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Land-matching initiative helps two new businesses take root

Happy farmers!

Above L-R: Anna and Derick Hill of Coed Lank Farm near Skenfrith have rented land to fruit-tree growers Jonathan Keyte and Anna Stankiewicz.

Our land-matching initiative, aimed at encouraging farmers to give new entrants a chance to start their own small-scale enterprises has recorded its first two successes.

Anna and Derick Hill of Coed Lank Farm near Skenfrith have rented 0.5 acres to horticulturalists Anna Stankiewicz and Jonathan Keyte, for Green Gate Nursery, a new fruit-tree-growing venture focusing on traditional and disease-resistant varieties suitable for sustainable and regenerative growing systems.

Meanwhile, at Cwm Heulog, on the outskirts of Abergavenny, the James family have welcomed growers Dave Brakes and Lou Anderson, renting them just over two acres of land and space in an outbuilding for Gardd Heulog, a herb farm producing cut fresh herbs and added-value products such as herb-infused oils.


We launched the land-matching scheme last year as part of our wider project aimed at rebuilding the local food economy.* Co-project manager Sue Holbrook says: “We’re delighted these two matches have come about: it’s great news for the two couples who are starting their new businesses and have both been struggling to find land.

“In fact access to land is one of the key barriers facing new entrants to farming – and it’s something we’re working hard to tackle. Land-matching is one solution, with real benefits to farmers, too, and not just in terms of rental income.”

Coed Lank’s Derick Hill agrees: “Farming can be a lonely business: there are days when I see no-one. So having Anna and Jonathan around has given me a real boost. We have similar views on ecology and land management, plus we’re finding that our experience and skills really complement one another.”

Derick has also teamed up with a local basket weaver, and has planted a small area with willow to supply her needs. “I’m really interested in the idea of having multiple small enterprises running off this farm. The farm’s only small – just 69 acres – but at one time it would have supported five or six people working here full time. Farming without intensive chemical inputs no longer pays its way, so I have to find ways to diversify to enable a sustainable income while improving ecology on the farm. At some point I’d love to have someone growing veg here, too.”

Cwm Heulog’s Dai James, who sells his Texel-Charolais-cross lambs as half or whole lamb boxes direct to local customers, had slightly different motivations for getting involved in the project. “I’ve been thinking for a while that we need to produce more food for local people. And we need to use land more efficiently. But I work full time as well as running the farm, so it made sense to look at getting someone else in to do it.

“We met a few candidates through Our Food 1200’s land-matching service, but I could tell right away that Dave and Lou were good people: we just clicked.”

That said, neither match has been straightforward.


Dave and Lou had originally planned to set up a commercial fruit and veg-growing enterprise, selling weekly veg boxes direct to local customers, and with ambitions to develop a micro-dairy or small beef herd on additional land at Cwm Heulog. But as the two families discussed details of how it would work, key issues arose, including access, estate planning, and concerns around security of tenure.

“My main worry,” says Dai, “was that by starting big, they’d be investing a lot of money – at least £40,000 for polytunnels, irrigation, a packing shed and so on. And what would happen if it didn’t work? I’d feel terrible!

“The other issue is that the fields most suited to what they wanted to do were my most valuable land. I have six children, so I have to think about succession and inheritance planning, and to tie those fields up long term just didn’t make sense.”

“We thought we’d reached the end of the road,” says Dave. “But then Dai offered us a different area of land. It was a narrow strip, partially covered with woodland, so it wouldn’t have worked efficiently for the type of fruit and veg growing we wanted to do, and the access wasn’t great. But it was an opportunity we didn’t want to miss. So we junked our original, very detailed business plan for a veg box scheme and came up with the herb-growing idea.”

The couple have subsequently taken on a small adjoining field, giving them just over 2 acres and sparking fresh ideas: “We think the land would be particularly suited to growing soft fruit,” says Dave.


Anna and Jonathan changed their business plan too – albeit for very different reasons. The couple originally proposed a 1-acre cut-flower business, to provide a local and more environmentally friendly alternative to mass-produced cut flowers shipped in from abroad.

“But then I was offered my dream job,” explains Anna, who now works as the Farming in Protected Landscapes Officer (FiPL) for the Wye Valley AONB Partnership. “Flower growing requires a lot of input and planning, and I realised I just wouldn’t have the time or mental space for both.”

“But we really wanted to run our own enterprise – and to work with Derick,” adds Jonathan, “So we decided to start a fruit tree nursery, which we knew would be less time intensive and would allow us to establish the business in phases without having to give up our day jobs. Having that security was very important to us.”

The couple currently have one-third of their land planted up with different rootstocks, suitable for propagating traditional cider and perry varieties, as well dessert apples and plums. They’ll plant the rest, in blocks of 2,000 trees, over the next two years, with the first batch of fruit trees ready for sale in 2025.


Sue Holbrook says the project has revealed some key learnings that will inform Our Food 1200’s approach going forward.

“It’s no coincidence that our two land-match successes are not for veg production. To do that, growers need more than just land. They need affordable housing onsite, because growing veg commercially is really intensive: it’s definitely not a part-time job or something you can commute to. They also need security of tenure, so they know they have the time to really make a go of their business.

“So as a first step, we’re calling on local authorities and Welsh Government to revisit planning laws, to make it easier for small-scale fruit and veg farmers to have a home on the land they are working.

“Second, Our Food 1200 is working to buy suitable plots of farmland into community ownership, so we can develop them into small farm hubs for long-term lease to growers. This will ensure these parcels remain a productive part of our farming landscape and give growers the security of tenure they need.

“And third, we’re calling on local authorities to repurpose county farms as multi-enterprise hubs, to give more new entrants a chance to get into farming, boost local food security and kickstart the local food economy.”

*Funding for this project has been awarded through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.  This support has been provided through the Co-operation and Supply Chain Development Scheme – CSCDS Innovative Approaches and Collaborative Growing.

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