ASKING people to come to the aid of a pair of farmers is challenging. But that is what Growing Communities is doing. The group’s Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market this week launched a campaign to save a small organic farm it has been dealing with for a decade.
Stocks Farm, run by brothers Chris and Iain Learmonth, is a small-scale, human-touch, unsubsidised livestock-and-apple operation on 53 hectares (130 acres) near Colchester, Essex, that they rent. It sells meat at weekly markets in north London.
Growing Communities’ assistant director Kerry Rankine said: “High feed and fuel prices combined with a poor apple harvest last year mean that Chris and Iain are facing the prospect having to give up farming in the next few months unless they can increase sales.
“This campaign isn’t just about saving one family farm, it’s also about the future of farming and food production in the UK. Do we really want meat production to be done only on an industrial scale – with the hazards that brings – and for farming to be the preserve just of giant corporations, millionaires and ex-pop stars?”
And she hasn’t even mentioned Polish horse meat – well, perhaps she hinted at the recent contamination scandal. Rankine added that at Stocks animals were reared and meat produced in a sustainable way. But last year dramatic feed prices meant the brothers were struggling.
She said: “People who want meat they can trust and want to support small family farms need to come to the market to buy from Stocks. The farm is small by UK livestock-farming standards. The animals graze on grass outside year-round. Iain prepares all the sausages and bacon. Last year he built a smoker so he can make his own smoked meats and bacon on the farm.”
Chris Learmonth said: “We’ve cut all the costs we can and we now have to put our prices up as we weren’t even covering our costs. We can’t survive like that for much longer.
“We just want to carry on farming in the small-scale way we’ve been doing – but as tenant farmers with no money backing us, we need to be able to support ourselves and our families. People in Hackney helped us to get started; now we need them to help to save our farm.”
Rankine told Loving Dalston: “If people want to make sure Stocks Farm can survive, they should come down to the market and buy Chris and Iain’s eggs or their meat. In that way two hard-working tenant farmers will be able to keep on going – and we’ll get meat that’s been reared and produced locally without pesticides or nasty, unexpected additives.”
David Altheer 070213
* Emboldened underscored words in most cases indicate a hyperlink, a reader service rare among websites. If a link does not work, it is probably because the site to which the URL refers has not been maintained.
* Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market, Saturdays, 10am-2.30pm, St Paul’s Church yard, Stoke Newington High Street N16 7UY; Sundays 10am-2pm, Queens Park Farmers’ Market, Salusbury Primary School, Salusbury Road NW6 6RG
* Online cartoon showing how Stocks works.
* Photograph at top shows a Gloucestershire Old Spot with Chris Learmonth at Stocks Farm