PIGS & ARABLE, SOMERSET: Fred farms 380 acres (154 hectares) at the foot of the Quantock Hills in Somerset, growing cereals and pulses, and raising pork that grazes on herbal leys (a nourishing mix of grasses, herbs and clovers).
Fred was not raised on a farm in the countryside but in London. He took on the farm from his aunt in 2007. Initially he ran the farm on an industrial, commodity-based model, with yield and productivity the key objectives. But as he started to consider what really underpinned soil fertility on his farm, he switched from a production system that relied on synthetic chemicals to an agroecological one. Although the farm is not certified organic, Fred has not used any agrochemicals since 2019. The only thing he buys in are seeds.
Fred believes that resilience comes from a balanced system with healthy soils. Stock and crops can respond to pest, disease and climatic pressures - without massive fluctuations in yield. He’s achieved this by increasing his soil organic matter by an average four percent a year over five years – which is potentially equivalent to 40,000 tonnes of carbon sequestered per 247 acres (100 hectares).
Fred grows diverse ‘population’ and heritage cereals, along with pulses for pig feed. The crops are selected on the basis of their nutrition, genetic diversity and ability to thrive in an agroecological farming system. Some grain is sent for milling and sold to bakeries that belong to the South West Grain Network, a network (which Fred helped set up) of bakers, millers and farmers who are working towards an alternative non-commodity grain economy. The rest is milled on-site in the farm's New American stone mill, and turned into sourdough bread by Rosy Benson at her Field Bakery, also located on the farm.
In 2012 Fred introduced pigs so that as well as producing first-class meat their manure could be used to fertilise the crops. He now has 20 sows that are a hybrid of rare-breed Tamworth and Large Black crossed with Saddleback or Duroc. Their diet is 100 per cent homegrown. Between April and October they forage on herbal leys, supplemented by home-grown peas, barley, oats and wheat. In winter they forage on clovers, herbs and grasses which emerge naturally after arable crops have been harvested.
The sows produce around 300 pigs a year which are fattened for 8-10 months. Around a quarter are butchered on the farm, the rest sold to restaurants, bakeries, and a local charcuterie.
The farm also hosts beef cattle, belonging to farmers Sam Moore and Jess Doyle. The cows are 100 percent pasture fed, rotationally grazed on herbal leys year-round. Fred has also added a further strand to his business by letting out a holiday cottage through AirBnB.
Despite growing up in the city, Fred has been obsessive about farming for as long as he can remember. For him the best thing about running a farm is that every good decision is rewarded. On the flip side, every bad decision has implications. "The journey from an ego-centric approach, in which I sought to impose myself on the landscape, to a more reflective ecological approach has been a very productive transformation, both for me personally and the farm".
Developing an understanding of agroecology, and identifying with it, has been transformative for Fred both practically and psychologically. It’s been a process of “self discovery and self preservation”. He says he believes in exploring the productive grey areas between nature and farming, from which a “more beautiful, complex and diverse human-scale food system based on trust, relationships and community can emerge.” He describes his farm as “an altogether woollier and happier place for it”.
Member of the National Farmers Union (NFU). On Seed Sovereignty Advisory Board (GAIA Foundation)
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