Since kicking off the GREAT New Farmers Network last summer, we've been learning from new entrants about their needs, and working with others across the county and beyond to support them….
The new GREAT New Farmers Network is a GREAT Project initiative funded by Thirty Percy that is providing proactive and practical support for new farmers, growers and advisors taking their 1st and 2nd steps (and even 3rd steps!) in agroecology and regenerative agriculture across Gloucestershire.
GREAT Project partners FarmED, Ruralink, and FWAG SW have been working together to help build this new network for the county. We have been busy with a range of activity including:
mapping new entrant activity across the wider agroecological sector
connecting people to opportunities (jobs, access to land, funding tips and more)
designing and holding events based on new entrant needs
building the network
collating and sharing useful information
signposting to subsidised training
providing one-to-one support
creating a Zerodig site at The Royal Agricultural University
A brief review of these activities follows, to explore the range of opportunities delivered to GREAT's network of farmers, growers, new entrants and other key audiences.
Mapping new entrant activity Scoping new entrant activity, stakeholders and key audiences at national, regional and local level, has enabled us to both identify opportunities to signpost to and find existing projects to collaborate on. One being the hot topic of land-matching. Landmatching Our capacity in the GREAT New Farmers Network has been to loosely connect landseekers with those with land to share. We’ve successfully connected graziers to land, and attracted candidates for various opportunities. But it is clear that if there was a dedicated team of advisers, with professional legal and financial guidance at its fingertips to help people build the foundations for new land partnerships then this work could be even more effective. This work has given us knowledge to share with the wider agroecological community trailing and testing similar things. For example, Landworkers Alliance and Shared Assets who are running part of the UK Government’s New Entrants Support Scheme, are supporting pilots around land-matching through Tamar Grow Local and Bristol Food Producers. The time allocated to us through the GREAT Project has enabled us to be connected to a wider group of organisations who have been actively looking at how we might build on our experiences as a movement, and the potential ways forward for a long-called for national land-matching scheme. Importantly however, all of this follows the important land-matching pilot led by Alison Rickett (Freshstart) and funded by Princes Countryside Fund in 2016. This pilot showed that human support is absolutely necessary alongside something akin to a land-matching app. This is because business partnerships are complex and nuanced, and in the words of Alison, “humans will be humans.” It’s not as simple as just matching land with a person wanting it. Values, long-term goals, skill sets, and aspirations need to align, and this is unlikely to happen over an app connection, an email or just one meeting. Our efforts through GREAT New Farmers Network would mirror these findings. Our experience also tells us that more often than not there IS land to share but we have found that there are: 1) not the skill sets to suit the opportunity 2) a new entrant is lacking access to capital 3) the person/s with land to share does not have the knowledge about various business entities that can be adopted to create good land partnerships As one response, GREAT partner, FarmED developed an event in October 2022 all about Joint Ventures & Enterprise Stacking. It looked at various models being adopted around the UK such as Stream Farm, FarmED and Conygree Farm. It featured Alison presenting her recommended 5-step plan for anyone looking to create long and long-lasting land partnerships, as well as Tom Heathcote, Head of Agri-Consultancy at Knight Frank, discussing the various business entities that can support joint ventures and providing expert legal and financial advice. This is due to run again on October 19th 2023 and will feature Tim May, talking about his work with new entrants and enterprise development on the Kingsclere Estate. Click here for more information.
The need for improved skills and training in the sector
The work we’ve done in this area has also thrown up the clear need for more training and skills in the sector, and for pathways into agroecology to be mapped and made clearer to new entrants. Whether this be accessing jobs or access to land, the space can be confusing. LWA is currently working on a project that looks at career mapping, to which we have been able to contribute as part of this work.
In response to the need to build more rural skills, GREAT partners FarmED and Dr. David Bozward have developed a course (subsidised by the GREAT Project) called Rural Enterprise for Beginners which was held this April and due to run again in the autumn.
The GREAT project has also been developing a number of case studies due for release in the coming months, including the new entrant journey of Matt and Laura at Sandy Hill Farm (aka The Sandy Hill Mob) in Gloucestershire. Watch this space - video coming soon!
