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Pictures: Best of both WORLDS

Loxley Valley Community Farm open day: farm members and volunteers with the new roundhouse
Loxley Valley Community Farm open day: farm members and volunteers with the new roundhouse

How a community garden project is bringing people together... and getting work done.

A sunny afternoon on a Loxley hillside, and smallholder Wendy Burroughes looked round at her pigs, chickens and vegetable gardens, her fellow farmers, and her farm visitors in the ‘tea penthouse’ (large shed with a kettle).

“We’ve done an awful lot really,” she said. “We can come and sit out here now and enjoy it over a glass of wine or a beer. When we first came we were sitting on nettles and brambles.”

Loxley Valley Community Farm held an open day last weekend as part of the national LEAF Open Farm Sunday event, where UK farmers open their gates to show the public how they operate.

As a community farm, Loxley Valley is not typical of the nation’s farmsteads, but after operating for nine years (during which time members have nurtured, grown and eaten over 100 pigs, 30,000 free range eggs, hundreds of chickens and turkeys and thousands of home grown vegetables) the venture is no longer seen as quite so ‘alternative’, said Wendy.

“With us, you can join the scheme for £10 a month and get involved in a farm. That idea is now much more mainstream than when we started.”

Loxley Valley Community Farm (LVCF) was originally inspired by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s ‘grow your own’ movement, and the man himself featured the scheme on his River Cottage TV programme.

It all began when around 20 Outdoor City food lovers bought an old derelict smallholding on the edge of Wisewood and set to work.

“At the entrance all we could see were seven foot high brambles,” said Wendy. “But after we’d spent a day cutting back we found there was a shed in there too.”

The members of LVCF are all volunteers who are expected to help at regular work days and on the feeding rota, and can then buy the produce they want (quarter pigs, for example) at cost price.

“We are farmers, but we’re not employing anyone, we just want to feed people,” said Wendy.

Now the farm has polytunnels for winter salads and vegetables, Wendy reckons a family of members can pretty much feed themselves from the farm with very high quality produce at a price that compares well with the average UK annual home food bill of around £1,200.

After a boom in growing your own a few years ago, Wendy reckons interest has waned, and she says allotments are no longer as scarce as they were 10 years ago.

“People realised growing your own is really hard work, and although they’re interested in local food, most people I think want someone else to grow it for them.”

LVCF now has 12 members, although a few more would be welcome - 20 or so would be ideal, said Wendy. People interested can find out more at https://lvcf.org.uk or just come down to the workdays on the first Saturday or third Sunday of every month, she said.

Several of the members’ children have grown up working on the farm, and think nothing of pig rearing and muck spreading, and the site has even hosted a wedding for two members.

The Loxley farmers have had to cope with vandalism and arson but have nevertheless kept growing (in all senses) and have expanded with a new wildlife area and a ‘roundhouse’ shelter for meetings and socialising.

The shelter, made mostly from trees off the site and modelled on a traditional iron age roundhouse with a chimney hole for the winter, was completed this year, following donations from the family of former member Dave Buckle who passed away a few years ago.

The idea of the farm is to be a communal experience, said Wendy, with people working together on all the projects, rather than tending their own plots. She stressed socialising and learning is a key part of the farm’s ethos.

“We have the best of both worlds, because when there’s ten of you you can get a lot done quickly. And it doesn’t feel like work when you’re coming up here and hanging out with some mates and doing a bit of weeding.”