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Community farm launches £40,000 Kickstarter growth appeal

Longwater Community Farm manager Shona Howes, at the old farm building which shehopes to convert into an education classroom. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Longwater Community Farm manager Shona Howes, at the old farm building which shehopes to convert into an education classroom. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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A community farm on the fringe of Norwich has launched a £40,000 crowd-funding bid to double its size, and bring schoolchildren and charities into its home-grown philosophy.

Farm manager Shona Howes, right, in the greenhouse at the Longwater Community Farm with, from left, Jamie Fuller, Jessica Hallybone, Sarah Watts, Sue Williams, Georgina Huggins, and Janet Flynn. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYFarm manager Shona Howes, right, in the greenhouse at the Longwater Community Farm with, from left, Jamie Fuller, Jessica Hallybone, Sarah Watts, Sue Williams, Georgina Huggins, and Janet Flynn. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Britain’s declining self-sufficiency is a constant talking point for commercial farmers and policy-makers on an international stage.

But closer to home, a grass-roots movement wants to bring the “grow your own” ethos down to a family scale – and use those experiences to educate schoolchildren about the origins of their food.

The Longwater Community Farm, based close to the River Tud, off Longwater Lane in Costessey, has launched a £40,000 crowd-funding appeal to fund the next stage of its development ambitions, which include doubling its land holding and converting a redundant shed into an education centre.

The farm, now in its third year, already engages a community of about 150 people, with members contributing their time and subscription fees in return for vegetable boxes during the growing season.

Longwater Community Farm. Pictured: Cutting beansLongwater Community Farm. Pictured: Cutting beans

But now it aims to take the philosophy of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to the next stage, by creating a self-sustaining farm providing classes, workshops and growing opportunities to families, schools, and charities.

Founder and farm manager Shona Howes said: “Concerns over the environmental impact of where our food comes from, GM (genetically-modified) content, how supermarkets treat farmers and how farmers treat their animals and land, is becoming a larger part of how we think about our food.

“Longwater Community Farm attempts to address these issues by setting up a model of bringing food production and agriculture back to the small holding and the community.

“It has had a really good two pilot years, but if we want to take it beyond community and involve schools and charities, we need to open it up to a wider range of people, to give both children and adults that learning experience as well.

Longwater Community Farm. Pictured: Veg basketLongwater Community Farm. Pictured: Veg basket

“The whole philosophy is that we want people to communicate with each other and learn new skills about where their food comes from, and to force a cultural change to live a bit more ethically and a bit more sustainably.

“One of my main aims is that people don’t stay here for five years – it is about them learning these skills and taking that away to grow food at home. “The CSA movement is continuing to grow, but it is growing in a negative way because it does not have a business plan to make it financially sustainable. If we can set this up with a model and start speaking on a national platform, then perhaps we could see a change in a generation or two.”

With two thirds of the funding, the two-acre farm aims to purchase the adjoining two-acre plot, which will double the potential for crops and animals, and bring the original Longwater Farm back together, as it was 40 years ago when it was first founded by the Goodall Brothers – including Miss Howes’ late grandfather Paul Goodall.

Discussions are under way with South Norfolk Council about a “change of use” application to allow educational activities on the site, and about £5,000 will be needed to convert the barn into a workshop and classroom with hand washing facilities. Plans have already been drafted which also include a dairy suitable for farming and education purposes.

The rest of the community-invested funding is earmarked for the construction of a compost toilet with disabled facilities, further widening the public access.

Miss Howes, 30, who works as a community and volunteer development officer for the RSPB, said she was also keen to promote the health and wellbeing benefits of working on the land.

“Over the past decade there have been numerous pieces of research conducted proving the incredible benefits to our physical and mental health to be had from connecting with nature and with each other,” she said.

“It is not just about getting the veggie box, it is about getting your hands dirty and having that ‘seed to mouth’ experience, as well as the health and wellbeing benefits of being out on the land. We really want people to be a part of what they are growing.

“Growing your own food and getting to know your neighbours is a fundamental thing for everyone. It’s a deeply rewarding and fulfilling experience that we want to share with the whole of Norwich.”

One part-time volunteer and friend of the farm is Jamie Fuller, 35, who lives in Norwich and whose day job is involved with commercial agriculture, at Billockby Farms, near Acle.

“I work on the arable side, mainly planting and harvesting potatoes,” he said. “It is the other end of the scale to what we are doing here.

“What Shona is trying to achieve here is to get people back to growing their own and trying to be self-sufficient, getting people back on the land.

“When I went into agriculture it was all about being outside and getting your hands dirty, whereas now you find them going up and down like a drone to get it done in the cheapest possible way, and it is the supermarkets that govern the price and the quality. There is no soul in it.

“With this, it gets the whole community involved and they feel like they are making a difference.

“I can imagine this being quite good for getting children involved and interested. It is difficult to explain on a farm at a huge scale how your crops are produced, but here they can get involved and see it through from start to finish.”

Georgina Huggins, a 28-year-old carer from Brundall, was one of the 10-strong volunteer team which helped with the initial digging and fencing to create the farm in 2013.

“When we had the open day, I met a family down here who wanted to come so their kids could be a part of it,” she said. “Now I am expecting a child myself, I want them growing up to see where their food comes from.”

How the farm works

Longwater Community Farm has about 30 member families, totalling about 60 people, but with added volunteers and friends the community supporting the farm is estimated at around 150 people.

The families pay a £40 subscription, and are asked to commit two work sessions per month. In return, they get a weekly vegetable box throughout the growing season, giving them fresh onions, potatoes, salad, courgettes, beans, peas and even garlic. They have estimated the same organic produce from a supermarket would cost £5-£10 more.

Surplus vegetables were also sold in extra boxes to more than 100 people last year.

Farm manager Shona Howes said: “This year we are aiming to produce food for 500 people, doubling what we did last year. The big focus this year is the development side of it.

“This is the only community farm for the Costessey area, and it has got this wonderful big community to work with. We are now going into our third year of growing crops. I set it up with my grandfather, who was an ‘old school’ farmer, so we have that mix of pre-industrialised knowledge with my ideas for what the community needs now.

“This has been in my family for 50 years now, and I want to keep the original vision of having it as a living and thriving place.”

The farm is seeking crowd-funding investments through the Kickstarter website – click here for more details.

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