In days of old natural spaces and farmed land were a key part of a village life. Aside from bearing food to support the community these were places to hold daily gatherings, community festivals and family celebrations. They were places for children to play and village elders to natter, essential parts of community life nearly bulldozed away by modern planning and development. Nearly.
Community farming is making a comeback. Funding options, lottery grants, tax credit schemes and trusts are a minefield to navigate but nonetheless have helped to get many community farms and open growing spaces off the ground.
Forty Hall Farm in Enfield, a suburb in north London, was once a working farm and is now undergoing a transformation to open it back up to the whole community and to promote the growing and eating of locally grown food. The farm forms part of Capel Manor College, the only college in London which specialises in learning about the environment. It is also home to London's only community vineyard.
Fruit trees once grew alongside the farm’s walled garden and this is the exact site where a small group of volunteers now hopes to plant an orchard growing a variety of fruit trees. As a first step, a capital growth application has successfully awarded the farm with £300 for buying trees. This is already testing the values of the group who aim to deploy only traditional and sustainable methods as much as possible. They need to decide whether to buy sixty non-organic trees or 30 organic ones.
Other grants will enable people from all walks of life to help by offering travel services, translated scripts for non-English speaking communities in the borough and even child support for those who cannot afford childcare while volunteering.
The group has taken inspiration from established orchard projects around the country.
Dragon Orchard in Ledbury is an example of a cropshare orchard. Cropsharers pay an annual fee each year for weekend visits and a share of the harvest, including apples and pears, fruit juice, cider, jams and chutneys. The orchard is run and managed by the farmer so cropsharers do not have to look after the orchard themselves. There is however a ‘workshare’ option, which allows people to pay for their share by volunteering on the farm.
Horfield Orchard in Bristol was set up in 1998 by a group of volunteers who wanted to grow their own fruit. They got together and started to clear some allotment sites. Since then they have planted hundreds of different fruit trees and bushes. A small committee manages the orchard, with sub-groups looking after things like composting and events. Work meetings take place once a month, bringing everyone together to help look after the orchard. Those involved share responsibility for care of the trees, mowing the grass and weeding. Events are held at the orchard, as well as training workshops. All members share the harvest.
The orchard at Forty Hall Farm is just one of the many projects planned. Pig farming, bee-keeping, a wild flower meadow and a community cob oven are also being reviewed. I imagine this will take many years to complete but I’m looking forward to seeing it develop and learn new skills. Most of all I’m proud to be building, or rather rebuilding, a place of common ground.
Forty Hall Farm: www.fortyhallfarm.org.uk