We also continue to signpost funding opportunities to the network as well as subsidise regenerative and agroecological training through GREAT partners to help build skills and knowledge for those working, living and/or studying in Gloucestershire.
Bridging the gaps in training and education across the agroecological sector
Because of the time allowed to us through the GREAT Project we have also discovered a deep and active network of individuals and organisations including mentors, facilitators, advisers, trainers, academics, centres of learning and demonstration committed to this task. This network is working hard to deliver a diverse range of accredited and non-accredited courses (spanning level 3 to level 7), practical training courses, on farm demonstrations, inspiring knowledge sharing events and formal apprenticeships. Together we have recognised that this offer is uncoordinated and lacking reach. The network is disparate, and there are gaps and overlaps. To deepen and speed the transition we have agreed to come together and collaborate, to bring synergy and connection.
Thanks to the excellent facilitation and dedication from Hatty at Landworkers Alliance, FarmED, The Apricot Centre and others have been helping to build something akin to an 'Agroecological Knowledge Collective’ nicknamed THE Fed for now! It’s a new network of agroecological trainers, mentors, advisors, centres of learning and demonstration farms that work together to share and deliver the skills and knowledge needed for a regenerative future. There is a lot to do. Our current long list (not prioritised) includes:
Mapping and Insight
Promotion and Signposting
Coordination and Collaboration
Support/Train The Trainer
Develop and hold a Level 7 (MSc/MBA) in Leadership in Agroecology
Key activities to date include:
The LWA brought a range of stakeholders (including FarmED, Schumacher College, Biodynamic Association, Apricot Centre, Black Mountains College) together in 2021 and again in 2022 to start mapping the sector and current course/training provision. This stimulated a conversation around deeper collaboration.
Similarly, but separately in 2021, Colin and Ruth Tudge, instigated an immersive workshop at 42 Acres to explore the role of the Real Farming College and future knowledge opportunities. Present were Real Farming Trust, FarmED, Schumacher College, Coventry University CAWR, Black Mountain College, FWAG, RAU and LWA. We reconvened at ORFC in Jan 2023 and recommitted to developing a knowledge college, collective, federation or cooperative.
There are many other stakeholders who weren’t in either conversation, who are asking similar questions and have complimentary aims. We have approached many of them, and there is a real enthusiasm to come together.
By the end of this year we hope to consult and engage the full breadth of agroecological knowledge providers about the concept and proposed governance structure so that by 2024 a serious fundraising effort can be actioned. We know that resources must be secured to form a new, inclusive and independent entity (or formal project within a partner organisation) with a brand, website and comms channel and the means to coordinate and manage core activities.
Beyond Skills… The agroecological sector is also well aware of the lack of affordable housing in many rural areas and the issue of low wages in farming and growing which pose two additional barriers for new entrants . Whilst these systemic factors cannot all be solved by a handful of organisations, they need to be acknowledged as part of the picture so that any responses can be tailored accordingly. This could be landowners trying to create affordable housing solutions on their land, raising the money for properly paid internships (as was achieved at FarmED), contributing other assets such as equipment (polytunnels), or offering cheaper rents or infrastructure as part of a joint venture negotiation. You can see some examples of how land-sharers are structuring their offers on our opportunities board here Creating joint ventures, enterprise stacking on-farm and land-matching are complex spaces to work in and need to be looked at holistically by the sector. We’re very happy to share our learnings with anyone that would like to help make strides in these areas.
