Fordhall Organic Farm, based in North Shropshire, England has been chemical free for over 65 years.
According to Arthur Hollins, “My grandfather farmed the traditional mixed farming four course system on the 150 acres here at Fordhall, carrying 35 shorthorns, 45 spring lambing sheep and four breeding sows. The crop rotation system seemed to be unchangeable, maintaining a good state of fertility with all the animal residues returned to the soil and the clover ley giving humus when ploughed in from its large root formation. The First World War brought the farming community a false prosperity with a large increase in the use of fertilisers to produce extra food at home. This happened at Fordhall, unbalancing the farm. Each field had sandy hills up to 1 in 12. A reduction in the animal population and the vast increase in fertilisers started a downward trend in soil fertility which my father made no attempt to check because the fertilisers continued to produce a good yield. When the pendulum swung and hard times came in the twenties and early thirties, there were financial difficulties with fertiliser firms; then a gradual restriction in everything that aided soil fertility. In these sandy, sloping fields, which were bare during the winter, soil bacteria soon began to die away. The slopes became thinner and sandier and the best soil was washed to the bottom of the field.
Arthur found the expensive artificial fertilisers his father had previously used on the farm were not giving satisfactory results, so he studied various farming techniques. He started to grow mushrooms commercially, finding they not only provided a much-needed source of income, but also large quantities of spent compost, which helped to improve the condition of Fordhall’s soil. He experimented with mixtures of hardy greens, poultry sheep and fish manure and over the years he developed his own ‘organic’ farming system. Arthur goes into much more detail about this in his book: ‘The Farmer, the Plough & the Devil’ Ellingham Press 1984.
Arthur grew to understand that ‘Mother Earth’ would correct man-made errors if left to heal her-self? Shortly after the Second World War he vowed never to put chemical fertilizers on the land at Fordhall again, relying solely on natural animal muck as fertilizer. He let the grassland fields return to nature. Even whilst his business was booming; Arthur always found energy for his research. He was adamant that farming could work in harmony with nature and he spent his whole life reinforcing this idea. It is this importance of sustainability that has been easily absorbed into the Fordhall Community Land Initiative today. Arthur made it a priority to ensure that everyone left having learnt something about nature. The enthusiasm he held for farming and biodiversity was evident and he never tired of making people feel like they had stumbled upon a magical world.
Today Fordhall is one of the longest running natural organic farms in England. We rear cattle, sheep and pigs on an outdoor extensive grazing system.