A new community farm is in the pipeline, focussing on improving children's health and relationships to food and nature.
The 36 acre plot of Week Farm at Dartington in Devon, has been offered to Marina and Mark O'Connell who run The Apricot Centre in Essex and will be set up as a community farm, with shares available to the locals.
Marina and Mark's work at The Apricot Centre teaches children from their area about growing, food, health and nutrition. They observe that, 'If children are given the opportunity to make connections to nature and growing healthy food on a farm, a school garden or an allotment then in the long term, we think that this will lead to them having a healthier diet, a broader palette, a greater sense of wellbeing and it forms the basis for respect for place and nature.'
Week Farm will be transformed from bare, monocultured land into a diverse and fruitful space for everyone. Biodynamic principles will be used to grow vegetables, fruit, cows and chickens, while also restoring soil fertility, increasing biodiversity, training apprentices, and serving the whole community.
Marina pioneered her work with children 'by accident' when setting up a school farm at Dartington Hall in the 1980s. At her first market garden, Marina kept chickens on the eight acre site. Every day the local pre-school group would take their lunch left-overs to feed the chickens. After some months, the chickens recognised when the children were coming so they would start flapping and squawking. One rainy afternoon, the chickens were penned in the field tidying up after a crop, enclosed with a flimsy electric fence, which was turned off as soon as the children arrived. As the children approached, the chickens flapped their wings, the children leaned on the fence and suddenly the chickens got out into the field, the children got into the chicken pen and muddy mayhem happened. Marina remembers this as one of the hilarious highlights of her 10 year career at Dartington Hall. These observations made Marina realise that children love chickens and chickens love children, and that this excitement around collecting eggs and feeding animals also carried through to digging up potatoes, picking strawberries, sowing seeds and more.
Marina went on to develop the Apricot Centre, a four acre smallholding near Manningtree in Essex, growing organic fruit, with 500 square metres of glass house for vegetables, an educational centre and a kitchen for food processing, eating and preserving. Over 20 schools have visited the centre, with many children from the most deprived areas of Essex. School groups, home education groups, pre-school groups, specialist schools for children with autistic spectrum disorders visit the Apricot Centre. The format is normally a tour of the small farm with age and ability appropriate explanations of what they are seeing and looking at. This is all sensory, with tastings, smelling, touching, looking and hearing what the site has to offer at any particular time of the year. Mark is a child psychotherapist working for The Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and would like to extend the farm based activities that may have a therapeutic value for children who have experienced trauma. They are slowly exploring how they can offer these activities to affected groups of parents, carers and children.
Now they have been offered Week Farm, a demonstration biodynamic farm at Dartington, where their work with children can be expanded in the West country. This would include growing biodynamic vegetables outdoors, fruit, and raising chickens and cows.
The Biodynamic Land Trust have enabled the community buy out of the farm, with Jacqi Hodgson, Mayor of Totnes launching the sale of £326,000 worth of shares in Totnes on Saturday 19th July, 6pm.
The Week Farm co-op buyout offers people the opportunity to invest in their community's farming future for children's well being, health, food security, family farming and a living, working countryside. Just as Fordhall Farm, Market Drayton in Shropshire was saved in 2006 when 8,000 people invested £800,000, so Week Farm can be secured into co-op trusteeship for the Apricot Centre if many people give or invest.
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