Lancaster District’s FarmStart Scheme
Anna Clayton, a food citizen and coordinator of FoodFutures, interviewed Ellen Pearce to find out more about this exciting new scheme.
In 2018 LESS commissioned a feasibility study to explore whether a Farmstart programme would be a good fit for Lancaster. The focus of the work was to support small-scale farming around the city, which often includes providing training, support and even land for new entrant farmers. Considering agro-ecological approaches, the study scoped opportunities for providing meaningful employment to local people, to build local skills and capacity, to increase the supply of local produce and to contribute to the development of a thriving local food economy.
In May 2019, 20 would-be organic farmers met for the first time at Claver Hill, a community farm on the outskirts of Lancaster. They spent the following six months learning about different aspects of farming including site planning, crop planning for a north-west location, soil management, seeds and propagation, harvesting and packaging, selling and distribution and business models for success. The focus was on growing at a commercial scale using organic principles.
The group visited six local farms and a wholesaler, all of which used different business and distribution methods.
How does your work relate to FoodFutures vision of creating a thriving local food system that is healthy, resilient and fair?
The FarmStart vision is to enable local people to grow food for local distribution and consumption. Our vision is of a thriving local food system, that provides affordable, healthy food through regenerative agriculture. Our model also aims to ensure that FarmStart training is affordable for those that want to take part.
What has been your biggest achievements to date?
Getting grant funding for, and running the Growers’ Support Course and it being over-subscribed. The feedback for the programme was excellent, with 92% of participants getting what they wanted out of the programme (or a whole lot more than they wanted!). Many of the FarmStart participants also shared their stories via the Lancaster Guardian:
What advice would you give to people interested in doing the sort of work you do?
If you are interested in becoming a small-scale farmer, try and get some experience first. This could be at a community farm like Claverhill or at one of our established local organic producers such as Growing with Grace in Clapham. Also, keep an eye out for workshops and FarmStart programmes that you might want to sign up to.
You can also follow people online such as Charles Dowding who provide videos, tips and advice about growing in relatively small (less than an acre) plots: https://charlesdowding.co.uk
If we were to celebrate your work in 10 years time, what would we be celebrating?
We created a 10 year vision for the Lancaster FarmStart programme as part of the feasibility study in 2018. Our vision is to have a ring of small-scale farms around the city fringes, providing local, affordable, healthy food direct to people in the area.
Success would include an established exemplar farm that is commercially viable and acts as the training centre for FarmStarters; working collaboratively with local producers to ensure it is complementary in terms of crop planning and effective local distribution channels.
How can people support your work?
You can become a member of our FoodFriends scheme – a small society lottery with monthly local food prizes. All funds raised through this scheme will go towards setting up our FarmStart sites and working towards our ten year vision.
There are also opportunities to volunteer or to sign up to our programme as a FarmStarter.