Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

Agrivillages

By Ashley Dobbs & Jimmy Skinner

Millom, Cumbria

An agrivillage is typically around 500 houses with some 350+ acres of land dedicated to ecological farming. They are designed to meet the needs of new food entrepreneurs and those who want to escape the city and lead their lives back on the land.

Agrivillages are places everyone can live and work, benefitting from collective marketing and branding that enables producers and farmers to sell branded products rather than commodities at greater margins. The goal of our agrivillage plans is to build exemplar communities that are: food positive, energy positive, biodiversity positive, and rent positive.

The first of the inHarmony agrivillages will be in Millom, Cumbria, which was a mining town until 50 years ago when the iron ore industry closed.

We’re designing agrivillages as a response to the difficulty of obtaining land. They will help new farm entrants by making it affordable to cultivate innovative and ecologically sound ways that protect and conserve biodiversity and wildlife whilst enhancing the fertility of the soil. The farm plots for renting will range from allotment size to micro-dairy size of 30 to 40 acres. This farmland will eventually be owned by the community. Technological back-up from organic research organisations will play a crucial part in increasing productivity per acre. We’ll address the problem of profitability by forming an umbrella brand that enables residents to market what they grow as branded products rather than commodities. Creating a home market and shorter supply chains to other markets means that both producers and consumers benefit from reducing transport and other intermediary costs.

Millom will also feature; a multi-university campus encouraging cross-over between science, the arts, entrepreneurship, and horticulture; an eco-hotel; miles of trails; and a freshwater lido. Transport will be via electric cars and a bike pool and will link to the mainline railway station via footpath. 500 homes of different designs and sizes will cater for a diverse population of all ages, which will be available for rental and for purchase.

Although Millom is still in the planning phase and will not be completed for at least another three years, we’ve received a huge amount of support for the project so far — we now have more than half a dozen other projects in the pipeline. We think the idea is really starting to gain traction because people want places where they can lead stimulating, happy and healthy lives. Agrivillages are designed to contrast with typical housing estates, which have failed to grasp the opportunities to advance civilisation and have largely neglected the urgent need to tackle the climate emergency.

But this is not to say there aren’t challenges: ironically, small eco-communities create a larger per capita footprint than ordinary development. Scale is vital — larger eco-developments can meet most of the energy, food, educational, intellectual and entertainment requirements of its residents without the necessity to travel further afield. By design, they encourage neighbourly interaction with lots of meeting places, gardens and shared facilities — addressing the physical and mental health crisis and creating a sense of community.

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