Pioneering approaches to co-operative horticulture

Following its work with Co-operative and Community Finance enabling communities to own their stores and pubs, the Plunkett Foundation reports a new partnership with the Land Settlement Association Charitable Trust.

They hope to identify ‘pioneering approaches to co-operative horticulture across the UK’ to ‘share and develop further’.  Shaun Chamberlin has written about one such initiative, the Ecological Land Co-operative in the January 2013 issue of Country Smallholding magazine.

General reflections are summarised here.

ecological land co-operative
Shaun opens by pointing out that nearly half of the UK’s land is owned by just 40,000 people (0.06% of the population).

Such land ownership ‘by the few’ tends to favour uniform, large-scale, mechanised agriculture, yet with the UK population having increased by 4 million over the past decade, it becomes ever more pertinent that such farms have long been known to produce far less food per acre than smaller holdings.

However, although smaller holdings can produce substantially more food per acre, the big farms can produce more of a given monoculture crop per acre, which suits the large-scale centralised buyers.

The greater challenge facing smallholders, however, is that their higher productivity per acre relies on careful human attention, which can be a major expense. Large-scale mechanised farms, on the other hand, have replaced human care with cheap fossil energy, standardisation and monoculture.

He concludes:

Industrialised agriculture is a major contributor to climate destabilisation, soil depletion and numerous other problems, while smallholdings provide an ideal context for diverse, low-carbon, localised lifestyles that could provide a desperately needed model for true sustainability.

Extortionate land prices and the intricate absurdities of the planning permission system combine to make the simple aim of living on and working a piece of land seem an unattainable dream for most of us; however, with finite fossil fuel supplies depleting and oil prices having tripled over the past decade, the balance is shifting and smallholdings and horticulture offer a crucial contribution towards higher employment, a reliable, home-grown food supply for the UK and a diverse and thus more ecologically healthy countryside.

To read about Ecological Land Co-operative and the history of a government-funded Land Settlement Association in the 1930s, go to the article: http://www.darkoptimism.org/articles.html

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