What is the social/environmental problem/issue that this project will address?
UK farming needs to change. It uses too much energy, exhausts the land, causes run-off and pollution and doesn't provide the basis of a healthy balanced diet for the UK population (which it should and could do). It's also responsible for the deterioration of the countryside. Large monocultural farms mean less wildlife and an impoverished landscape. They also mean fewer jobs and less vibrant rural communities.
At the same time people are suffering from more diet-related illnesses (obesity, diabetes, heart disease) and low-level mental illnesses (stress, anxiety, depression) than ever before. Many kids grow up with 'nature deficit disorder' and even adults who love their jobs suffer from being stuck indoors staring at screens and understand the value of getting ‘back to nature’.
These are two sides of the same epoch-defining problem – the industrial and technological revolutions of the last 200 years or so have made amazing things possible for humans, but they have also meant a fundamental alienation from everything else that lives and grows, which damages us and damages the whole biosphere.
The challenge we face is to keep the good stuff while creating new, healthier, happier ways of existing that are better integrated with the intricate ecologies we depend on. Agriculture is one of the main ways of interacting with the rest of life so that is an important place to start.
In a phrase, we all need more farming in our lives.
Can you give us some statistics on this problem?
Globally, at least 50% of all food (and by some estimates as much as 70%) is still produced by small scale family farms using traditional methods.
The average size of a farm in the UK is a bit over 130 acres, compared to a European average of just under 50 acres.
In the UK, there are nearly 10 times as many people employed in sales and marketing as there are in farming.
The UK imports over 40% of the food it consumes, though it also exports food as well. Many of the foods we import could be grown in the UK, contributing to food security and land-based livelihoods which would enable better care of the countryside and the environment.
What is your solution?
The idea behind Whippletree Farm is pretty simple. Five people who wanted to farm decided to take on these forty-two acres and run it in a similar way to a city warehouse project – developing complementary spaces and activities that create new vibrancy and unseen opportunities where there was gradual deterioration.
Conventional farming wisdom suggests that forty acres on the edge of Dartmoor, probably raising a few cattle, isn’t enough land for a single farmer to support themselves. We reckon we can make a good living for all five of us - and have a much more productive farm - by doing the opposite.
That means that as well as keeping cattle (which we'll keep doing a bit of), we've already started a market garden and bought our first pigs and goats. Eventually we plan to provide a wide range of all sorts of food, from fresh veg and handmade bread to goats cheese, honey and salami - as well as things you can't eat, from screen-printed duvet covers to hand-crafted rocking chairs - and even things you can't touch, from educational experiences to social care services.
If the plan works there’ll be far more of us working on the farm than there normally would be, so we can look after it in a far more detailed, intricate way, which is better for the land and better for us.
This is where you come in. We started selling veg to pubs and locals who live in and around the nearby villages last year, and had fantastic support, so we’re growing more this year, expanding our deliveries to other areas, and we’ll start selling other products besides fresh veg as well, while still all working part-time off the farm to get by.
If we can start to generate some income from people coming to stay at the farm, we can spend more time farming and developing more specialised products. By meeting interested people who come to the farm, we will also be starting to develop markets for those products, beyond the immediate area where we’ll be selling all our fresh produce.
How will you deliver this?
The majority of the rewards we are offering involve people coming to stay on the farm in July and August, though there are also other ways to get involved in the farm if you can’t visit.
A successful campaign will mean we can continue getting the camping field ready. We are installing water tanks, laying pipes, constructing compost toilets, creating a wash area and outdoor kitchen and preparing pitches - all in a lovely field that is slightly separated from the rest of the farm by a track, with views out over the valley and leading down into a secluded wooded area.
There are two different options for people coming to stay – you can pitch your own tent, or stay in a fully-furnished bell tent, complete with a comfy bed, duvet and lighting. The bell tents will have a double bed, with an additional single and space to add a further single (to be supplied by you).
Everyone who comes to stay will get a veg box when they arrive, and a help yourself breakfast every morning, including muesli, bread, eggs to cook how you like them and, crucially, proper coffee. We will be able to arrange additional local produce for you if you let us know in advance, and there is a great pub, The Bridford Inn, just a short walk down our track, which also stocks basic items in a small shop.
For those who want to support us, but can't come to stay this year, there are options to get a discount on future visits or to have some of the wonderful things we're already creating on the farm delivered direct to your door.
For the real enthusiasts there are options to book five future visits in one block, to join our pig club, The Half Hog, and get directly involved in raising a happy pig, or even to book a bespoke event here on the farm.
Whether you choose to come and stay this year, support us in other ways, or just to keep an interested eye on what we’re up to, we’ll start making other things possible as soon as we can –plans are afoot to plant soft fruit and start milking our three young goats next year, both of which we want people to be involved with from the start.
As the farm grows and changes over the years, all sorts of other things will become possible, and we invite you to get involved now and be a part of it.