, which are reared largely on waste malt mash from small Ipswich breweries.
We are excitedly awaiting the arrival of our first two beef cattle in the spring!
Our community approach to food production has some surprising, and delightful, side-effects. Many members join growers Joanne Mudhar and Tom Wilmot, at the weekly Saturday "working parties", which is a great way to get to know fellow members who hail from all walks of life, old and young, well off and less so.
We've become a real community of people who know and trust each other, and many members have noticed health benefits from the regular exercise, good company and ultra-fresh vegetables. A couple who met while planting out leek seedlings a couple of years ago are due to be married in 2014.
As the name of the farm suggests, we are serious about reducing the environmental impact of our food production. Not only do we reduce fossil fuel use to a minimum at every stage of production and delivery of our food, we also experiment with "Regenerative Agriculture" techniques. These involve careful management of grazing livestock, moved regularly in electric fence enclosures, to increase organic matter in the soil. Such techniques are new to the UK, and have been shown to sequester significant quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making a real contribution to addressing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm is a not-for-profit social enterprise, with the concrete goal of becoming financially, as well as environmentally, sustainable, within the next couple of years. In the meantime we are grateful to the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and the Big Lottery Fund for funds which enable us to welcome a number of new members to share in the risks and rewards of farming.
To find out more about The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm please visit our website.