Early Days at Bridie’s Farm
I arrived at Bridie’s Farm to meet Bon and Holly the day after their planning application for ‘A Food and Regenerative Farming Centre’ had been acknowledged by Somerset Council. Suddenly the gate was festooned with notices: the big welcome to Bridie’s Farm sign, the much smaller official planning notice (if you wish to make a comment please write to the Council at this address, etc), and a small but securely fixed sign saying Hello and explaining in three short paragraphs what’s going on: it’s a Town Deal project, now owned by the Red Brick Building Centre Ltd, held in trust for the community through the development of a community farm, and a learning, research and demonstration centre; focusing on food security, natural land management and flood resilient infrastructure. Holly appeared from the furthest of two static caravans, and waved; Bon arrived soon afterwards.
It’s early days at Bridie’s Farm. The land has been purchased though, and the two caravans are in place, to be used as a site office and a reception centre. They look incongruous – as well as being visible from the top of the Tor – and the sign makes clear that the ‘chalets’ will soon be cladded to give them a more appropriate wood cabin appearance. Re-imagining the Levels have planted a lengthy hedgerow by way of a screen along the border on Porchestal Drove, as well as a substantial area of trees. The first event of their own was on April 22nd: a fruit tree grafting workshop with Carsten Czelusta, who is based in Barton St David. Apple, pear and plum trees are now growing on Bridie’s Farm as well as the woodland trees already planted earlier. A modest but real start has been made.
More expansive plans are to follow, though the details are not yet set – these will be developed by focus groups, currently coming together for the herb garden and well-being centre, food growing, construction (initially of an architecturally very interesting barn, designed by the Steiner architect Steve Bradford), and education. The latter will be intended to encourage people to grow more food at home as well as on the farm, and generally to become “a happier, healthier and more connected community”. In the long term they aim to offer grass roots and mainstream qualifications in a community-led educational research centre. All this will be based on growing food using regenerative principles, enhancing the soil rather than depleting it, and recognising that the land is a habitat that we humans share with many other animals, birds, insects and other organisms.
Bridie’s Farm is already certified as organic, and the research and demonstration area will include examples of permaculture, no-dig growing, biodynamics and other forms of natural agriculture, as well as agro-forestry. Growing areas will be accessible to people with mobility issues and to wheel chair users. There will also be an extensive wetland area and summer park-land, cultivated with plants suitable for green manure – these will be used for compost production.
It is likely that one of the first projects to be established here will be a forest school. “It feels really good to have the children in here first” says Bon, “and to build from their presence”. Actual growing won’t begin until next September. From an outsider’s perspective things seem to be happening very slowly but, “We’ve been so tied up with timelines, funding applications and planning consent. Now that we’re here we need to listen to the Earth, to understand what needs to happen and where.” Most of the initial ideas have come through the community garden at the Red Brick Building, where for ten years people have been growing dreams as well as plants. Connection is a theme that runs through all this: connection between people growing food and the land, connections between new friends and old, connection between the people growing food and the ‘customers’ who eat it.
I was reminded that this spiritual aspect of growing food and feeding people, the sacredness of the Earth, came up quite consistently at the People’s Assembly at the Town Hall in March, but was barely mentioned at the follow-up meeting in the Council Chamber. “It’s the most important thing” said Bon. “I think a lot of people are nervous of mentioning it in case others think they are just being ‘woo woo’, but actually it’s so important, without it nothing else can happen. So I tend to take the opposite view, and I talk about it a lot”.
‘The static caravans, containers and newly planted trees are the first signs of activity on site, s we look forward to establishing our site offices, facilities and community volunteer hub. Passers by can also expect to see significant groundworks underway as Wessex Water undertake essential maintenance works, and as we establish growing areas. Many more trees and hedges will also be planted.’ As I walked past all the signs on my way out, a van pulled up outside the gate and a farmer stopped to find out what was going on – as he said, there’s plenty of talk about this new venture, and he’d come to find out for himself. His father, he said, had once farmed this piece of land. Holly fluently summed up their plans in a few sentences … “It’s going to be a community farm, but yes, a lot of it’s going to be about education.” She invited him to come back soon for a longer talk, so she could hear more about the history of these few fields.