Farm Share Offer for the 21st Century

To see how much support we had, in August and September we actively sought investment pledges through conversations and emails. Pledges flowed in and gave us the confidence to prepare for a community share offer to buy 63 acres of land at Llwyn Ffranc. Then came more invaluable help, this time from the Co-operative Enterprise Hub, a UK-wide programme of support for new and existing co-operatives.  One of their consultants played a pivotal role in crafting the text of the share offer document.

With this and a business plan at the ready we launched a community share offer on March 1, seeking to raise  £132,600 by the end of the year.  By March 30 we had more than £14,000 in the bank.  We are attracting investors from Monmouthshire to Middlesex, from Milton Keynes to Melbourne. We have shareholders on three continents.

To do this kind of work you have to pull out all of the stops, to be open to a great range of ideas. To be both a team player and a solitary leader who sometimes just follows a hunch. I followed a hunch last year. I developed a strong gut feeling that the biodynamic path made sense and last August I placed an ad on the website of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association, seeking an experienced biodynamic farmer.

Peter Smith, former head farmer at Larchfield, a Camphill community in Middlesbrough, answered the call and arrived here on January 6, the day the wise men came from the east. Peter has already started to take us along the biodynamic route. We planted 10 cider apple trees, plus gooseberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants on fruit days in March after dousing the roots in a biodynamic preparation. We see cordials of various kinds, such as elderflower and apple and plum, forming part of our future income.

Some Welsh Black cattle and a few pigs are also on the agenda.

The early phase of many projects is challenging and this one is no exception. The vision is to develop a community forest farm which combines foraging, farming and forestry and acts as a meeting place for those who care about the human connection to land. We have plans to convert a barn and to open a restaurant called The Forager where wild food will be a dominant theme.

I see the forager and the farmer working together in this project.

This week, while Peter was strimming in the orchard, I walked up into the woodland and picked some 2 kg of wild garlic. I took it to my local pub, haggled with the chef in the kitchen and clinched our first sale of wild food. It’s a beginning.

On April 16, to help balance the books in these early months, we will launch a wild garlic festival, a celebration of woodland and wild food. The woodland at Llwyn Ffranc covers 50 acres. By May a great white carpet of wild garlic flowers covers the forest floor as far as the eye can see. A pungent, sensual smell fills the air.

Last year the idea of this festival filled my being, but at that point I never got beyond the dreaming. Something held me back, a feeling that I already had much on my plate. Now I have decided to go for it and trust that help will materialise. So far so good. I live in a national park. Within minutes of sending out one group email about the planned festival the park’s woodland officer emailed back to offer his services. He’s a first aider, so that’s good. One close friend suggested an auction of  goods and services at the festival and volunteered to sell her services to serve a gourmet curry for four.

Taking my cue from the Arab revolutions, I am learning to use Facebook to market the festival.  In this endeavour my teenage daughters are invaluable helpers.

If what we are doing in this small corner of Wales appeals to your sense of real farming, do please look at the business plan on our website. And come along to the wild garlic festival on April 16.

Stephen Powell



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