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Working with nature


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Business Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 12/2021 vom 24.11.2021

FARMING

Artikelbild für den Artikel "Working with nature" aus der Ausgabe 12/2021 von Business Spotlight. Dieses epaper sofort kaufen oder online lesen mit der Zeitschriften-Flatrate United Kiosk NEWS.
Scotland: the Cairngorms

“Farming with nature is really not idealism,” says Lynn Cassells. “It’s not a nice thing to do on the side. It’s the core of our business model. Nature is multifaceted, interconnected and collaborative, and our business is, too.”

For years, she and her partner, Sandra Baer, dreamed of making a living from the land. Working respectively as an archaeologist and a librarian, they saved carefully, hoping that one day they would be able to afford somewhere with five acres to grow their own food.

Then, to their surprise, in 2016, they found they were able to buy Lynbreck, a 150-acre croft on the edge of the Cairngorms in north-east Scotland. Inspired by reading Joel Salatin’s You Can Farm, their starting principle ...

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... was that they produce food for local people by farming with nature and rewilding some of the croft.

Regenerative practices

Their farm is run on regenerative principles, with a low density of grazing animals roaming freely among the trees. They have planted 17,500 native broadleaf trees to create wooded pasture and fenced off nine hectares (22 acres) for natural regeneration, allowing Caledonian pine forest to slowly re-establish itself.

Cassells and Baer tend a herd of eight highland cattle for beef and raise 12 rare-breed pigs each year. There are nine beehives for a crop of heather honey, chickens for eggs, and a polytunnel and kitchen garden for vegetables. They sold their first farm produce — eggs — in January 2018.

Their turnover is a modest £37,000 (€44,000). They prefer to run their business without subsidies, so do not take the basic farm payment for farmers and have received only modest financial support for planting the trees. But they live simply, cheaply and, crucially, mortgage-free.

Courses cover everything from starting a business to basic animal handling

Straight to the customers

Their key to success is to sell the food directly to their customers. They built a micro-butchery so they can butcher their own pigs, and they produce value-added foods such as cured meats and smoked foods such as beef jerky.

Cassells and Baer have found there is strong demand for high-welfare meat from animals performing valuable ecological functions. They do not sell via mail order because they want to produce low-carbon food for local people. “That’s the best bit of what we do — to nourish your local community and try to give them health is a real honour,” says Cassells.

Their Egg Club is oversubscribed; so is their Mountain Meat Club (an annual subscription for a monthly “treat”). And their seasonal boxes of pork or beef sell out within 24 hours. Food sales constitute 60 per cent of their income, and the remaining 40 per cent is generated through education.

Courses and a book

Covid scuppered up their first year of “how to farm” courses, but all three onsite camping residentials were booked up quickly in 2021. Cassells and Baer cover everything from starting a business to basic animal handling. They also run day-long “homesteading” courses and open up for farm tours each month, with additional private tours by appointment. They keep the numbers small (eight per residential) and do everything, including the catering, themselves.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

To find out more about Lynbreck Croft, the courses Cassells and Baer offer and the book they plan to write, visit their website at www.lynbreckcroft.co.uk

“We’re really conscious that people want to make big changes in their lives, and we feel a great burden of responsibility about that,” says Cassells. The biggest surprise about setting up a farm, she says, was the sheer relentlessness of the labour.

The biggest challenge has been resisting the constant temptation to scale up, to produce more food, run more courses. Next spring, when they publish a book about how to start a farm, there will be demand for Zoom meetings and talks all over the country.

Finding a balance

Given their location and the domestic tourism boom, they could probably make a fine living simply as a full-blown campsite. Cassells says: “Holidays could be a major source of income, but it is our home. We like the engagement side, but we like the peace and quiet as well. It’s not about following a capitalist model of grow, grow, grow. It’s regenerative and our motto is ‘work within your means’. It’s so hard to find that balance. We could opt to do more to earn more, but then you blur that line between the wealth in your bank account and the wealth in your life — and we’ve always gone for the wealth in your life.”

© Guardian News Service 2021