CROCKHAM HILL, KENT
SMALLHOLDING, KENT: Maya is a first-generation farmer running a small organic farm with her husband Nico in Edenbridge, Kent. They keep seven Sussex and seven Gloucester cattle, the latter being one of Britain's rarest and oldest native breeds. In addition they manage a two-acre (0.8-hectare) market garden growing a range of vegetables in unheated poly tunnels, including salads and greens, herbs, tomatoes, and courgettes. All their produce is sold locally through shops, pubs and directly to local customers who hear about the produce through word of mouth.
In addition, the pair keep a small herd of Anglo-Nubian milking goats and are experimenting with cheesemaking. Maya hopes one day to produce and market cheese and milk as well as goat meat alongside their other products. Managing a range of small enterprises on the farm is challenging, but Maya believes diversity is important as the various elements complement each other, and provide different revenue streams.
Maya was drawn to producing food and selling it locally after working in sustainability in fresh produce buying for one of the big UK supermarkets. She believes strongly that healthy food produced in a way that does not exploit people, animals or the planet should be available to everyone. Her hope is that by selling direct to customers, she can connect them with their food and show them how it's been produced.
It's been quite a journey for Maya and Nico since founding Longcroft Farm in 2021, which they named after the ancient woodland at the heart of the farm. At the time Maya, who had a masters degree in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security from Newcastle University, was working in agricultural research and Nico was working as a farm manager in Ayrshire. Then an opportunity arose to start their own farming project in the South East where Maya is from. Buying a farm in this area outright was beyond their budget so the couple decided to start from scratch on a piece of land. They bought the 73-acre (30-hectare) holding in January 2021 and have since been busy developing it into a functional farm with two timber buildings, a farm track and yard, electricity and finally, a log cabin to live in.
The land was previously used to grow arable crops non-organically, so the couple's first task was to convert it to organic, and introduce permanent pasture on 32 acres (13 hectares) in the hope of improving soil health. Maya and Nico also planted around 450 fruit trees in alleys in the remaining arable field, to prevent soil erosion and promote biodiversity, as well as to further diversify their offering to customers. Fruit from the trees will be used for juicing, with the aim being to juice the fruit on the farm, pasteurise and bottle for local sales through the same outlets as the other produce.
Maya and Nico want Longcroft to be self-sustaining and avoid reliance on bought-in inputs. So the farm grows its own forage and feed for its animals, stubble and other fibrous waste is used for bedding, and all waste products are composted.
Maya still marvels at the miracle of planting a tiny seed, watching it grow, and then eating it. What does she enjoy least about farming? "Sending animals to slaughter," she says. "It doesn't get any less unpleasant as time goes by and nor should it."
"As we all know, energy and fertiliser prices have rocketed as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Happily, as a small organic farm we are more or less exempt from these kinds of global shocks. Our resilience is further strengthened by the fact that we are a mixed farm – so if something interferes with production in one area, there should still be something we can harvest. This resilience will also hopefully help in face of climate change. I believe small really is beautiful."
Member of the Land Workers' Alliance