Friday, May 31, 2013

John Kirkpatrick returns to Fordhall

We are proud to announce the Shropshire premiere of John Kirkpatrick’s latest folk music project on Sunday 9th June at 7.30pm here at Fordhall Farm.

John Kirkpatrick has lived in Shropshire since 1973 and has always listened out for tunes and lyrics emanating from the county. So this special performance will feature songs and music purely from or about Shropshire.  With his powerfully dynamic voice and twinkling concertina fingers, John will romp through a range of famous and forgotten gems like Shrewsbury Quarry, The Shropshire Militia Hornpipe, The Shrewsbury Rakes, A Shropshire Lad and The Shrewsbury Lasses – for so long the theme tune to Percy Thrower’s television Gardening Club.

Chris Eldon Lee, Chairman of the board of the Fordhall Community Land Initiative said “We are delighted to be hosting a unique concert to launch John’s new album of Shropshire songs.  John pioneered music in our new venue last September before a capacity audience. At the end of the evening there was a unanimous vote to invite him back again - and now his new CD “Every Mortal Place” is completed, that’s exactly what we are doing!”

John Kirkpatrick explains and introduces his music with wit, charm and enthusiasm - and his squeezebox playing is incredible.  John is now a national treasure of the English folk scene and winner of the BBC 2 Folk Musician of the Year award…and is not to be missed.  

Tickets for the evening are £20 and include a hot supper from Arthur’s Restaurant during the interval. They are available on a first-come-first-served basis on 01630 638696.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Charlotte visits shareholders in the Isle of Man

Charlotte and Adam

On the 8th and 9th May I was invited by shareholder Adam Denard, to visit the Isle of Man to speak to their Permaculture Group about Fordhall’s outdoor grazing system and our innovative community structure.

Having never visited the island before, I was interested to learn about their independent government structure, their extensive farming systems and the general beauty and biodiversity of the island. In fact the island has no intensive poultry or pig farms, or foxes - which is certainly something to celebrate.
The Isle of Man’s landscape is rather like Anglesey, rolling hills, glorious coast line and small towns dotted in between. The farming is generally extensive and mixed. With many farmers growing the crops needed to feed their livestock through the winter months.
Most will know that the main business on the island is in finance, with agriculture, once one of the mainstays, making a declining contribution to their GDP. I was only on the Island for 2 days and so it was very much a whistle stop tour, although I seemed to dart from one end of the island to the other without a blink of an eye; it being only 12 miles wide and 30 miles long with a population of about 80,000.

Whilst there I had the privilege of meeting their Minister of Environment, Food and Agriculture, Phil Gawne. We met over lunch in a sourdough cafĂ© with Dr Pete McEvoy who is government botanist and agricultural scheme adviser for the Manx (Isle of Man) version of DEFRA. Phil was a very down to earth Minister with a real interest in seeing the Isle of Man become completely independent and sustainable in its food needs; farming in a way that was not reliant upon outside resources (such as additional chemicals, oil or fertilisers). He was not particularly saying the island should be organic, but he was keen on creating a more self-contained food system, something similar in my mind to the Foggage system we run at Fordhall. I became excited by the opportunities on the island; their independence from the UK government and the EU means that change can be quick. They have a fantastic opportunity to see where others have made mistakes, learn from them, and take their island in a different direction. Whether that be in the direction of sustainable farming techniques or community engagement. They have already designated the island a GM free zone. 

Rearing mainly beef and lamb on the island, with some arable crops, they have one main abattoir. All animals on the island go through it and are then distributed amongst the islands food retailers.  A fantastic localised and fully traceable food system.
That evening I gave a talk to permaculturists, farmers and Manx residents about Fordhall. I even had the pleasure of meeting another lovely Fordhall shareholder in the audience. Everyone seemed to enjoy the presentation and we may even have got some more supporters along the way.
That evening I spent the night in a 1976 horsebox! It had been extremely well converted into a small flat, complete with woodburner, stove, desk and bed. The horsebox was on a piece of land collectively owned by 6 individuals. They each own their little piece of this abandoned farm land, grow their own vegetables and fruits, live on site in yurts and use compost toilets.

It was a real honour to stay there, made even more special when I woke in the morning walked out of the old 1976 horsebox to see two ducks passing the path in front of me, a small bunny rabbit munching on the grass to my left and the birds in full song. Nothing seemed to mind my presence there – it felt very Beatrix potter J
After offering some volunteer labour (very little in actual fact), Amanda took me to visit their community farm. Run by the Children’s Centre on the island, the community farm worked with, amongst others, young people struggling with conventional education - rather like our young people’s project at Fordhall. The main difference was that they had lovely dry poly tunnels to work in; a fantastic well equipment greenwood workshop, and they received funding from the government to sustain the project. It was interesting to share experiences, but most importantly seeing the enormous and identical benefits it had for their young people; demonstrating the power of working practically outdoors with nature. In fact the island has an extremely low unemployment rate, yet these projects are still highly valued and supported.

