Burscough Community Farm is set to become completely organically certified this month.
The 18-acre farm, which became a not-for-profit Community Interest Company back in 2016, began its life as a plot of land inherited by Jane Hickson. Jane and her husband Neil decided to open up the land to friends so they could begin to grow their own crops; little did they know it would become an enterprise the whole of Burscough would soon get involved in.
‘Originally we posted a notice in the paper about a meeting at the farm to see who would be interested,’ Neil explains. ‘About forty people turned up, and Burscough Community Farm started there!’
The farm began offering veg boxes, scaling up to sell them wholesale at Manchester Markets, as well as to the local community of Burscough. As a CIC, it also began offering chances to get involved with various training courses and placements for students at Edge Hill University, along with regularly hosting homeschooling groups. Now the farm is home to 40 chickens used to produce eggs, along with several beehives managed by the Tree Bee Society. 5000 trees are dotted about the site – Neil and Jane have even started growing their own flowers for wholesale.
‘What’s important on a farm like this is having areas dedicated to nature. That way you have a natural habitat for pest predators – we have ponds for frogs and toads, hedges and most importantly trees so birds can thrive,’ Neil says.
Neil since found that song thrushes have been picking off snails that would otherwise get at the crops and eating them before they had chance.
‘Something else that’s been really important is our link with mental health,’ he continues. ‘People suffering from mental health problems get referred to us and we help them reconnect with the land and improve their wellbeing. There are loads of studies that show getting outdoors and getting your hands in the soil can boost your mood and improve your overall mental health. We mainly use hand tools at the farm – along with a large rotavator – so you really get to learn the traditional method of doing things without mechanical intervention.’
Indeed there are: Mind the mental health charity indicates that getting out and about in nature can help with things like confidence, self-esteem and making new connections. The idea of nurturing something else – like flowers or crops – has also helped people learn to take better care of themselves. At Burscough Community Farm, opportunities to increase socialisation and meet new people are in abundance – the farm is run by a dedicated group of volunteers, including local Green Party candidate Gaynor Pickering, farm secretary.
‘We met loads of new people ourselves through building the farm,’ Neil adds. ‘We were a bit surprised at first to find that everyone from other organic farms across the country who we asked for advice were very enthusiastic about providing it! My philosophy is that if people care about where their food comes from and about being sustainable, they care about other things too – and that includes people!’
Farming doesn’t just offer psychological benefits: there are plenty of physical ones too. Since starting the farm back in 2013 – and following a bet between Neil and his daughter – the Hickson family have transitioned smoothly into vegetarianism. ‘I’d say we’re about 75% vegan,’ Neil tells me. ‘For me it’s about sustainability and health – after about three weeks of vegetarianism, it hit me that my body was just feeling so much better.’
‘The farm’s eventual aim is to become completely self-sustaining,’ Neil continues. ‘In the past we’ve received funding from the parish council and the Tesco Bags of Help scheme, but we’d like to get to the point of being a co-operative and employing a couple of people at the farm.’
Burscough Community Farm is set to be awarded its fully organic status in July, which confirms all aspects of food production doesn’t involve harmful additives, pesticides or danger to wildlife welfare by the Soil Association.
New volunteers are always welcome at Burscough Community Farm, and they’re always on the lookout for more enthusiasts to join their Friends scheme. For an annual fee of £30 per household, you’ll get discounts on farm produce and help to support the valuable work the project does. For more information about the farm, visit www.burscoughcommunityfarm.org