Stacking enterprises on one farm

Woodoaks Farm is creating a vibrant food and farming hub

Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

If you start layering enterprises on top of this 300 acres you have the opportunity to create more diverse food, and livelihoods for more people.”

The 300-acre Woodoaks Farm in Rickmansworth was run by the Findlay Family since the 1920s, but in November 2020 Sally Findlay donated a significant part of Woodoaks to the Soil Association Land Trust to ensure it will be farmed sustainably into the future. We visited Rose Lewis, the Programme Manager for the Soil Association at Woodoaks Farm, where she is working to create a vibrant food and farming hub, produce sustainable food working in tandem with nature, and prioritise local food chains.

Rose Lewis, Programme Manager for the Soil Association at Woodoaks Farm

One of the goals is to stack enterprises on the farm for multiple benefits. Rose said, “The farm currently employs one person and produces three arable crops that go into global supply chains – the 250,000 local people don’t get any benefit from that production. If you start layering enterprises on top of this 300 acres you have the opportunity to create more diverse food, and create livelihoods for lots more people.”

“We want to create a place where people want to work together because they share the values and ethos.”

Woodoaks Farm recently put out a call to aspiring food and farming entrepreneurs to submit business ideas to run from Woodoaks. They had over 80 pitches ranging from forest schools, to horticulture enterprises, to mushroom farming sheds, to sustainable fibre production for clothes. Rose explains that, “Collaboration is key – we need to attract people with different approaches. Success in projects comes from teams that understand that they don’t know it all – so outside influences and collaboration is so important.”

Volunteers planting hedgerows at Woodoaks Farm

Rose is keen for the farm “to put nature first – so not even nature-friendly farming but nature-first farming – to ensure that everything that we're doing works with nature to ensure we protect, restore, and improve habitats for wildlife.”

A key part of the ethos of Woodoaks Farm is to establish direct local supply chains which add value to both ends of the supply chain. Rose explains that, “You can achieve farmer-friendly pricing and citizen-friendly pricing if you take out the middle chunk, which is currently where all the value is. You've got the opportunity to actually allow farmers to make a decent amount of money while selling at affordable prices for citizens.”

“Not even nature-friendly farming but nature-first farming - to ensure everything we're doing works with nature and we protect, restore, and improve habitats for wildlife.”

Rose is keen to change the economic model which underlies more traditional ways of farming so that the farm is able to “create more diverse food, which helps the environment, and means that people can come here and actually buy food.” She wants to make the food affordable and build livelihoods for local people.

One of the key challenges is to establish clear ways for the enterprises that will come together on the farm to work effectively. “We want to create a collective,” Rose explains, “So that all the enterprises respond to the same brief. We want to create a place where people actually want to work together because they share the values and the ethos. For me, the traditional farming tenancy works if you're working in isolation. It doesn't work when you're trying to collaborate. What we’re creating is a mixed farm mentality without a central farmer. So, we're stacking the enterprises on top of the small mixed farm, engaging the community right at the beginning to come on the journey with us, to ensure that our market is our local community.”

Woodoaks Farm is creating a vibrant food and farming hub

In order to understand the community’s needs, Rose began surveying them about how they buy their food. People wanted local, affordable food with much less plastic packaging, which are things that Woodoaks Farm should be well placed to provide. Rose hopes that through bringing citizens onto the farm regularly it will also help to communicate what a fair price for food looks like. But she acknowledges it’s a challenge to counteract prevailing narratives about cheap food which are pushed so effectively by supermarkets. A key learning from the survey, for Rose, was that “people aren't buying for ethical, organic reasons. Some were. But very rarely. It was mainly price, local, quality.” Ultimately, Rose hopes food supplied directly by farms becomes a much bigger part of everyone’s weekly shopping basket; “If I can get a lot of the local community to come to this farm and see this as a place where they buy regularly, then that will be a great, great achievement.”

“If I can get a lot of the local community to come to this farm and see this as a place where they buy regularly, then that will be a great achievement.”

Success in the future is a combination of engaging citizens in food production and flourishing wildlife, “I would like to see some amazing growth in the species that we've got here on the farm already. You know, rather than seeing one yellow hammer in the summer, we want to see 10 yellow hammers.” Rose explains that her goal is to find like-minded people willing to work collectively and “recognise that farming is part of a much, much wider ecosystem.”



Woodoaks Farm and more stories of hope and action from people across the UK working for a fair and sustainable future feature in our Field Guide for the Future.