Marina O’Connell – live case of setting up a profitable farm from scratch

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Marina O’Connell

… developed and runs the Apricot Centre with her husband, and a few more people that help with all the work involved. The original centre is in Essex, but over the last couple years, Marina and Bob Mehew (who’s interview you can listen to here) have been developing the Huxhams Cross Farm in Devon in partnership with the Biodynamic Land Trust. The conversation is a gem for anyone interested in starting a farm from scratch. There’s a ton of practical advice on keeping customers engaged, creating multiple income streams, and involving other people and organisation in the day to day running of the site.

Notes

The original Apricot Centre is based in Essex. They are currently developing the Huxhams Cross Farm in Devon.

The site at Huxhams Cross Farm was purchased in September 2015, but they made preparations on the ground before that so that the soil doesn’t sit bare for the entire summer.

After that, over the winter, they planted 2500 trees – some agroforestry, some soft fruit.

During 2016 they got 92 hens to lay eggs. They also were “given” a vegetable round – they got a list of growers that provide veg. They buy that, and pack it, along with the eggs, and sell it to customers. That will largely stop once the farm produces its own veg crops.

Some of the growers they source from are very small, so not necessarily registered as organic or biodynamic. Because of the personal connection though, they can be sure of the quality of the produce.

I’ve just realised, that my nose was completely stuffed when we had this chat πŸ˜€

Mailchimp – for those who don’t know is a service that allows bulk emailing newsletters to your customers. It has a lot of features including setting up entire series of automated emails. I don’t use it yet, because there’s only a handful of us here, so I do it all by hand at the moment, and I’d like to continue as long as I can πŸ™‚

The model of buying food from a set of local growers, packing it, and selling to a list of customers is something that can be, and is encouraged to replicate across the UK. This means that you can start your farm (or market garden), without a farm.

Choosing a location carefully can be very useful. They are located close to Totnes, which is a town full of people aware of the need for resilient, local action. Same thing for Rooting and Fruiting. They chose Hebden Bridge for the proximity to people, and businesses that share their values.

There are a number of community shareholders that have financed 50% of the purchase of the farm.

The newsletter to the customers include images of the food, and descriptions of the growers.

Marina aims to create a shopping experience that has a social aspect to it. Compare that with your regular shopping centre visit…

Story of creating the Essex Apricot Centre

Farming and psychotherapy. Marina’s husband is a psychotherapist.

There is a lot of talk these days in the “conventional agriculture” sphere about diversification of income (not much about crops, etc), and that usually means opening children play area, a cafe, garden centre, with a large carpark, and fees to come in on the gate. What Apricot has included in their model, through the work of Marina’s partner, is therapy. If you think of it, this kind of service may have used separate building space somewhere else, so not only this is extra people care, but it’s stacking functions at its core. Additionally it creates, quite obviously, a more diverse income stream.

Farm club. Forest school for children. Collecting the eggs, feeding cows, orchard activities. Ages of 6-12.

Organic certification process.

Stefan Sobkowiak – Miracle Orchard

A run down of produce varieties, and their time saving arrangements.

Chickens get used strategically on overgrown areas within a movable electric fence, which is moved every 2-3 months.

There’s an interesting collaborative of operators on Huxhams.

There’s a lot more to be learned from Marina – would you like round two?

Martin Wolfe


Music used: Luxe by Jahzzar is licensed under a Attribution-ShareAlike License.

This is a fledgling project, that is taking a considerable amount of time, and a little bit of money. If you found this informative, entertaining, helpful, and think that it could help someone else, please share using the buttons below. Many thanks!

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