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Weekend farmers call for more people to get their hands dirty

Loxley Valley Community Farm Open Day: Wendy Burroughes (left) and Elaine Trippet with some of the farm's chutney and jam
Loxley Valley Community Farm Open Day: Wendy Burroughes (left) and Elaine Trippet with some of the farm's chutney and jam

Over a five-year period, 88 pigs, 17,000 eggs, 80 turkeys, 120 chickens and 960 vegetable boxes is pretty small scale for a farm, says Wendy Burroughes. “But for us, it’s quite a lot.”

Loxley Valley Community Farm began in 2009 when a group of locals inspired by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s ‘grow and rear your own’ movement got together to buy a few acres of land, mainly to keep pigs and chickens.

Loxley Valley Community Farm Open Day: Wendy Burroughes (left) and Elaine Trippet tending the farm's beehives

Loxley Valley Community Farm Open Day: Wendy Burroughes (left) and Elaine Trippet tending the farm's beehives

After a visit by Hugh F-W himself, and a TV feature on River Cottage, the farming group grew to over 20 people, and then bought and moved to a new 3.75 acre plot on Rodney Hill three years ago.

“It had been a smallholding, but it had been derelict for ten years,” says Wendy.

The team cleared the brambles and established chicken and pig runs and fruit and vegetable plots, along with a shed HQ, and swings and outdoor playing areas for their families.

Since then they’ve also coped with £2,000 worth of arson damage, appalling weather and, more recently, the theft of two donated greenhouse frames.

Loxley Valley Community Farm Open Day: Ben Lacey (2) and dad Rich examine a farm strawberry

Loxley Valley Community Farm Open Day: Ben Lacey (2) and dad Rich examine a farm strawberry

“It was very frustrating,” says Wendy. “The thieves probably made £20 in scrap, but to us it was £1,000 worth of greenhouses gone.”

“We’ve had arson and thefts, but we still feel very positive about the farm,” says Elaine Trippet, another of the original members. “And it’s nice to hear all the positive comments made by visitors today.”

Sunday was ‘Open Farm Sunday’ at Loxley, part of a national event when farmers open their gates to celebrate British farming and to help the public find out about sustainable food production.

Organisers LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) have run the event since 2006.

More than 100 people went to Loxley, with families and children feeding chickens and pigs, following a farm trail and learning how to turn nearly four acres of brambles into a community local food production unit.

“We want people to see that this is something they can fit into their lives,” says Elaine. “You don’t need any prior knowledge, you’ll enjoy it and meet new friends, and you can do it as a hobby, it’s not like having another job.”

Day jobs for the Loxley farmers include accountants, teachers, doctors, postmen, engineers, full-time parents and retired people.

Loxley is a community agriculture scheme, where members take a shift on working days, and pay a monthly membership fee, which allows them to take part in the running of the farm and buy produce effectively at cost price.

The home-reared high welfare meat is better priced than a quality butcher, says Wendy.

“We can compete on quality, but not on three chickens for £10 at a supermarket. But your £6.50 a month means you can say you own a farm!”

There are 25 members and volunteers at LVCF at present - volunteers can buy surplus produce at a slightly higher cost and help whenever they can. The farm also makes an annual donation to charity equivalent to 10% of the surplus.

One of the aims is to increase participation from families as either full farm members or volunteers. They’re now applying for a grant to build a polytunnel to help children grow their own fruit and veg.

There’ll soon be some lambs to rear, and possibly guinea fowl.

The big attraction for Wendy is the social aspect of the farming, with members meeting for regular parties with home grown food and home brewed alcohol.

Next to the farm are council allotments with a five year waiting list, whereas LVCF is still looking for new members and volunteers.

“I think people are hesitant to be part of a community farm due to the commitment required, and they think going it alone will allow them to do their own thing,” says Wendy.

Being part of a 25 strong workforce allows you to do a lot more, she adds, and LVCF only requires one work day a month and a weekly shift on the feed rota – a lot less time than you’d need to keep your own animals, let alone maintaining an allotment.

“I think we have the best of both worlds. I’m a smallholder without having to give up my day job, can still go on holiday when I want, and have made some friends for life in the process.”