Charlotte visits shareholders in the Isle of Man

Charlotte and Adam

On the 8th and 9th May I was invited by shareholder Adam Denard, to visit the Isle of Manto speak to their Permaculture Group about Fordhall’s outdoor grazing system and our innovative community structure.

Having never visited the island before, I was interested to learn about their independent government structure, their extensive farming systems and the general beauty and biodiversity of the island. In fact the island has no intensive poultry or pig farms, or foxes – which is certainly something to celebrate.
The Isle of Man’s landscape is rather like Anglesey, rolling hills, glorious coast line and small towns dotted in between. The farming is generally extensive and mixed. With many farmers growing the crops needed to feed their livestock through the winter months.

Most will know that the main business on the island is in finance, with agriculture, once one of the mainstays, making a declining contribution to their GDP. I was only on the Islandfor 2 days and so it was very much a whistle stop tour, although I seemed to dart from one end of the island to the other without a blink of an eye; it being only 12 mileswide and 30 miles long with a population of about 80,000.

Whilst there I had the privilege of meeting their Minister of Environment, Food and Agriculture, Phil Gawne. We met over lunch in a sourdough café with Dr Pete McEvoy who is government botanist and agricultural scheme adviser for the Manx (Isle of Man) version of DEFRA. Phil was a very down to earth Minister with a real interest in seeing the Isle of Man become completely independent and sustainable in its food needs; farming in a way that was not reliant upon outside resources (such as additional chemicals, oil or fertilisers). He was not particularly saying the island should be organic, but he was keen on creating a more self-contained food system, something similar in my mind to the Foggage system we run at Fordhall. I became excited by the opportunities on the island; their independence from the UKgovernment and the EU means that change can be quick. They have a fantastic opportunity to see where others have made mistakes, learn from them, and take their island in a different direction. Whether that be in the direction of sustainable farming techniques or community engagement. They have already designated the island a GM free zone. 

Rearing mainly beef and lamb on the island, with some arable crops, they have one main abattoir. All animals on the island go through it and are then distributed amongst the islands food retailers.  A fantastic localised and fully traceable food system.
That evening I gave a talk to permaculturists, farmers and Manx residents about Fordhall. I even had the pleasure of meeting another lovely Fordhall shareholder in the audience. Everyone seemed to enjoy the presentation and we may even have got some more supporters along the way.
That evening I spent the night in a 1976 horsebox! It had been extremely well converted into a small flat, complete with woodburner, stove, desk and bed. The horsebox was on a piece of land collectively owned by 6 individuals. They each own their little piece of this abandoned farm land, grow their own vegetables and fruits, live on site in yurts and use compost toilets.
It was a real honour to stay there, made even more special when I woke in the morning walked out of the old 1976 horsebox to see two ducks passing the path in front of me, a small bunny rabbit munching on the grass to my left and the birds in full song. Nothing seemed to mind my presence there – it felt very Beatrix potter J
After offering some volunteer labour (very little in actual fact), Amanda took me to visit their community farm. Run by the Children’s Centre on the island, the community farm worked with, amongst others, young people struggling with conventional education – rather like our young people’s project at Fordhall. The main difference was that they had lovely dry poly tunnels to work in; a fantastic well equipment greenwood workshop, and they received funding from the government to sustain the project. It was interesting to share experiences, but most importantly seeing the enormous and identical benefits it had for their young people; demonstrating the power of working practically outdoors with nature. In fact the island has an extremely low unemployment rate, yet these projects are still highly valued and supported.

A ‘pizza’ garden on the Children’s Community Farm

At the end of my final day I met with local farmer John Kenaugh. His family have been farming the land here for over 5 generations. He could even remember the first bag of ammonium nitrate fertiliser to arrive on the fields. Although not a convert to organics, he is a traditional farmer and a real custodian of land. A farmer who understands and appreciates that his job is to nurture and build the soil and in return it will provide him with healthy food and a livelihood. There was a lot of synergy between John and Fordhall. The best bit of farming advice he was ever given was to ‘never plough through sand’; a mistake that my grandfather made during the first world war, costing our soils dearly.
As John simply puts it “now I have brown soil, not white soil”. Again John’s motivation, like their agricultural ministers’ was to produce food on the farm without being completely reliant on outside inputs, whatever those might be. He believed that farming and nature could not be separated: they are one and must be managed as a complete system, where everything is valued and each living creature has its place.
The Isle of Man was an island of intrigue, beauty and inspiration. They have a fantastic opportunity to develop their food system in a truly sustainable and healthy way, as they have not yet got stuck into the vastly intensive route many UK farms have.
Perhaps their biggest stumbling block will be high land values and barriers to entry into farming – I wondered if the Fordhall community ownership model could offer some alternatives. As an island that attracts wealthy investors, land values look like they will continue to rise. Maybe placing land in common ownership or creating laws that offer land to local’s first at an affordable rate may be solutions for the Manx government?

Either way, I had a truly inspiring visit to the island. I would like to extend my thanks to Adam, Pete, Phil, Jim and Amanda, who all made me feel extremely welcome and at home.

Gura mie eu and Aigh vie (Thank you and Good Luck!)

Comments: 2

  1. Having visited the island a couple of tai,esmI fully understand why you enjoyed your vist.
    It would be amazing if. Here could be a Twinning with the IOM . I am sure both communities would benefit from it.
    The converted horse box looks amazing would love to see inside photos.
    Thank you for a beautifully written. Picture of yur visit.
    Tray Cook

  2. Really interesting article. I haven’t visited the site for a while, then this is the first thing I see! These blogs remind me why I still like to belong to the Fordhall Farm community!

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