A 'pizza' garden on the Children's Community Farm

At the end of my final day I met with local farmer John Kenaugh. His family have been farming the land here for over 5 generations. He could even remember the first bag of ammonium nitrate fertiliser to arrive on the fields. Although not a convert to organics, he is a traditional farmer and a real custodian of land. A farmer who understands and appreciates that his job is to nurture and build the soil and in return it will provide him with healthy food and a livelihood. There was a lot of synergy between John and Fordhall. The best bit of farming advice he was ever given was to ‘never plough through sand’; a mistake that my grandfather made during the first world war, costing our soils dearly.
As John simply puts it “now I have brown soil, not white soil”. Again John’s motivation, like their agricultural ministers’ was to produce food on the farm without being completely reliant on outside inputs, whatever those might be. He believed that farming and nature could not be separated: they are one and must be managed as a complete system, where everything is valued and each living creature has its place.
The Isle of Man was an island of intrigue, beauty and inspiration. They have a fantastic opportunity to develop their food system in a truly sustainable and healthy way, as they have not yet got stuck into the vastly intensive route many UK farms have.
Perhaps their biggest stumbling block will be high land values and barriers to entry into farming – I wondered if the Fordhall community ownership model could offer some alternatives. As an island that attracts wealthy investors, land values look like they will continue to rise. Maybe placing land in common ownership or creating laws that offer land to local’s first at an affordable rate may be solutions for the Manx government?

Either way, I had a truly inspiring visit to the island. I would like to extend my thanks to Adam, Pete, Phil, Jim and Amanda, who all made me feel extremely welcome and at home.

Gura mie eu and Aigh vie (Thank you and Good Luck!)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Biodynamic Workshop - stag bladders and compost!

Last Saturday, we held a Biodynamic Workshop here.  Charlotte and I decided to tag along to see if there were any ideas we could take on and use at Fordhall. 

The course was led by Biodynamic guru, Bernard Jarman of Hawksford College.  He certainly knew his stuff and was fascinating to listen to.

Biodynamic Apparatus

Biodynamic growing and farming is all about connecting the light with the dark, the earth with the cosmos and society with nature.

“Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), founder of biodynamics, was a highly trained scientist and respected philosopher. Long before many of his contemporaries, Steiner came to the conclusion that western civilization would increasingly bring destruction to itself and the earth if it did not begin to incorporate an objective understanding of the spiritual world and its interrelationship with the physical world. Steiner's spiritual scientific methods and insights have given birth to practical holistic innovations in many fields including education, banking, medicine, psychology, the arts and, not least, agriculture.”

Bernard Jarman
On our workshop, Bernard started the day by teaching us how to create compost preparations using 6 key plants: Yarrow, Chamomile, Nettle, Dandelion, Valerian and Oak.  Each of these plants has its own unique properties which are not only used medicinally, but they also help to assist with various mineral processes under the soil.

Compost Preparations
The Yarrow flowers, for example, are collected and dried over winter, then in the spring they are sewn inside the bladder of a stag.  The bladder is then hung up over the summer, then buried in the autumn and dug up in the spring ready to use in your compost.

Yes, it does sound a little far-out, but the whole idea of connecting the external with the internal is really quite powerful. 

We all ventured outside, just as it started to rain and Bernard showed us how to add the ready-made compost preparations to our compost heap in the community garden.  We also added a liquid compost starter to the compost created from the Ridan Hot Composter

Adding to the compost heaps
As it started to get a bit too chilly outside, we made our way back in and enjoyed a delicious lunch from Arthur’s Restaurant of vegetarian quiche, home-made bread and seasonal salad.

Charlotte stirring the vortex
After lunch, we learnt about the Horn Manure and Horn Silica that is used on the land.  We had to put the Horn Manure into a bucket of water and stir it for an hour, but not just stir it, we had to create a vortex in the water.  We were shown how to stir the water in a clockwise direction until there was a vortex down to the bottom of the bucket and then stir the water in the opposite direction again creating a vortex. 

Horn Manure

This liquid was then sprinkled all over the field and community garden, this will hopefully help with plant growth… watch this space!

Connie and Becca sprinkling the Horn Manure across the fields

This workshop would definitely appeal to all gardeners and growers who are interested in organics and are open minded to new ideas!

We are holding our next Biodynamic Workshop with Bernard on Saturday 19th October.
Get in touch to book!

Friday, May 03, 2013

Explore Fordhall Farm

I’m dog sitting today, so I’ve just taken Luke out for a walk around the trails at Fordhall.  The sun isn’t really shining this afternoon, but it’s still really warm and the farm is still really beautiful. 

All three trails are now open! The 3rd of the trails which is named after the late Arthur Hollins has been closed for a while as the ground had been so wet, but as you’ll see if you walk around the farm, it is now very dry and sandy.  Arthur’s walk takes you around most of Fordhall’s 140 acres and takes about an hour and half…longer if you stop to explore along the way! 

Tree tunnel

At the moment, out in Fordhall’s fields you will find the lambs and calves, they are all sticking close to their mums still.  In the pig paddock the Gloucester Old Spot piglets are a bit more adventurous; they love to go running off on an adventure!

Today, I walked along the River Tern and stopped to look at an otter holt (den), I was just about to pick up a cray-fish claw that was on the bank when I heard a splash, I turned to look, but all I could see was the ripples in the river - I was right by the otter and I missed it! Oh well…maybe next time.

The otter holt
Our trails are open all through the Bank Holiday weekend, Charlotte’s Walk only takes half an hour, Ben’s Walk goes a bit further and takes about 45 mins – for Ben’s Walk you probably still need your wellies. 
If you don't fancy going on a big adventure around the farm, you can still head over to the pig-nic area and see if you can find these guys...

For the youngsters (or the young at heart) we have a selection of free activities to help you explore along the way; create a natural bookmark, hunt out all the wooden animals, collect brass rubbings and go on a  Fordhall Treasure Hunt.  You can collect all of these from Arthur’s Tea Room – just ask at the till.

I hope you have a lovely bank holiday weekend – winter has finally turned into spring!