The pandemic has brought into focus the vital parts that make our society function. NHS staff, sanitation workers, emergency services, delivery drivers and food producers amongst many more. Never before have we valued the people who grow and produce our food – and perhaps realised the fragility of a global food system. When the current crisis is behind us it’s hopeful we will emerge into a world that will be looking for more sustainable methods of local food production.
Currently nearly half the land in the UK is owned by just 25,000 people – less than 1% of the population. And much of that land is dominated by industrial methods of production that come at great cost to the natural world. With the fruits of such great feats come great distances. This means long supply chains: far-off producers in distant countries where poor regulation and governance often means poor working conditions and in extreme cases exploitation. Industrial agriculture, due to its scale, often relies on large machinery, large inputs of fossil fuel and large inputs of agroechemicals.
Is it possible however to re-introduce ways of growing that are kinder to the planet, involve more people and works with the grain of nature? ‘Agroecology’, the application of ecological principles to agricultural systems and practices, does this.
The Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC) is enabling a better way of farming and food production for the future. They have created five thriving ecologically friendly farms over a number of sites — from Cornwall to East Sussex and the Gower to Somerset. Totalling almost 100 acres these small farms practice agroecology while also supporting a new generation of sustainable food producers.
The current industrial agriculture sector might be successful in producing large amounts of food, but the problems it creates for the land, ecosystems and the environment outweigh the benefits that mass-produced food brings. As the world awakens to the need for change in all areas of industry, organisations like the ELC are using methods of farming that are actually improving the local ecology, creating livelihoods for farmers and bringing communities together.
The ELC is supporting the growth of sustainable small farms by providing affordable, low impact farms for ecological agriculture. All the farms they manage practice agroecology, a sustainable way of producing food that respects and sustains natural resources, rather than negatively impacting them. The result is food production and ecology sitting side by side. This means better food, healthier ecosystems for future generations and joined-up local communities.
The ELC is supports new entrants to farming to make a success of their farm businesses. The path laid out by the ELC is a way for new farmers to break into agriculture who otherwise would not have the opportunity to practice ecological farming.
Sinead and Adam grew up in London and Essex — hardly farming country. After volunteering on an urban farm they developed a love of agriculture. 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. However, it's no secret that access into farming for new entrants is really hard in the UK. In 2019 Sinead and Adam fulfilled their dream of leaving the city to manage a low-impact sustainable small farm: Aweside Farm in Arlington in East Sussex, one of the sites managed by the ELC.
“Given our backgrounds growing up in citieswith no links to food and farming, the chances of us being able to pursue livelihoods in this sector were going to be slim.” says Sinead. “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.”
Looking to the future
The ELC has grown over the past six years, successfully managing their sites with a sustainable model that is proven and growing. But they don’t want to stop there —they want to keep on creating more farms!
At the start of March, the ELC launched a new Community Share Investment Offer, with the bold aim of providing a mosaic of small ecological farms and rural regeneration across England and Wales. Little did they know that by the end of the month everything would change.
Despite unprecedented times and fears around food security, and with widespread business closures coming daily, the fund has already attracted a third of the £400,000 target in three weeks.
Oli Rodker, Site Development Director, for the ELC, says:
“It is truly staggering that we have reached the £100,000 mark in a little over two weeks, especially as we are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. I would like to thank everyone who has already joined us as we work hard to secure small-scale farms for the future.
A crisis like the one we are seeing now, along with the environmental crisis that is still going on, tells us we need to act urgently to improve how we manage land. ELC’s passionate and innovative farmers can do this while producing healthy food for local people. By backing our vision and investing in our 2020 share offer you are giving us the chance to create more farms, protect land and speed up this transition to agroecological land use. By supporting us you are supporting rural communities, nature and the climate.”
With consumers turning to local vegetable box schemes and concerns around capacity the issues with the current top-down food system are showing, and the need for a resilient and local food system is increasingly clear.
The aim for the current share offer is to raise up to £400,000 to develop more sites - with a target of creating 18 new small farms on six new sites by the end of 2023. By doing so, ecological agriculture becomes a recognised and practical way to address the issues of climate change, rural underdevelopment and getting new entrants into farming.
The share offer is open for investment on the Ethex platform, with a minimum investment amount of £500 and a projected return of 3% per annum.
Please note that capital is at risk and returns are not guaranteed.