Zerodig at the Royal Agricultural University FWAG SW, ZeroDig Earth, the Royal Agricultural University and FarmED are collaborating to deliver a ZeroDig horticulture project at the 7.5 acre College field in close proximity to the Royal Agricultural University’s campus in Cirencester. This project will deliver the ZeroDig model at scale, exploring how these fascinating approach to horticulture – with its benefits for soil health and biodiversity – can be adapted to a large field areas. There are, however, also a plethora of opportunities for engaging people in agroecological learning, as well as shaping solutions for local food security and supporting wildlife habitats. We are in close contact with the Royal Agricultural University’s community of academic staff and students, as well as regular volunteers, and have taken several direct steps to begin this process of converting the current field to a ZeroDig model. We have a detailed site plan in place, have marked out the growing beds and locations of site infrastructure. An arrangement to harvest rainwater from RAU buildings in close proximity to the field is also being finalised. We’ve planted a mixed hedgerow for wind protection, and to support local wildlife, along the entire length of the field, and have sowed a crop of Rye throughout the lower half of the field, as a green manure. Large quantities of ramial woodchip have also been generated by restoration work at the nearby Bathurst Estate Woodlands, where volunteers are improving habitats for the declining Pearl bordered Fritillary butterfly. This woodchip will form the basis for our growing areas, and we have a fantastic blend of young Silver birch, Hawthorn and Hazel spreading throughout the field, to support the below ground ecosystem and boost soil health. Students are already very engaged in the project, and we are running a series of additional knowledge sharing and update sessions, as well as an active WhatsApp group to ensure ongoing activity. An application to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation has also been submitted, to fund the project management and growing role requirements for this new project, which if successful will enable recruitment to start and increase activity on the ground for this project. There will be lots of updates to follow as momentum builds further, and look forward to sharing our stories about this amazing opportunity to offer agroecological learning at scale.
Building the GREAT New Farmers Network Alongside mapping the sector we’ve been steadily building a supportive and diverse network of aspiring new entrants interested in regenerative environment and agriculture transition. We've also involved those that would like to connect with this group; landowners and land managers offering jobs, access to land, or connections with other organisations supporting agroecology and regenerative farming. As well as connecting with each other, it’s been important to us to find ways to learn what new entrants need through a variety of touchpoints. These have included informal meet ups (including two GREAT New Farmers Socials January and May 22), GREAT Project subsidised events, numerous farm walks including a tour of Zerodig Earth in Stroud, and through our presence at events such as ORFC, Groundswell and LWA Land Skills Fair. We have also met a fair number of new entrants through Emergent Generation, a new network of young people empowered to build farming & food systems that nourish people and regenerate the planet. A new ecosystem that FarmED has helped to build. This group has included new entrants with connections to the NFU and NFYFC. These groups have helped to guide what courses and activities we prioritise to help with immediate need. GREAT New Farmers Network - additional support Through the above work we identified that the following activity was useful to new entrants taking their 1st, 2nd and even 3rd steps on their agroecological and regenerative journey. - Information, Guidance & Advice Collated resources that we’ve compiled and presented on a GREAT Project webpage. - FREE 1-1 support We have developed a framework for supporting new entrants that have a rough idea of how they see their agroecological and regenerative journey panning out, with one-to-one support. There is still help on offer for those that might like to try this out! The idea being that we aim to develop an understanding of an individuals needs (whether this be career coaching, business planning & development, tenancy applications etc) so that we can support people to existing resources, or so we can develop new ones:
USEFUL INFORMATION: public info, organisations, networks, communities
PRACTICAL GUIDANCE: training / courses, funding opportunities, example contracts
FURTHER ADVICE: mentors and finding legal advice
CONNECTION & NETWORKING: make direct introductions where appropriate to stimulate access to land, bespoke events, online communication channel
We don’t suggest that we’ll have all the answers right away, but with our networks combined, we have been working to find the support people need. Hear about Miriam’s experience here. - Opportunities (jobs, access to land, funding tips and more) As mentioned above, we have been loosely connecting people across the County (and a bit beyond the border) to opportunities to form joint ventures, share land, take up grazing contracts, funding and all sorts of jobs. This has been very well received activity that has given both us and the wider sector more first-hand experience about the land-matching process. We have been posting these on an opportunity board and using social media and our newsletter to publicise a variety of opportunities.
What’s next? We’re very excited to be leading a study tour from Gloucestershire to Groundswell this coming June. This booked out in just a couple of weeks, but we’ll be sure to report back with our findings after the event. Keep an eye out for the 2nd Rural Enterprise for Beginners and Joint Ventures and Enterprise event days in the autumn, and of course, the full suite of GREAT subsidised training here. Project Manager Becky (FarmED) says; ‘As I head off on maternity leave I am proud of the network that we’ve started to grow for the county and look forward to being a continued part of it into the future.’