Farm turns to crowdfunding in attempt to prevent closure

A "low-carbon" vegetable and livestock farm in Suffolk has started a crowdfunding campaign to stave off closure.

Mudhar: produce for members. Image: Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm
Mudhar: produce for members. Image: Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm

Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm, a not-for-profit social enterprise growing on just under 5ha on the outskirts of Ipswich, feeds around 70 households in a community-supported agriculture model. When its only major donor unexpectedly withdrew support, the farm faced closure due to lack of funds.

It aims to raise £27,000 to continue in business, while £38,000 "would enable us to thrive, develop our fruit and flower gardens and overcome the red tape blocking a community building to welcome visitors and to run courses", said founder Joanne Mudhar. "With this leg-up we believe that we can become financially self-sustaining."

Total pledges reached £10,000 by the end of the appeal's first week. It runs for two months and offers a range of "perks". Pledges will be repaid should the lower target not be met.

Explaining the case for enterprises such as Oak Tree, Mudhar said: "We've revived the traditional practice of feeding waste food from local shops and the farm to our animals, saving tonnes from landfill. But ours is not the agriculture that our policy-makers want to see. Their message is get big or get out. They tell us to use GM, energy-intensive fertilisers and dangerous pesticides."

She added: "There are also countless petty rules and regulations that are particularly onerous for small farms like ours but work fine with the economies of scale of bigger ones. This makes it virtually impossible for farms like ours to survive. It doesn't have to be this way - a supportive Government could help productive little farms like ours to thrive."

How it works Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm

Households (members) pay £8 a week for a "share" of produce in the form of a vegetable box that founder Joanne Mudhar said would cost £15-£20 in a supermarket. The box includes flowers, eggs and pork as optional extras.

Members must work for two hours a week on the farm during summer, performing sowing, weeding, mulching, harvesting or looking after the animals.

Cows and pigs were not planned when the enterprise began but Mudhar faced a choice between animals or "agro-industrial fertilisers" to keep the soil fertile. It is not certified organic due to costs and possible restrictions on waste use.

The farm's three growers were paid national minimum wage until support was withdrawn, but they continue to work on "ridiculously low" pay.

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