Return To Fordhall FarmPosted on: 04 April 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
Michael Wale returns to Fordhall Farm that was saved by the public.
It definitely does not seem it, but it was two years ago this summer that Charlotte and Ben Hollins achieved what appeared until then, the impossible; the saving of Fordhall Farm.
A farm of 140 acres of pasture that had been farmed by their father who was the tenant before them. An organic island near Market Drayton in Shropshire, the landlord was about to sell for development, but in his defence the farm had become very run-down as the health of Arthur and his wife suffered. But their two children Ben and Charlotte were made of typical Hollins stern stuff, and they decided to fight for the farm’s survival.
The fight began in 2004 as the developers closed in, and continues right through to today. There is still a twelve acre field which at the moment, they only rent even though they now own the rest of the farm. The ‘enemy’ as it were is Muller, the German yoghurt maker who set up a huge steel clad factory on the edge of the farm. When you visit Fordhall you can't help but notice this monstrosity, but luckily because Muller did not want to expand as much as they might have done in the past, that the farm passed to Charlotte and Ben.
Read Michael Wale's previous article:
The Fight To Save Fordhall Farm
Advised by Common Wealth, Stroud, they decided with less than two years left to appeal to the public to raise the £800,000 needed to buy the farm. They were given a cut off date that in the end came perilously close to disaster. But they, backed by a welcoming public, succeeded.
Charlotte remembers the great day in detail.
“It was July 1, 2006 when we had actually raised the £800,000 that we had been told to do by the landlords. It was a miracle, but we got backers from all over Britain, especially the inner cities like London. You paid £50 and got a non-profit making share in the charity that rents the farm to us."
"We still need more money, because we have to service a £100,000 mortgage from the Triodos bank. They have been very good to us, but we need the money for all the re-building that we have to do. Most of the buildings are falling down and have to be re-built, so we still want people to buy £50 shares. The bills for re-building probably total half a million pounds, and then we want to build a café-cum-restaurant and other things, but everything is going the right way."
The farm made a profit in the past year of £54,000 on a turnover of £157,000. Out of this the farm has to pay a wage to Ben, who is the farmer and rent to the charity, for whom Charlotte works. Ben is only 24 and has done amazingly well, starting his own butchery business, which is so popular, he has just been able to employ a part-time butcher. Ben taught himself how to cut and package the meat, but now he has an expert to help him, and he is about to launch a sausage making business.
Fordhall Farm now houses 70 beef cattle, a herd of 450 sheep, and 45 Gloucester Spot pigs. The whole farm is as organic as their father Arthur Hollins had fought for it to be.
During the Second World War, when the Government realized that Britain would have to feed itself, threatened as it was by German U-boats threatening our shipping, the Ministry of Agriculture ordered that all farmers should use chemical fertilisers to allegedly increase their output. It was the beginning of an unholy alliance between Government and the powerful agri-chemical companies such as ICI.
Arthur Hollins argued that he had always been an organic farmer and his crops grew really well. The Ministry threatened to take him off his farm. Eventually he proved, by a growing experiment, that he was right, and he was allowed to continue.
The only thing that is not totally organic today are the pigs, although they are free range they are not fed on Soil Association approved foods, although nearly so. But the cost of organic feedstuff for animals has rocketed so high in the past few months that the young Hollins decided they could not afford it.
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