August 3, 2022
The Apricot Centre at Huxhams Cross Farm is a sustainable diverse regenerative farm and wellbeing service near Dartington. After taking up tenancy of the farm in 2015, the team created a permaculture design for the land, looking to fulfil certain functions: mitigating climate change; being resilient to climate change; offsetting biodiversity loss; producing healthy food for local people; and providing the wellbeing service on the farm.
Our visit to the Centre, on 13th July 2022, offered a group of us the chance to see this work for ourselves, led by permaculture teacher, designer and farmer, Marina O’Connell.
Marina talked us through the creation of the farm, which is tenanted from the Biodynamic Land Trust, and the regeneration of its arable fields over the course of several years. She then took us on a tour, explaining how the concepts of permaculture design have been applied and showing us how the team grows the vegetables, fruits and cut flowers. These are all sold locally with around 300 customers supplied each week within a 12 mile radius of the farm.
One of the most enlightening moments was seeing the visible difference in soil from a bare field site with depleted soil at the time of the land’s purchase to several years of regenerative agriculture later! The use of minimum tillage, green manure and biodynamic preparations to inoculate the soil biome has supported bacteria and fungi nutrient cycling across the farm.
The green manures, or herbal leys, are a key part of the farm's carbon sequestration; the land is carbon negative to the tune of 5 tonnes of carbon per hectare every year. Marina recommended the Rodale Institute's white paper, Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change, for further reading on this topic.
The permaculture design of the farm uses a zoning concept that focuses on the land itself and on the needs of the various people using the land, from the families accessing the wellbeing service, to the trainees harvesting crops. Rainwater is harvested, agroforestry rows are planted across the land contour to slow water movement downhill, and there are plans to install solar panels.
The Apricot Centre is also part of ‘Reclaim the Grain’, which looks to decommodify and relocalise grain production, working with the nearby Almond Thief to produce flour. This flour, along with their vegetable and fruit boxes, and other products, keeps the Centre economically sustainable and successful.
This model of local partnerships between growers, suppliers and retailers is one which could be replicated within any community. Marina highlighted the complexity around food costs, with industrial food production being heavily subsidised at the expense of climate, biodiversity and soil loss.
The day was incredibly informative for the whole group, offering us an insight into the possibilities offered by regenerative agriculture and permaculture design. We discussed the key need for examples like this to illustrate how agriculture and farming can exist more sustainably, to prevent further loss of biodiversity, and as a viable source of income.
The Apricot Centre offers several training courses and events that you and your group may be interested in, and offer a professional design service for sustainable farms, smallholdings, community gardens and large gardens. You can find out more about the farm and regenerative agriculture in Marina O’Connell’s book, Designing Regenerative Food Systems: And Why We Need Them Now and read the 2020 report on the The Environmental, Economic and Social Impact of Huxhams Cross Farm.