As you leave Shipton under Wychwood and take the road north towards Chipping Norton you’ll see a sign with a rather intriguing name; FarmED.
This is the brainchild of Ian and Celene Wilkinson, who have taken 35 years to realise their dream of buying a farm and establishing a centre to bring communities together to share ideas on creating sustainable agricultural, rich ecological environments. Providing spaces in which to learn, facilitated by enthusiastic and knowledgeable experts, FarmED is proving to be exactly what is needed at this time.
Enter the gate at Honeydale Farm, the home of FarmED, and the view will take your breath away – no matter how regular a visitor you become. The 107 acres that make up the farm drop away to the spectacular Evenlode Valley. Nestled quietly into the hillside are the three carbon-neutral eco buildings which make up the centre. Local architect, Tim Tasker helped shape the space and it’s clear to see why it won the Civic Trust Award for Sustainability this year. The buildings – and the farm as a whole – were much admired by Prince Charles who officially opened the centre last May. The courtyard, filled with wild flowers, consists of a spacious teaching ‘barn’ enjoying far-reaching views across the farm and down to the wetland area. The second ‘barn’ houses FarmEAT, the hub for all things delicious; from tea, coffee and cake to delicious lunches and spectacular pizzas. The sourcing of food is as important as the growing, so visitors be certain that locally grown produce will be on the menu.
A wide range of courses for those whose life is food and farming attracts both locals and visitors from further afield throughout the year. Some are simple day or half day events whilst others take place over a longer period. They’re a great way for producers to come together, explore new ideas and share knowledge. Local farming cluster groups also meet periodically and new initiatives, for such things as river eco management, gain interest and support through these events.
However, food production, air miles, the natural environment and food quality are hot topics for us all, and so everyone is welcome at FarmED. Bee keeping, a dawn chorus walk, and storytelling are just some of the things that draw in those with an interest in the countryside. FarmED’s first weekend Food & Farm Literature Festival in May drew in members of the wider community, and the centre proved a wonderful light and airy exhibition space for a range of diverse artists during Oxfordshire Artweeks.
The popular Friday Farm Walk is open to all-comers. Led by founder and director Ian Wilkinson, visitors are taken around the farm to learn how soil fertility can be improved through heritage wheat production, herbal leys, and mob grazing. With no artificial fertilisers or pesticides used, the habitat is buzzing with insects and birds. The wetland, established to deal naturally with flood management, is another rich habitat visitors can explore, and further up the hillside the heritage orchard showcases 250 different fruit trees – including 51 Oxfordshire varieties.
As the name suggests, education is at the heart of FarmED’s ethos, so it’s vital to involve the next generation. Groups of school children are a regular sight around the farm, and whilst the cows and sheep hold an obvious attraction there is also the opportunity to get hands on the soil and learn about where their food comes from. The polytunnels are the responsibility of The Kitchen Garden People, a Community Supported Agriculture Scheme (CSA) that produces fresh vegetables for the FarmEAT kitchen and weekly veg boxes for around 180 local families. Every Thursday and Friday they welcome members of the community who come to help with the planting, harvesting and packing. There’s a great atmosphere and everyone pitches in to pick crops, weigh out salad, pack boxes and enjoy a free dose of outdoor wellness.
Also hosted on the farm is The Dairy @Honeydale, a micro dairy of four Austrian Fleckvieh cows. The dairy is in its second year and runs on a high welfare system with the calves remaining with their mothers and the cows being milked just once a day. All the milk is pasteurised and bottled on site, and it then goes out for use in the FarmEAT Cafe, in the veg boxes and to other interested customers.
You might say that FarmED is a hive of activity; not only alive with the bees from the apiaries out in the fields (which provide the wonderful honey available in FarmEAT) but also from those who drop in for coffee or lunch, help out in the Kitchen Garden or attend one of the many and varied courses. It has certainly captured the imagination of all those for whom food, animal welfare and sustainability are of genuine concern and it’s certain to be providing a space for discussion for many years to come.
Please note: The FarmEAT cafe is open Monday - Friday from 10am-4.00pm.