Thursday, 6 June 2013

A new chapter at Saddlescombe Farm

We have some news....we are moving to Sussex in September to take on the National Trust tenancy at Saddlescombe Farm. We are so excited. 180 hectares, a mixture of permanent pasture, temporary grass and arable, in the South Downs, 5 miles north of Brighton.  It is a whole new chapter for us and we are looking forward to sharing it with you all.

To say the last 4 months have been intense would be an understatement. Applying for a farm tenancy and being offered it, having a baby and then the hardest lambing season we've had yet due to toxoplasmosis and the weather, we will look back and smile, but not quite yet, it is still a bit raw.

We leave our first tenancy here with the Earth Trust in Oxfordshire who gave us the opportunity to get on the farming ladder through their initiative called Farmstep. 4 years down the track we've built up a successful direct marketing business where we sell all our lamb through farmers markets, private orders and a couple of local pubs and village shops.  We've made wonderful friends and have some lovely customers who we hope we will keep through our online shop!

The business model is not entirely transferrable but elements we have built up will be, such as our shepherd for the day experience. We hope to offer bed and breakfast with it too so guests can do the night slots during lambing should they so wish.  One significant element of our new business plan is having an Environmental Stewardship (ELS &HLS) agreement in place. So far it has been a steep learning curve of stewardship jargon, all the different FEP codes for a start which determine the condition of the fields. The permanent pasture was found to have some interesting species, so much of it can be restored through particular options. The option codes too have taken some getting used to but we think we are more or less fluent and can hold our own.

At the moment we know the farm only through codes and maps. We can't wait to get to know the fields for their individual quirks and name them.  It does feel strange making cropping decisions for a farm we don’t even know yet.

We've made contact with our new farming neighbours who are already proving invaluable with their local knowledge of the soil, climate and other contacts we will need. We will miss our neighbours here, you can't put a price on sharing local knowledge, experiences and grumbles.

But how do you move a farm? I have visions of our sheepdog Belle doing some fantastic manoeuvres down the M40 and our tractor causing the biggest traffic jam! 
More soon
Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Boris and Belle

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