Building Northern Ireland’s First Community-Owned Farm

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Issue 311
November/December 2018
All Is One

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Building Northern Ireland’s First Community-Owned Farm
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Cover: Winter Glow by Annie Soudain www.anniesoudain.co.uk

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Jonny Hanson explains why Jubilee, a Christian environmental and agricultural organisation, is helping set up Northern Ireland’s first community-owned farm.

Nature education at Jubilee Farm

Nature education at Jubilee Farm

All over the world, Christians and churches are rediscovering their mandate to care for creation. Pope Francis’s encyclical on the subject, Laudato si', has reverberated around the planet, while in a similar vein the World Evangelical Alliance is establishing a sustainability centre in Bonn, Germany. Recently the Church of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to tackle climate change by divesting its pension fund from fossil fuel investments, and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has just adopted creation care as an official position.

In light of all this, we at Jubilee exist to work with Christians, churches and communities, including people of differing backgrounds and beliefs, to care for creation. Established in 2017 after several years of prayer, planning and consultation, we define creation care as “environmental and agricultural stewardship that incorporates flourishing, fairness, wellbeing and welfare”. In seeking to implement this holistic vision, our mission is to practise and promote care farming, community-supported agriculture, and conservation education and engagement.

For the first six months of 2018, we were able to use a temporary site in the Northern Irish port town of Larne and achieved a great number of exciting things. Over 100 volunteers attended one of our monthly community volunteer days. Almost 100 primary-school-age children attended one of our curriculum-based Nature education classes. Twenty-four families each purchased a subscription to our pig club and received a quarter-pig’s-worth of free-range pork in return. And at our Bioblitz Festival of Science and Nature in June, we welcomed more than 400 members of the public to participate in a 24-hour programme of walks, talks and citizen science, with over 360 species recorded.

Now, we’re raising £300,000 to purchase a small farm outside Larne, where we can bring our ambitious plans for Jubilee Farm to fruition, with organic pigs, poultry, goats and vegetables, plus an internship programme, and even glamping in due course. Our CARE project – Care farming for Asylum seekers, Refugees and the Environment – also begins shortly. We’ve already raised £165,000 from existing supporters to purchase the farmhouse. Now we need to raise £135,000 by Christmas to buy the 13.5 acres of land, as well as polytunnels, livestock and equipment. As a Community Benefit Society – a form of cooperative social enterprise – we’re raising this money via a community share offer, making this the first community-owned farm in Northern Ireland. The minimum investment in the project is just £50, making it a perfect Christmas present!

As well as cultivating vegetables and wild flowers, we’re cultivating community, using ecology and agro-ecology as tools to promote reconciliation in our still-divided, post-conflict society. Much progress has been made in the 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement, but much is still required. Our political parties and processes are deadlocked. Some of our churches still struggle to speak to each other. And an undercurrent of bitterness still tugs away at the fabric of our communities: just a few months back, sectarian abuse was hurled at our home, simply because we live in the grounds of a Catholic retreat and conference centre.

The first community farm in Northern Ireland therefore seeks to provide literal and figurative common ground for all sections of the community to come together. At our first consultation meeting, I remember seeing a Jesuit priest, a Presbyterian minister, a Messianic Jew and a Baptist all engrossed in discussion during one of the breakout sessions. At our volunteer days, we have seen atheists, agnostics, Bahá’ís, Protestants, Catholics and non-denominational Christians working to clear the walled garden we were initially based in. We do not agree on everything, but we agree that we need to cooperate to live well together in our community, in our province and on our planet.

All over the world, Christians and churches are rediscovering their mandate to care for creation. In setting up Northern Ireland’s first community farm, restoring our relationships with Nature is also a means to restoring our relationships with each other.

Find out more about Jubilee’s community share offer at www.jubilee.coop/shareoffer

Jonny Hanson is Managing Director of Jubilee.

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