Care farmers, an ambitious teenager and parents of twins are among new Norfolk County Farms tenants
- Credit: Caitlin Clarke
New tenants have been appointed to run three farms within the publicly-owned Norfolk County Farms estate – including an expanding care venture using agriculture as 'green space therapy'.
Norfolk County Council's portfolio of 16,800 acres of prime agricultural land offers a route into the industry for people wishing to launch their own farm businesses, as well as opportunities for existing ventures to grow and expand.
The successful applicants for 2019 have filled two vacant tenancies on the Mautby estate near Great Yarmouth, and one on the Southery estate near Downham Market.
The 84-acre Upper Wood Farm on the Mautby estate will be run by Chris Howes, 39, and Louise Bishop-Howes, 44, who opened Edfords Care Farm in 2014 but, having outgrown their current site, needed space to expand.
It means the farm can increase the number of vulnerable people it works with, including those with special educational needs (SEN) and mental health conditions, who are taught traditional livestock and horticulture techniques as a form of "green space therapy".
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Mr Howes said: "We're very excited to succeed in our application for a Norfolk County Farm. The county farms team clearly have a passion for care farming and share our vision of what people can achieve given the right environment and the support to succeed.
"Once relocated we will be able to offer opportunities for our co-workers to learn skills in livestock management, horticulture, conservation farming as well as specific trades like butchery.
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"Over the years our work with our co-workers has grown from those in residential care to school groups, charity groups, young people leaving care and now also into an SEN Farm School, we're looking forward to expanding this even more at Upper Wood Farm."
Meanwhile, at nearby Paston Farm, also on the Mautby estate, the successful applicants were 32-year-old Jonathan Green, who previously worked for an agricultural contracting firm, and Caitlin Clarke, 27, who trained as a solicitor before changing careers.
The couple have two-year-old twin daughters, and currently rear cattle and sheep on five acres of farmland near Mautby, but Paston Farm allows them to add pigs to meet demand for pork from their existing customers. They also propose to create a cold store there.
Ms Clarke said: "We don't come from farming backgrounds but, having made a success of our small agricultural business, we jumped at the opportunity to apply for a council farm just down the road.
"Paston Farm will allow our business to expand with a secure base, meaning an exciting future for ourselves, our twin daughters and our local community."
Joe Rabicano, 18, applied for the bareland holding at Ashcroft Farm on the Southery estate while taking his A-levels. He is also not from a farming background, but started his own business two years ago with a small flock of sheep, alongside contract grass-cutting and paddock maintenance.
He plans to use the land to expand his sheep business and to diversify into arable and horticultural cropping.
"I am delighted to be selected as a new tenant, and I'm incredibly grateful to the County Farms team and selection panel," he said. "The application process was time-consuming but worth it, and I would recommend anyone who is interested gives it a go, regardless of age."
Potential tenants were required to submit a detailed business plan to cover the first three years of their proposed business, and shortlisted candidates were then interviewed by a panel of council officers, councillors and external experts. The new tenants will begin their lets in October.
Greg Peck, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for commercial services and asset management, said: "The new tenants have very different backgrounds and levels of experience, which shows that our County Farms estate presents opportunities for a wide range of people.
"We are very pleased to be adding a third care farm to the County Farms estate. Promoting care farming is a significant objective for the county council both in terms of supporting people to live independently and encouraging diversification within the estate."