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This guest blog was written by Phil Moore, who is one half of the ELC communications team. He tweets at @ecolandcoop
Growing good food is vital for the health of our soil, ourselves and our communities. Accessing land to get growing can be hard however, and many, wanting to get on the land face a number of obstacles on the path to growing.
The practical need to till the soil is part of our history; as is the centuries old struggle between those who control the land and those wishing to use it.
The Ecological Land Co-operative (ELC) was set up to address the lack of affordable sites for ecological land-based livelihoods. The only organisation in England to offer affordable, residential smallholdings to new entrants to ecological agriculture the ELC is seeking investment to raise funds for the development of two new clusters of small farms.
Gerrard Winstanley in 1649 led common people in protest demanding their birthright ‘to dig’ and provide for themselves. The simple act of growing your own was deemed radical. Echoes of this are seen today in the work of artist-activist Ron Finely who, living in the ultra-urban South Central, Los Angeles creating gardening projects and pockets of resistance to the “food deserts” quipped: “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”
Over 80% of the population of England and Wales live in urban areas. The trend towards urbanisation continues the world over. However, there are many who wish to pursue land-based livelihoods whether on the fringes of the city, in the green spaces between busy roads or out in the open countryside.
The average age of today’s farmer is 59. And farming has become increasingly unaffordable despite the desire of many to get on the land and grow. And as a nation we rely heavily on food imports. Just over half of the food we ate in 2016 was produced in the United Kingdom (compared to almost 80% in 1984). What does this mean for how we feed ourselves, our future farmers and how we manage land?
The ELC seeks to address a range of complex and deep-rooted social and environmental challenges in a uniquely simple, pragmatic way: by removing barriers to land access for sustainable uses. And the key barriers are high land (and housing) prices and planning consent.
The ELC works to solve these issues by owning the freehold of each smallholding in order to protect it for agricultural use and keep it affordable. Buying larger sites helping to reduce the cost per acre, the ELC distributes the cost of infrastructure, planning applications and ecological site monitoring across the smallholdings thereby spreading the overall cost. Smallholders are encouraged to work together and offer mutual support.
The smallholdings cluster model began with their first project in Greenham, Devon. Based on the successes of their first site the ELC raised further funds to purchase and begin the development of a second cluster of smallholdings in Arlington, East Sussex. And now they’re looking for support with the creation of two more clusters of small farms.
Their 2017 community share offer is seeking to raise up to £340,000 in withdrawable shares for the development of two more clusters of small farms. Working with Ethex, an ethical investment platform, investors are offered 3% in interest on share capital annually. And anyone can invest. The minimum investment is £500. Community Shares allow people to directly support enterprises that matter to them. This type of investment isn’t simply a charitable cause but a business-minded approach that seeks funding and support from the people rather than the banks.
Common to us all yet not universally accessible the ELC work to get new entrants into agriculture. Armed with fresh ideas and enthusiasm, ecologically-minded and forward-thinking the ELC supports beginner farmers to help shape the future of how we farm and feed ourselves.
To find out more and to invest please visit: http://ethex.org.uk/ecologicalland