Josh and Abi Heyneke
BLUEBERRIES, COMPOSTING EARTHWORMS, WORM CASTINGS, WALES: Josh and his partner Abi have a small mixed regenerative farm in South West Wales where they run various experimental enterprises. Until recently Josh and Abi had over 500 free-range ducks and were the UK's only organic certified duck egg producer. But they were forced to close their table egg enterprise in March 2023 after learning that their ducks were carrying salmonella - despite being in good health. However, they’ve retained a small flock of ducks – rare-breed Khaki Campbells, Dark Campbells and Welsh Harlequins - to preserve their genetics.
Now the couple’s main focus is their herd of red wiggler composting worms, which they sell online to people wanting to set up their own wormeries. Worm populations have declined significantly in the UK over the last 20 years due to ploughing and the extensive use of fertilisers and pesticides, so Josh and Abi have made it their mission to encourage more people to help regenerate earthworm populations in the UK.
Another product Josh and Abi are selling is worm castings (worm manure). They discovered the power of earthworms while trying to figure out the most efficient way to process large volumes of duck manure. Instead of mechanically turning piles, as is common in the composting industry, they employ the help of roughly one million worms to do the work for them. The worms transform the duck manure into worm castings which they sell online via Abel & Cole as a high-quality organic bio fertiliser.
The couple are also experimenting with growing various fruits in a silvopasture system, which means livestock (mainly poultry) will graze beneath the trees or bushes. Their first crop is organic-certified blueberries on a one-acre (0.4-hectare) patch, which they sell to a local family run distributor in West Wales. The farm is just one of a handful in the UK growing blueberries organically.
Since starting their farming journey in 2016, Josh and Abi have been on a continuous journey of learning, their goal being to earn a living as regenerative organic farmers on just 10 acres of land. But balancing ecological and economical goals has proved challenging.
A South African with a Scottish mother, Josh moved to London where he met Abi; she was a graphic designer and illustrator and he worked in sales and project management. After 8 years in London they found themselves yearning for something different. Being fans of the outdoors, and nature, in 2015 they decided to sell their London flat, quit their jobs and become farmers.
Although Josh admits that his search for the 'good life' was somewhat naïve, it came from the perspective of being entrepreneurial and wanting to do something more meaningful with their lives, to have a more positive impact. "Health, wellness and diet were all reasons to leave London and we wanted to be involved in producing our own meat,” says Josh, who keeps a small flock of sheep. “I thought that if I am going to eat meat I should be able to raise that animal and kill it. We were nervous about the idea of butchering our own animals, but in practice it felt very natural."
For Josh, managing finances is the hardest aspect of farming. However he loves the autonomy, being outside, producing food, and working with the animals.
Josh finds the climate change conversation very challenging; while he appreciates there are problems he feels that meat is one of the most efficient and sustainable foods that farmers can produce in the UK because of its climate. However, he’s aware this doesn’t necessarily work in other parts of the world, with a different context.
Niche, high value farming is ideal for small-scale producers like Josh, and he appreciates that this type of production doesn’t work for everyone. That said, he is a big believer in mixed farming systems including livestock and vegetable production and feels that large-scale agriculture is going to have to change to be more sustainable and resilient, with lots of ideas out there for producers to try. He believes there is an opportunity for every farm, no matter what scale, to become more regenerative, and that our future depends on it.
Josh is also concerned that there is a huge disconnect between how people think their food is produced, and how it is actually produced. The industry is about to experience some significant disruption with the combined impact of climate change, Covid, and Brexit, and Josh feels that farmers need to be supported as much as possible. “The general public need to hear their point of view in a very crowded ‘noisy space’.”
Member of the Landworkers' Alliance
Featured on BBC Radio 4, Farmers Weekly, Organic Farming Magazine, ITV's Coast & Country and BBC Countryfile