The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm is located just outside Ipswich, in the village of Rushmere St Andrew. It was established as a social enterprise in 2012 and featured on BBC TV’s Countryfile and Escape to the Country last year. It offers something quite unique: a Community Supported Agriculture scheme. Food is grown in an environmentally sustainable way without the use of artificial chemicals such as pesticides or herbicides. The growing is led by part-time staff and supported by members of the local community. There’s a happy, positive feel about the place as people work together to grow the food.
The scheme is educational and pioneers new ways of farming. It uses low-carbon techniques that improve the soil rather than deplete it. And this in turn improves the nutritional quality of the food. Hand tools and people-power are at the heart of what it does rather than heavy machinery which can damage the soil.
In his ‘Farming for the Next Generation’ speech back in January, Environment Secretary Michael Gove admitted that many soils had been over-farmed and needed restoration. He noted that ‘significant and destructive soil erosion cost the economy around £1.2 billion a year’ according to one study. He supported a move towards sustainable farming methods in post-Brexit Britain. And one driver for this is the warning from scientists that our soils only have a limited number of harvests left... something has to be done.
The Oak Tree Farm is ahead of the curve in this respect. It is actively improving the soil/soil ecology, encouraging wildlife, providing high quality food to local people and also reconnecting people with the land where their food is grown.
But the Farm struggles financially because food-growing is simply not profitable. Without government (DEFRA) farm subsidies many smaller farms would not survive. Yet because the Oak Tree Farm is less than 5 hectares in size it is deemed to be ‘too small’ to receive farm subsidies. So it has to look elsewhere to plug the gap in its finances.
Currently it has support from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and a Big Lottery grant to enable it to work with a wider community beyond its membership. It has also benefited from the generosity of County Councillors Inga Lockington and Stuart Lawson who provided Locality funding for much-needed farm equipment. The Farm’s key income is from membership which it is expanding to sixty households this year. And it has diversified into running events and selling cut flowers.
British-grown cut flowers are increasingly popular as seen at the Royal Wedding. The Oak Tree Farm grows its own flowers from seed. So whether you are a creative bride-to-be looking for DIY wedding flowers, a local company looking to improve its green credentials or a household wanting to buy beautiful, chemical-free flowers with no air-miles – you might just find what you are looking for at the Oak Tree Farm this year and you would be helping the farm too.
For details see: www.the-oak-tree.co.uk
or email: email@example.com
[An update to the article on Oak Tree Farm in the Newsletter January 2014, Issue 194. -Ed.]