It's happening at Henbant!
By Matt Swarbrick
Is it possible to buy a small farm on a mortgage, use permaculture design and holistic decision making to make it pay its way, produce real, nutrient dense food for our community and at the same time build soil, biodiversity, social capital and enjoy it? It is our mission at Henbant to find out and we think the answer is yes! We use Permaculture, Holistic Management and Agro-Ecological methods to grow veg, meat, eggs and milk, but on a small and regenerative human scale that provides food and fuel for our home, our visitors and the local community.
As well as being productive, Henbant is a place where people can come and slow down for a while, to think about what matters in the world and what the world needs us to give back.
Henbant is a small and beautiful community centred farm between the mountains and the sea in North West Wales. We have an organic, no dig market garden that yields 70 shares for our CSA veg-box scheme that is managed by volunteers from our popular internship programme. Our regenerative beef enterprise incorporates time controlled grazing of 100% pasture fed cows, between food forest rows that hum with birds and insects. Similarly, Henbant hens live in lightweight portable hen houses in small flocks, egg mobiles, that get moved around our herb rich tree lined pasture and orchards three times a week. We also practice agroforestry, which provides us with fuel and timber and have designed in multiple areas of zone five lakes and woodlands to increase diversity on the site.
The first half of our journey was about putting a roof over our heads and growing babies and cabbages. After five years it was time to turn Henbant into a real, productive farm. We knew that this would entail diversification on the farm and a great design. But could this be possible using a permaculture system? We decided to put all of our eggs in the permaculture basket because we believed it could.
To help us with our farm design and to convince ourselves that our dream was possible, I went on a big European tour of productive, permaculture-centred farms that were successfully producing ecological, financial and social profits. I wanted to make sure I was going down a real track instead of just a well spun and beautiful story. Two notable visits included Krameterhof farm, a productive, diverse family holding in Salzburg, Austria that was developed by permaculture pioneer Sepp Holzer and La Ferme Biologique Du Bec Hellouin, a leading centre in small scale ecological permaculture practices in Normandy, France. I took all of this valuable learning and spun it into our design for Henbant.
We are now not only running a farm where we believe we are really meeting our regenerative goals ourselves, but where we are also trying to share and teach as much as we can. We have a small range of beautiful, handmade homes for you to come and stay in. They are designed as places that we would love to stay in ourselves. Each has a wood burning stove and a comfortable bed, they have running water with a sink and a gas hob, plus a hot shower (in summer) and compost toilet. They are cosy, wild and different places to stay. We also have a permaculture campsite where people on a smaller budget can stay. Guests can enjoy an immersive experience of the farm where they can pick their own food from our gardens, gather their own eggs, swim in our small lake, wander in nature, get inspired by our library of permaculture books and experience the amazing views from our composting toilet.
Volunteers join us each week for our Monday community gardening days, where we get jobs done around the farm, whilst chatting and sharing a homemade lunch. Every year we advertise for a team of people with a passion for food growing, cooking, building, caring for animals and caring for people to join us for the season as interns. This is ideal for people who want to deepen their learning and to leave with the knowledge to be able to run a similar enterprise of their own.
Whilst here volunteers will have the opportunity to: Plant and propagate trees, build a barn, cook organic food for big groups, grow your own food, milk a cow, build your own holistic context, swim in the sea, coppice a tree, slate a roof; drink spring water, plan and implement a agroforestry system, sleep in a woodland roundhouse, make cheese learn permaculture, help run a regenerative enterprise, live in a community, meet loads of other really interesting people and to take positive action towards living in a more beautiful world.
We are now also starting to use our Hearth @ Henbant space to run bigger events and courses. Two really exciting events coming up are:
Richard Perkins and his first UK based Regenerative Farm Design Course (31st July-9th August), This is an evolution of the farm scale PDC training that I attended whilst at Ridgedale. This course did not alter the course of our farm or our lives but it supercharged it. It taught patterns and details, it showed me where the edges of Regenerative Agriculture knowledge are as well as the heart. It highlighted and taught all the patterns that really matter in defining your holistic context and making them come true within the space of running a successful permaculture farm or smallholding. You won’t find a better landscape scale permaculture based course and we still have spaces.
Our biggest event of this year is the Welsh Permaculture Gathering this September (9-11th) where we have an incredible range of speakers and workshops as well as a very in depth farm tour and lots of great food, music and opportunities for you to come together and celebrate, share your worries, plan and be inspired to create the more beautiful world. We would love you to come along (even if you are not yet Welsh). We are running in conjunction with the Permaculture Association main UK event in Oxford the same weekend so you can choose between on farm and camping or the city based event. You can find out more on our website www.henbant.org.