Treflach - Lfe on a Farm in Transition

Treflach Farm is a really fascinating place to be at the moment, we are busy tackling the issues around using less oil and fewer chemicals, regenerating natural diversity on the farm and diversifying its business life, becoming more self-sufficient, building local links and exploring how to live a truly sustainable life - and it's a lot of fun too.

Treflach Farm - some background stuff
The farm is on 150 acres of hilly land just a few miles from Oswestry, Shropshire, on the border between England and Wales. It's maybe not prime arable land but my understanding is that that kind of ploughing-and-chemicals agriculture is destructive, doesn't make energetic sense and must be stopped anyway. Treflach has lots of different niches and shapes to it. It borders on Sweeney Fen nature reserve - there's lots of interesting plants there which are being encouraged to spread into the farm's fields. There's several different areas of woodland from ancient Bluebell Wood to other parts that have been grazed recently and an orchard which we are in the process of renovating, (so it's an excellent place to develop and study Forest Gardening. Come on our Introduction to Forest Gardening, 11th to 12th August 2012 if you can, you'll be astonished at how powerful and relevant to our times this is). We are currently looking into how best to develop the woodland for useful production while integrating it with the animals' activity. The farm has a busy pie business operating from its own bakery and butchery, we run and host courses, we have regular visits from groups with special needs, we're bringing the polytunnel and garden back to life and there's continuous work in reparing and developing the farm's buildings. More about the farm here.

The shit hit the fan a long time ago
There are pigs, sheep, cattle, hens and ducks on the farm - if nothing else there's a huge variety of poo around - it struck me the other day that the shit hit the fan in farming a long time ago... But watching all the animal activity and thinking about how we are going to continue feeding and looking after them is really interesting. I used to think that animals are not a good way to convert feed into food but when you understand how their natural behaviour can be harnessed they make much more sense. Pigs and hens dig or scratch up the ground so can prepare it for planting, getting rid of pests at the same time. Also, as Simon Fairlie (a former vegetarian like myself) of The Land magazine points out, if the alternative to keeping animals is importing oil and fats from the other side of the world then lets keep the animals.

Bob and Ian Steele
Ian took over running the farm from his father Bob in 2006. It's great chatting to Bob who has already seen a tremendous amount of change and well remembers ploughing with horses - not something he would ever want to go back to, it was dangerous on rocky ground as the plough could jerk and break the plougman's arms. It's never been easy to make a living farming, projects have come and gone - the old milking parlour now lies buried beneath the farm's bakery, but I think the speed of change will increase in Ian's time here if anything, driven by increasing energy and material prices, increasing climate chaos and social and financial upheaval.

The Treflach Team and decision making
The Treflach team are great bunch to work with, there’s great respect for one another and a good feeling of working together to re-rig the farm for whatever the future may bring. Ian Steele is very good at listening to everyone’s ideas and opinions but at the end of the day it’s he who makes the decisions which I really like - it suits me not to have that responsibility after years of running my own businesses. Also, having visited and worked in many different situations I have to say that endless discussion with fifty other people in a consensus building process is not for me and I don’t think it would be the most efficient use of our time here.

(more on its way...)

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