In the 1970s the land had been cleared of slum dwellings to create a new housing estate, and when plans for a new school fell through the land fell into disuse. Following the new idea of urban farms that began in Holland, and which had already been put into practice at the Kentish Town City Farm in London, the idea of a farm on the site was first discussed in 1977. The lease was signed on 17th August 1978 and the barn was put up in May 1980.
The good red marl soil had disappeared under several feet of rubble and so, after clearing the site, a large quantity of soil was imported from the Colwick Sugar Beet Factory. This “recycled” soil – washed off the beets and put back to work – was delivered by the lorry-load and had to be spread by the many volunteers, young and old.
The volunteers were keen to grow flowers, vegetables, herbs, etc., and there was talk of fruit and bees, a building to house small animals, a meeting room, play area, craftroom and greenhouse all to be built around a farmyard. The original Committee also saw the Farm as a place for education and involvement. It was decided to grow herbs, flowers and vegetables in specific areas rather than people growing their own things in allotment-type plots. This way more people could be involved, including the very young and very old. It was also decided to keep small animals, poultry and rabbits.
The farm was originally unfenced, crossed with a network of paths – a decision that later turned out to be a bit of a nightmare!
The barn was erected in May 1980, and the first animals were two goats, Solomon and Liza – donated by the TV personality Ted Moult – and a fluffy Gosling christened Gilbert who turned out to be an Aylesbury duck. By the summer of 1981 stock had increased to 5 goats, 2 lambs, 22 ducks, 40 rabbits and 60 chickens. The animals became so popular that the gardens started to become neglected.
Not all plain sailing
Most of the funding for the farm came from charitable donations, and staffed by volunteers – it was a constant battle to keep the farm open, with money always in short supply and a constant turn-around of staff. In the Autumn of 1983 the barn was destroyed by fire, along with a year’s supply of straw and the Farm’s van. There have also been incidents of vandalism and cruelty to the animals.
When things have looked bleak, however, both the volunteers on the Farm and the local community have rallied round to save the day. When the County Council proposed selling off the land in the Autumn of 1981, there was a petition from local residents, and teachers added to this by pointing out the benefits which their pupils gained from visits to and working on the Farm. Both the lease and funding ran out in 1983, but contributions from the City Council provided 3 full-time workers and helped pay some of the costs of running the Farm. And when the barn was destroyed, volunteers rolled up their sleeves one weekend and repaired the barn extension for one-tenth of the original quote. The most recent threat was from a new housing development putting an access road on Farm land in 2009, and this prompted a petition and publicity in the local media.
Into the Future
The Farm has benefited from a variety of funding sources over the years. We still receive grants from organisations such as Nottingham City Council, the National Lottery, the Silver Jubilee Fund, and the BBC Breathing Places which has allowed us to continue and add features such as the nature walk and orchards. Companies such as Boots, Lloyds TSB, Severn Trent, Barclays Bank, Experian, Capital One, Ernst & Young, Ikano and many more, have also donated both money and work to enhance the site. We also rely on donations from members of the public to keep the farm flourishing.