There are many benefits to growing your own and in a world of uncertainty one thing is certain, you are going to need to eat.
Forget the worries about food security, your cabbages and carrots will be secure as long as we can battle the army of slugs and other beasties who want to eat them. Then if we have guinea fowl and chickens even these are a great source of protein for our feathered friends.
There is nothing like fresh food and the money that can be saved by growing your own and being able to pick it fresh from the patch is priceless. I do have the crazy image of the Member with the impromptu dinner guests who comes hareing it down here to pick the veg for the meal! You can't get fresher than that! Also, if it is stored on the plant it frees up space in your own home.
Come harvest time when the weather is going to get inclement and the patches need clearing then that is the time for everyone to stock their freezers for winter. What an added bonus to be able to prepare the vegetables here and to be able to give the pigs that live here their Harvest Feast.
Aside from the financial benefits (try adding up how much you spend in the supermarkets each week and take that off of your monthly Membership Fee!) there is also the social benefit. We are taking this into consideration and we have a caravan which can be moved onto the pot for tea and coffee.
We have a good selection of books and equipment for craftwork and other activities. We are setting up an old static caravan as a library. We can add to the books and hopefully through Charity Shops and Donations this will become an ever growing resource as the Members take on new and exciting projects.
When you grow your own you are guaranteed a good food standard. With food standards falling as prices rise you will be pretty much immune to this. You have the greatest accountability, you can see it grown and make sure that what you see is what you get.
When it comes to projects such as building a polytunnel, polycrub (HF I 108, p18) or cloches (good article in Home Farmer Issue 108 March 2017 p 10 about Scaffold Netting Cloche) then it would be expected that Members lend a hand. If you can't help physically then help with making tea if you would like to be there socially would no doubt be much appreciated.
It would be lovely to set up a SEED BANK here. I would like to buy our seed from the Real Seed Company, especially for the Heritage Vegetable Project on the Living History side of the site. Of course there are some other good seed producers out there and we have the freedom to buy from whomever we like. I would suggest that we don't buy any f1s though so all seed can be harvested for year two. Hopefully by year three we should be totally self sufficient for the seed which can be harvested and possibly able to supply other growers or swap for interesting seed we would like to try out.
As chickens are a good source of eggs and possibly meat I am sure that the Members will want to keep chickens on the land. We have had to leave our aviaries behind at the old house so everything will have to be built from scratch. We did try out a number of coops and some of the designs left a lot to be desired when it came to cleaning out and a bad back! We will have a choice, we can make our own or we can buy in but I would suggest a degree of research before anything is purchased. The best design I have seen is actually just a shed with the nesting boxes inside. It is easy to clean out which has to be done regularly and it is easy to reach up and wipe the roosting poles. Anyone can manage to pick up the eggs and you will be doing in the shelter of a shed. The birds of course can go outside and forage as much as they like through pop holes. As we are off grid you will have the option of either coming to shut and open the pop holes every day or it could be possible to look into getting solar powered auto openers. These are good but if you have a chicken who decides to roost somewhere else you may well lose her. The next door neighbour has a pet fox and there are other foxes around so we will have to be careful. One solution we found was to build an aviary around the chicken coop. If there is a day that you can't manage to let the birds out or in you can let them have a day in the aviary. They are safe and they can go to bed and get up when they want to. Of course this would have to be rat proofed but with weld mesh underneath this would not be a problem.
However, there is nothing more satisfying than being needed to put the birds away, to watch them go in and shut the door and to know they are safe and in the morning to see them rush out for their day foraging.
Guinea Fowl are a bit more wild but if tamed from a young age they can live free range. The bonus of keeping them is that they live on bugs not vegetables so they will remove any bugs on the vegetables.
Six acres is not a lot when it comes to keeping animals. If the whole six acres were used you could keep five sheep, four goats, three Alpacasand almost a Dexter Cow.
The smallholding is likely to comprise vegetables, pigs and poultry. We keep goats so in exchange for helping with them e.g. milking there will be goat milk available when it is available. If you want to raise a wether boy goat for meat or as a harness goat this is also possible.
We have bought four gilts (female pigs) and we chose Welsh White as they are rare breed and Welsh. We will be able to provide weaners every year which can then move onto the shared smallholding for raising.
The goats love to have a lot of grazing so rather than coop them up on the shared holding we are happy for those on the holding to milk our goats so that they can keep their freedom. In exchange for this we will need help with hoof trimming and dosing when we need it. This can be fun and we will make a social event out of it.
To provide the eggs the holding will have to raise sufficient chickens to provide the eggs for the families. Any extra eggs can be sold to add to the Community Fund or to be shared between the members. We have an incubator and we would ask one family to take this home to do the incubating. That family will have the joy of seeing the birds hatched. They can then return to the holding to grow up.
If there are enough children involved then it may be possible to set aside a small area for pet animals e.g. guinea pigs, rabbits etc. These must be looked after by the members and having this area must be with total agreement from everyone. We could include a couple of male goats in this area if it is set up.
This is an old tradition and one that the members may decide to take up. Goats can be trained to pull little carts. We have a cart and we have three boy goats who could be trained to pull it. It may also be possible to set up goat racing with each goat having a set of trainers for an annual "race" to the food.
We have 11 Llanwenog sheep to start and we are taking bookings for their fleeces now. This is not connected to the Shared Smallholding but it may be that Members would like to book a fleece as well and produce something from it.
Fleece Fest is the annual gathering we are trying to set up where those who have booked a fleece can come and have a couple of days to meet their sheep, see her shorn and pick up their fleece. It is also a social event as it is a chance to share ideas and make new friends who are like minded people.
At this time we are also proposing an Annual Goat Race. There is nothing cruel about this or exploitative which has been mentioned about other races. The goats love to run for their food so we will be training a few of them to run from A to B with a good food reward at the end of their race. It will be a dragster style race down the field so a straight race from letting them go to their noses getting into the feed bowl.
There is a possibility of growing flowers on the holding so that Members can have fresh bouquets for their houses, for gifts and to sell.
There is a good article on Flowers in Home Farmer Issue 112 July 2017 page 20.
The first families and individuals to sign up will of course have the right to decide where everything goes. We have been looking at John Seymour's book and that has a great layout but that is optional of course. Memberships are for a family so it is possible to bring a few members with you to help out.
The unavoidable monster of the modern world or a safety net? If we aren't doing anything wrong we don't have to worry and it will protect us against those who are not so careful. But, we will have to be careful which I am sure we all want to be as we are the ones who have to eat the food as well as sell it!
Hygiene rules are important and I am sure you'll agree with us on that one. If we are going to be a business i.e. sell excess produce and produce things to sell then we are going to have to comply with a fair bit of red tape. But, better to do it as a collective than for each individual person to have to get the paperwork and pay the fees. I have seen a quote for three hundred pounds for a food hygiene inspection and that is per year.
Similarly with being Organic/Chemical Free. As a collective we can "go for" the Organic status. I've always avoided it before because of the extortionate fees for getting that standard in the first place.