New centre on Devon farm will boost rural economy

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Farm club at Huxhams Cross Farm

The Apricot Centre CIC at Huxhams Cross Farm in Dartington, Devon has launched a centre, also called the Apricot Centre, to support the rural economy.

The new Centre offers seasonal fruit and vegetables, eggs, flour and wheat grain in addition to farm produce processing, vocational training in sustainable farming, and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for children and young people.

Local supporters and community shareholders purchased the land for Huxhams Cross Farm in 2015 through a not-for-profit community share offer organised by the Biodynamic Land Trust.

“The Apricot Centre fulfils our vision of connecting land and people, delivers the Government’s ‘public goods’, and establishes Huxhams Cross Farm as a beacon of sustainability,” said Gabriel Kaye, Biodynamic Land Trust Director, at the launch event in September. “The land was bare when the Apricot Centre CIC team started farming in late-2015. Due to regenerative agriculture, the soil is regaining fertility and providing fresh local food. With to the new centre now completed, the farm fulfils the Trust’s mission to connect communities to land, support land-based education, create rural jobs and improve countryside economies, and provide fresh and healthy food to locals.”

The working farm delivers 50 veg boxes a week, runs a weekly stall at Totnes market and supplies local restaurants and retailers. The Apricot Centre CIC farmers along with farm apprentices and volunteers, have planted 4,000 fruit trees, and produce biodynamic eggs and vegetables. Using permaculture methods, the farm’s water and energy use is designed for maximum sustainability.

By planting trees along the contours of the hill, the farm will help reduce flooding in the low-lying village of Week. Coppicing will also provide wood for heating the new Centre. Huxhams Cross farm has also sown five acres of heritage Population Wheat and harvested its second crop – the first time wheat has grown in Dartington since the 1940s.

The Apricot Centre CIC team has over 20 years’ experience of permaculture methods and biodynamic farming, as well as working therapeutically with families. By offering mental health services on a farm, clients benefit from the proven benefits of being in nature.

Squash outside the Apricot Centre

Huxhams Cross Farm is the third farm that Apricot Centre CIC co-director, biodynamic farmer and permaculture teacher, Marina O’Connell, has started from scratch. She started School Farm at Dartington Estate in the 1990s, followed by a farm with wellbeing services in Essex.

“The soil at Huxhams Cross Farm is full of worms now and the birds have food. Once wildlife has a place to live, it arrives on the farm and ecology kicks in,” says Marina.

“When we had an attack of white cabbage caterpillars in the summer, the wasps ate the pests – that’s functional biodiversity. We need to create resilient, low-carbon farms that produce a lot of food and support wildlife. But there is no magic pot, so farms have to be financially viable too – that’s where our new Centre comes in.”

Founded in 2011, the Stroud-based charity Biodynamic Land Trust has financed land for four farms around the UK including Huxhams Cross Farm, tenanted with farmers producing local food while capturing carbon to reduce climate change.

The Biodynamic Land Trust’s mission is: to de-commodify farmland, to secure access for entrant farmers and to protect it for future generations from the pressures of agro-industry and land-price bubbles; to apply biodynamic ecological farmland management as one of the highest quality systems for soil sustainability for long-term farming, food security and health of people and planet; and to foster community activity around and on land to build employment, well-being and the rural economy.

The centre was built by Totnes-based natural builders Terra Perma, which has adopted the Apricot Centre as its Charity of the Year.