There are many farm trusts, Fordhall Farm in Shropshire – the pioneer, Tablehurst and Plaw Hatch in East Sussex another example. These trusts have been created through people giving money or investing it for no return…
The fact that this happens at all is a very clear indication of how important many people consider the preservation of organic and biodynamic farming land. There are many different reasons for this. For example some people feel a desire for something that has what feel like a more old fashioned pace and values. Others are acutely aware of the harm that pesticides do to the environment and recognise how unsustainable our use of artificial fertilisers is for the future. Some people feel the being of the farm, a sense of place which is strong and harmonious and they want to protect that. For many the quality of our nutrition is as important as the quantity and they recognise in organic and biodynamic produce something a little bit more alive, distinct, nutritious. At Rush Farm we are in the governments Higher Level Stewardship scheme and we have met ecologists who love the fact that our organic / biodynamic methods give wildlife a chance and celebrate the huge increase in biodiversity that accompanies the farm’s conversion to our more environmentally friendly methods. The list is long but a key concern for a great number of people is that we should not tamper with nature too much and they are reassured by the way the organic and biodynamic movements reject genetic manipulation.
It is no wonder that farms attract support! However it is a sacrifice for people and there is a limit to how much people can afford to invest for no free and that sets a limit on the capacity of society to own farms in a way that is sustainable for the farm, for us and for our planet, in perpetuity.
Land is incredibly expensive in comparison to its rental return. For instance the 150 acres of Rush Farm are worth more than £800,000 and the commercial rent is £7,000 per year. In comparison, the £200,000 of annual income generated by the Business Park means that it is valued at £1.75 million. The rate of return for the land is 0.9% but for the commercial property it is 11.4% – fourteen times higher! Perhaps the best way of understanding this is that old adage “land – they aren’t making any more!” Throughout the recession of the last years the value of land has risen and risen and risen. As incomes fall and land prices rise protecting of sustainable farming and farmland through bringing land into trusts becomes even more challenging than it was before.
One of the key intentions of the Stockwood Community Benefit Society is to break this vicious-circle and model a way of owning land that is financially sustainable as well environmentally sustainable. By connecting the land to a commercial property that generates a steady income and paying a return that is modest but appropriate we open up a new way for supporters of sustainable agriculture to pro-actively change the world the way they want to see it change.