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Ecological Land Cooperative

Who benefits

The Ecological Land Cooperative widens access to land for sustainable use through the creation of affordable low-impact small farms. The high costs of land and rural housing make it near impossible for new entrants to farming to establish a farm business. By providing affordable and secure smallholdings, ELC is helping to address this crisis.

The ELC approach

The ELC model for creating affordable, ecological small farms has been proven with permanent planning permission for agriculturally tied dwellings granted for their cluster of small farms in Devon. New farms are being set up on their second site in East Sussex and ELC have three more farm clusters in development making a total of 15 small farms.

Their research has shown that small scale ecological farming can work in today’s economy. Sustainably managed small farms provide low-impact livelihoods, regenerate marginal land and produce good food for local communities, increasing resilience and improving the soil, ecology and biodiversity for future generations.


Protecting the Small Farms

ELC are entirely committed to protecting their farms for agricultural and ecological use, and as affordable in perpetuity.

Using a Farm Business Tenancy as the basis for the ELC lease, affordability is protected through the use of a resale formula in the lease agreement. The resale value of the holding is calculated by multiplying the initial premium by the Consumer Price Index, plus the value of improvements made to the holding and minus depreciation.

This can be done each year or at the point of resale to determine the value of the farm. This approach ensures that ELC farmers are compensated for their efforts, while maintaining the affordability of the holdings for future land workers. Agricultural use is also protected through the lease, which requires that each household has at least one full time equivalent working on their holding.

 

Farmers are bound by both the lease, and any planning conditions, to a whole-site management plan which requires that the farms are managed ecologically. Performance against this plan is monitored annually. Greenham Reach Years 1 to 5 monitoring reports can be downloaded from ELC's website

If a smallholder is found in breach of the terms of their lease then fellow members of the Cooperative will work with them to get back on track. If the farmer is unable to address the issues causing the breach, the Cooperative has the ultimate recourse of requiring them to sell the farm back to the Cooperative, to be used by another.


Wild Geese Acres - Greenham Reach

In 2014, at the age of 49, James Dexter established Wild Geese Acres, a 6.5 acre farm. His partner Sukamala arrived a year later to help establish the business which, six years on, is now a thriving, permanent, small-scale farm.

‘My first job at 17 was on a tree survey in Epping Forest. I applied to study environmental science at 18 and they told me to go and do something interesting and come back. So I went to study on the agroecology programme at the University of California in Santa Cruz - now a prestigious qualification. Back then it was a little farm next to the university and I was apprenticed there for a year.

I’ve always been serious about food growing. There have been times when I’ve had less opportunity to grow because I’ve not had access to land. Food was always a big focus because I saw the power of people understanding where their food comes from, the direct therapeutic value it has for people, being outside, and the delight of pulling up a beetroot and then going and cooking it. This is what interested me more than the growing - sharing the wonder of it with other people. I worked at Freightliners Farm in Islington. The city farm got me interested in passing on knowledge about food to inner city children.

I always wanted a piece of land of my own. I’d been looking at buying some land and setting up a smallholding but I was aware that it was really complicated and our planning system wasn’t friendly to sustainable farmers. I’d been looking and got discouraged because it was so difficult and expensive. Then I heard about the ELC and the plots at Greenham Reach, I applied and the rest is history…’ James


Cae Tân CSA - Furzehill

The ELC’s third site is a group of four fields making up 17.85 acres situated on the Gower Peninsular in Wales in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty near to the villages of Ilston and Lunnon, and close to the beach at Three Cliffs Bay. The seaside resort of The Mumbles and the city of Swansea are a 20 minute drive away.

The land is a welcomingly flat site made of four fields with good access and healthy hedgerows. The land has been well managed previously, with good soil and existing stock-proof fencing allowing a running start to sowing and growing in Spring 2018

Work has begun on the site with Cae Tân — a local community supported agriculture scheme growing veg for over a hundred households. By local, this mean a matter of miles. The Cae Tân team are stewarding the land and leasing a plot to expand their veg and salad growing - they have been busy planting out salads and field scale crops and have been granted permission for a polytunnel and barn on the Furzehill fields.


Aweside Farm - Arlington

Growing up in London and Essex, Sinead and Adam got green thumbs volunteering on an urban farm. Realising that the hobby had become a skill, the two eventually took over the operation and they grew an increasing variety of flowers and vegetables. The diversity of colour, plant life and increased insect population filled their hearts with joy and set their minds on getting into ecological agriculture as a profession and way of life. ‘It's no secret that access into farming for new entrants is really hard in the UK.

Given our backgrounds growing up in cities with no links to food and farming, the chances of us being able to pursue livelihoods in this sector were going to be slim. But the ELC has really shaken things up and created opportunities for a new generation of farmers to create the changes that are needed within agriculture. Without the ELC navigating such a tricky space, we wouldn't have been able to make our passion and dream a reality.’ Sinead.

The name Aweside Farm is a nod to Loch Awe, Scotland where the couple spent time wandering amongst the trees, watching wildlife and most importantly dreaming. On their return to London they joked about leaving the city to lead a low-impact life. In November 2019, the dream they held onto like a seed became a reality as Aweside Farm joined the ELC at Arlington in East Sussex.


Sparkford Somerset

 

ELC’s fourth site in South Somerset is a 20.04 acre field just on the edge of the village of Sparkford which lies close to the A303, 10 miles from Yeovil. Nearby villages are Western Bampfylde and Queen Camel. It is situated next to Sparkford Copse, a public woodland run by a local land trust.

With news that Somerset County Council continues to sell off County Farms to raise millions for the authority, and with the uncertainties facing British Agriculture after Brexit, the work of the ELC putting small-scale, agro-ecological farming on the map is as pressing as ever.

With the continued successes of the three small farm enterprises on their first site in Devon, temporary planning permission awarded on their second site in East Sussex and working with Wales’ largest Community Supported Agriculture scheme to steward their third site on the Gower Peninsula, the Ecological Land Cooperative model of cluster farms fit for the future reflects an increasing desire for many to live and work on the land whilst producing ecologically grown food.

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