Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm
The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm is home to Suffolk’s first community supported agriculture scheme, where members are involved in the production of vegetables, eggs, meat and cut flowers.
The primary focus is to produce food while reducing carbon emissions, sequestering soil carbon and creating a welcoming environment for wildlife.
The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm is 12 acres, (4.96 hectares), located in Rushmere St Andrew village, next to the built up area of Ipswich. When purchased, the soil was in extremely poor condition with just 2% organic matter, and they are committed to improving that.
Three acres are dedicated to vegetable production, with chickens and rare breed pigs between crops acting as a “pig plough” and adding fertility to the soil. Two acres are permaculture forest garden in development; the rest is pasture, some of which has fruit trees in rows. Two bullocks are kept outside year round; moving around the pasture in a “mob grazing” arrangement.
Being under the five hectare threshold means they receive no EU CAP subsidies and planning rules are more stringent than on larger farms. To compound this, a covenant on the purchase of the land also restricts any building on the land; standard practise for land sales close to towns due to the huge local housing pressures.
Joanne Mudhar bought the land in 2009 and in 2010 began a market garden on ¾ acre of the land, whilst seeding the rest of the land with soil-improving pasture.
With members of the Transition Ipswich Food group, she set up the CSA scheme of 24 shares in 2011.
The Oak Tree Farm is managed by the South Suffolk Low Carbon Food Community Interest Company (CIC). The CIC has three directors, who are also the growers on the land.
In 2015 the CSA will expand to 60 shares, as well as offering pork, egg, cut flower and beef shares. Each vegetable share member pays £8.50 per week and commits to working two hours per week during the summer and one hour per week during winter. Payment is either annually or monthly in advance by standing order, with a minimum membership of one year. Since the beginning, members have been asked to commit to working on the farm; an essential part of keeping the costs of the veg shares down.
Joanne purchased the land and equipment with combined personal savings and a loan. The CIC rents the land at below market rate. In 2013 the CIC received a £10,000 “Awards for All” grant from the Big Lottery Fund in recognition of the health and community benefits that the farm offers. In the same year, they were also awarded £20,000 by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation to support wages and enable expansion.
Two full time directors (also growers) each earn minimum wage on a self-employed basis, with additional part time and temporary help, on the same pay rate, when needed.
The long term financial viability of the farm is dependent on increasing revenue, in order to pay growers a living wage and pay a market rental for the land.
They continue to develop the forest garden and expand the cut flower operation. They are also planning a proper building on the farm with a commercial kitchen, rest areas and educational visitor centre. They are implementing the soil improvement methods of soil scientist Elaine Ingham and Joanne’s electronics engineer husband Richard has developed remote monitoring equipment, which proves useful as no one lives on the farm.
T: 07954 289 490