TWO years ago, Loxley Valley Community Farm (Mark 2) was 3.75 acres of head-high brambles and a shed by the side of the allotments on Rodney Hill, Loxley. Last Sunday, however, it was full of children looking for clues to the farm Easter egg hunt, a flock of chickens, emerging vegetable plots, 20 or so Loxley farmers, and 80 or more farm visitors.
In a short time, there will also be about a dozen pigs and a small flock of sheep, and if the Loxley friends of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have anything to do with it, a few more farmers.
“We’ve had people contacting us from Burton-on-Trent, Dorset and Coventry because we’re seen as a national example of a community farm,” said Elaine Trippett. “The idea of our Easter fund raising day is to open up the site so people can find out more, and hopefully we get more members and volunteers.”
In the farm’s first year in 2009, at its original home off Long Lane, Loxley Valley Community Farm was feted by Hugh F-W on his River Cottage TV show. The original farmers were given notice to quit that site a year later, and found the plot on Rodney Hill for sale shortly after.
“We knew we liked what we were doing, we had good friends and a nice community aspect to the farm, so we wanted to carry on,” said Rich Lacey, one of the original farmers.
Ten LVCF members were able to raise £30,000 between them to buy the land at auction, and set to work to clear the brambles and establish a new community farm.
The site now has a chicken pen with nearly 30 chickens, pens for eight to 12 pigs which stay over the spring and summer until their demise, and a small flock of sheep living in a field nearby. In season, the pig-fertilised vegetable plots also provide salad, rhubarb, peas, beans, beetroot, berries, garlic, chilli, Jerusalem artichokes and much more.
“Working on here is a different feel to being part of allotment,” said Elaine Trippett.
“There’s a huge sense of friendship and community here. I love working on a plot next to someone and talking to them about it, meeting people and making new friends” said Rich Lacey. “No-one is an expert so we’ve been learning together and it’s a nice journey.”
Rich is a teacher, Elaine is an accountant and the rest of the members and volunteers have a wide variety of non-farming day jobs. Elaine said the group have come together because they want to know where their food comes from, make new friends with shared interests and for the simple enjoyment of growing and raising your own. As a mum, she also feels the chance of working on a farm is great for children. “And our pork is the best I’ve ever tasted,” she said.
Last year, just after the farm was getting going again, there was an arson attack. The chicken run was burned down, several chickens were killed and over £2,000 of damage was caused.
“I don’t think anyone said we can’t do this any more, I’m beaten,” said Elaine. “We all said what do we do now to get back to where we were?” There was a lot of support, financial and otherwise, from the local community – one pensioner even gave the farm a set of fencing to help with the repairs.
Now the members aim to develop the site with more sheds for storage and play areas for children, as well as increasing membership from the current 17 (and eight non-member volunteers) to around 30.
Loxley is a community agriculture scheme, which means that members agree to take a shift on the feed rota and working days, and pay an annual fee for the chance to be part of the farm. They can then also buy shares in whatever produce they require, at cost price.
Volunteers can buy surplus produce at higher cost but can also help whenever they can. The farm makes an annual donation to charity equivalent to 10% of the surplus.
Effectively, you pay your annual £78 to have the chance to be a Loxley farmer, said Elaine. Vegetable prices compare well with shops and supermarkets, and meat prices are more expensive than cellophane wrapped produce, said Rich, but are comparable to cuts from a decent butcher and “taste fantastic”.
Contacts from around the country show how interest is growing in such ventures, and there are other community farm schemes elsewhere in Sheffield, at Hazelhurst (Gleadless) and Heeley, for example.
Food scares in the media and a general move towards wanting to know where your food comes from, and valuing locally grown produce, are all helping to change attitudes.
“Our model is transportable to anywhere, and I think we could find farms like this in most neighbourhoods in future,” said Rich.
“We think it’s a brilliant thing we’ve got here,” said Elaine. “We’ve had a great time over the last four years.”