See EU later..?

by Phil Moore, Ecological Land Co-operative

What does a post Brexit agriculture in England look like? Could the Ecological Land Co-operative’s model of small clusters of starter farms provide one (of many) solutions to how we feed ourselves and manage the land?

Us permaculture practitioners pride ourselves on a healthy medley of techniques, styles and plants. A la Holmgren’s principle, ‘use and value diversity’. Permaculture as a style of land mangement, using polycultures side-by-side a suite of techniques, treats farms as ecosystems and regards agriculture as a positive contributor to the biosphere.

So how might agriculture after the EU exit be an opportunity for a more diverse farming economy that works with the grain of nature?

The Ecological Land Co-operative (ELC) was set up to create residential smallholdings aimed at new entrants to horticulture and mixed farming. Working to challenge the system of how land is accessed and create alternatives to conventional, industrial agriculture the ELC is running a community share offer to raise funds for the development of two new clusters of small-scale farms.

Steepholding veg box and eggsSmall-scale farms are ecologically-based, stewardship-minded and diversified. For many, living with the land is a direct riposte to the negative environmental impacts of conventional agriculture, but also a way to explore and create new ways of a flourishing farming in light of the issues of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Yet how do these new entrants to agriculture, with new ideas, get started?

The Ecological Land Co-operative (ELC) is the only organisation in England to offer affordable residential smallholdings for small-scale farmers and growers. They work to address a range of deep-rooted social and environmental challenges in a simple and pragmatic way: by removing barriers to land access for sustainable uses.  

The ELC develops smallholdings, based on agro-ecology principles, that protects and enhances the land as well as becoming part of the fabric of rural communities, socially and economically. From planning to plot a huge amount of time and energy is spent navigating policy and paperwork. The ELC, simply put, deal with the logistics and planning system so growers can get on with growing and get set up on the land as swiftly as possible.

The ELC model is the creation of starter farms for future growers creating land-based businesses. Parcels of agricultural land are purchased which are then split into smaller units. The ELC then apply for planning permission for residencies tied to agricultural holdings. These ‘starter farms’ are then sold — well below market rates — on a long and secure leasehold. Sites are protected for affordability and ecological agriculture use in perpetuity under a whole site ecological management pan.

Cate Chapman, one of the ELC’s director’s, says: “One of the main reasons the Ecological Land Co-op exists is to create access to land for sustainable uses. We live in an environment of high land prices and very unequal land ownership. Our model is one way of returning land to community ownership and ecological use so we can be sure that land is being sustainably managed not just for the current generation but for future generations and for biodiversity as a whole.”

The work of the ELC wouldn’t be possible without investment from its members. Their 2017 community share offer aims to generate funds for the development of two new clusters of small farms. Looking to raise between £120,000 to £340,000 to carry out their work, the ELC are working closely with Ethex — a positive savings and investment platform that makes it easy to make money do good. Anyone can invest. People are invited to invest anything from £500 to £40,000 and are offered 3% in interest on share capital annually.

Steepholding, Greenham Reach'Community shares' is a type of withdrawable share capital unique to co-operative and community benefit society organisations. Used to save local shops and finance future farms, community share offers are a way of directly appealling to the public to invest in what they believe in.

For the ELC, the twin barriers of high land prices and legal permission (planning consent) stymie much of the creativity and opportunities for land-based livelihoods to take root.

In a climate of uncertainty around how we feed ourselves and farm the land, the Ecological Land Co-operative is working to change this. And as a co-operative they need the support and investment from those that care and are able to do something about it. If we want to change how we farm the farm the word we need to invest in the ideas we believe can help make such changes happen.

To find out more about the ELC’s share offer please visit: www.ethex.org.uk/ecologicalland