Food & Farming blog: A fond farewell; a warm welcome

John ChannonJohn Channon is Estate Manager at Dartington. His Food & Farming blogs provide updates and insight into how Dartington uses its land to meet our commitments to community projects and sustainable farming.

John joined Dartington in 2009, having previously spent over 20 years working with the National Trust as a Property Manager in Devon. He holds a wealth of experience in the practical implementation of land based initiatives. More blogs from John

A great deal has happened since I wrote my last blog in the middle of August!

I had hoped to be in a position by now to be able to announce who our new farm tenant was, but this process is taking much longer than we had anticipated.

We are still in active discussions with a number of other parties who have expressed an interest and remain hopeful that we can come to a satisfactory arrangement with one of them as soon as possible.

Cow # 2257In the meantime, both the estate and Ian Forbes have been working towards his retirement on the 1st October. Ian held his farm sale last week, during which both the milking herd and the majority of his machinery were auctioned off. He will, however, be keeping around 160 of his young stock on the site for a little while longer.

Ian has been the tenant of Old Parsonage Farm for over 30 years and has seen many changes both on the farm and on the estate over the years. During that time, he has agreed to numerous requests for use of his fields, ranging from the mundane (car parking), to the rather more unusual, such as the installation of temporary sculptures by the river.

He has always been flexible and helpful and has used his expert knowledge of the farm to guide us when we have contemplated any land-based activities.

Sue and Ian will be leaving the farm shortly for Somerset and although I know that I and my colleagues will miss them, we wish them both all the very best for their retirement.

So far, I am aware that this blog has been slightly gloomy, so perhaps now is the right time to introduce some good news!

I am pleased to be able to report that following the success of a funding bid to the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, we have been able to employ a Community Resilience (Food and Farming) Manager for three years.

Harriet Bell, who started with us on the 2nd September, was the Marketing and Events co-ordinator for West Town Farm – an organic mixed farm enterprise on the outskirts of Exeter. Prior to that she worked for 10:10 , an organisation that encourages schools and businesses ( amongst others ), to cut carbon emissions by 10% in a year.

Her new role will closely align with the objectives of our new strategy – particularly in the area of Food and Farming, where we intend to explore new ways to feed ourselves sustainably. In particular, Harriet will be focussing on:

• Pioneering farming approaches through working with our new farm tenant to develop a low-impact dairy model that is commercially and ecologically sustainable
• Providing land-based learning by working with Schumacher College, regional universities and colleges, local schools and our tenants.
• Delivering a financially sustainable food and farming programme at Dartington
• Encouraging the local food economy and promoting healthier food cultures.

I will leave Harriet to tell you more:

Harriet BellHarriet Bell: “What is a Community Resilience (Food & Farming) Manager?

I’ve been fielding this question since I interviewed for the job in July and I’ve been asked almost daily since I started my job here at the beginning of September. I still don’t have a complete answer, but I’m just cracking on with projects that seem to take food and farming on the estate forward in the most sustainable way.

The obvious first step was to unearth what food is being produced on the Dartington Estate and what’s being consumed, whilst getting to know the communities involved.

Pigs behinf wireJust trying to get to the bottom of this meant I worked a full month here before having to spend an entire day sat at my desk; instead I could be found exploring the estate in a perpetual rapture of joy and wonder. Did you know peppercorns are grown here?

Not just peppercorns either, but amazing oyster mushrooms, Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs and a co-operative of squash.

We’ve yet to decide on a new farm tenant but in the meantime there’s an urban farm HQ, two CSAs, salad, a secret garden I still can’t get into for herbs and flowers, a new entrant into farming who is planning on sheep and possibly some lovely Galloway cows, three orchards, an agroforestry research site, allotments, bees, Schumacher’s garden of delights and that’s before you’ve even tapped into the hedgerows and a woodland which is apparently prolific in wild garlic!

At Schumacher, veg from the garden is directly transferred to the plate but it’s been brilliant to learn that, since the White Hart gained a new Head Chef this year, their aim has been to source the ingredients for the main menu, from within 10 miles of the estate.

The Shops at Dartington also have a local sourcing policy and aim to give quality local producers an outlet to market, as they believe that Devon’s produce is of exceptional quality and ought to be celebrated.

Naturally there is still lots of be done as we compose our new Food & Farming strategy and identify a main new farm tenant, as well as invite applications for smaller scale projects, but it’s going to be brilliant to work with such a diverse community of food and farming enthusiasts.”

John & Harriet



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