Save Our Small Farms by Investing Ethically

Sebastian Parsons
Thursday, 25th October 2018

Sebastian Parsons, Chief Executive of Stockwood CBS describes how small, family farms need public support more than ever before.

Food and farming have become the focus of the climate debate in the wake of the UN’s recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. Experts have painted a sobering picture of the urgent and rapid change needed to guarantee our planet’s ability to support all life.

For the first time, experts are urging countries to “limit demand for greenhouse-gas intensive foods through shifts to healthier and more sustainable diets” and to improve farm management practices to reduce the high levels of emissions from the industry.

The farming sector causes a multitude of environmental problems. Modern intensive livestock farming is responsible for around 16.5% of the world’s GHG emissions and is the leading source of methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Animal agriculture is responsible for around 60% of human-caused biodiversity loss on land and monoculture farming significantly reduces soil health so much it cannot support life.

Farmers, custodians of much of the bio-sphere, are forcing the process of natural ecology: crops are pushed to grow faster, animals are forced to produce more, crop and animal disease is held at bay by the application of insecticides and consumption of drugs. The demand for meat is partly responsible for this – more balanced and diverse diets would not only reduce the meat needed, but more nourishing diets would require less volume to be produced.

Radical change in the farming sector could completely reverse this situation. There are thousands of farmers around the world who are already leading by example and driving change in helping to tackle emissions. From reducing livestock numbers and running successful carbon capture schemes, to launching renewable energy projects and planting more trees to absorb carbon. Others need to join this movement before they get left behind.

Organic farming methods offer a sustainable and viable alternative to intensive farming. The Soil Association has said that “if organic farming was common practice in the UK, we could offset at least 23% of agriculture's current greenhouse emissions.”

Rush Farm flock

Many traditional farmers, some never certifying organic, have spent their whole lives farming naturally and sustainably, producing nutritious food and reducing their carbon footprint. But it can all be lost. If the farmer retires or needs to sell the land, then all of their life’s work protecting the soils, nature and landscape will vanish if, which is often the case, as large-scale agri-business’ buy the farms.

This is where a different type of diversification comes in and the power of ethical finance radically hits home. If retiring farmers exit their farms into community-ownership they not only protect their farms for future generations but also offer a valuable and ethical investment route for people who are looking to use their money to protect the planet.

I speak from experience as that’s exactly what we did at Rush Farm in Redditch. The farm stretches over 180 acres and is run on biodynamic and permaculture principals. In 2014 we opened the farm up to hundreds of investors and turned it into a community trust, named Stockwood CBS, with more than 300 investors investing over £1 million.

Stockwood was my family’s “freehold” farm, and it is now my family’s “leasehold” farm. Shareholders invest in a thriving biodynamic organic farm and when my family stops farming, they will hand back the tenancy for Stockwood CBS to appoint a new farming family who will continue to manage the land in a holistic way.

Stockwood CBS now owns Rush Farm. The farm grows nutritious food and provides jobs for local people and habitats for wildlife. Stockwood owns a business park where people work in a beautiful rural setting that brings a welcome boost to the local economy. A renewable energy project operates on site, delivering clean ground-source heat to the tenants.

The investments keep the farm running and the 5% return provides investors with a competitive dividend. My aspiration is to encourage other small family farms to follow suit. I hope farmers across the UK will be inspired by our success, and that we’ll see community trusts like Stockwood CBS popping up all over the country.

If we are to achieve that vision, we need members of the public to engage with their local farms, and communities to join together. If people invest in sustainable projects such as Stockwood CBS, or other community trusts on platforms such as Ethex, then their money can be a powerful force for good.

These community shares are precious: they not only contribute to meeting climate targets, they also represent a force of very positive action in the world. Once you have invested, you are part of a movement, a community of people that are committed to combating climate change, protecting the rural landscape and building a healthier more sustainable future. 

This funding is crucial to support small farms and accelerate the low carbon transition. This model allows people to be co-owners of our precious farming landscape whilst earning interest on their investment.

Every day we have a choice in what we buy and where we buy it. Following the recent report from the IPCC, many people are feeling overwhelmed and desperate to act to protect the planet. Using your money to support sustainable farming is a tangible way to make a difference and a powerful step to help the necessary transition of agriculture.

If you think this might be something you want to do then please get in touch. Stockwood CBS intends to raise enough shareholder investment over time to be able to kick-start another community based farm!

Useful links

The off-grid medicinal herb farm

Why we must eat more mindfully

5 hectare polyculture farm design