Northern Ireland’s first farm co-op is common ground for good

Jonny and Paula Hanson with son Joshua (8) and daughters Bethany (6) and Sophia (3) along with Noreen Christian. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Jonny and Paula Hanson with son Joshua (8) and daughters Bethany (6) and Sophia (3) along with Noreen Christian. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Jubilee Farm, a new community-led, Christian-based agricultural and environmental co-operative is well on the way to establishing the first community-owned farm in Northern Ireland.

As a co-operative social enterprise, Jubilee is raising funding for their impressive project through a community share offer due to close on Friday, January 25.

Sophia, Bethany and Joshua Hanson get some practice in on Jubilee Farm, Carnduff, Glynn, near Larne. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Sophia, Bethany and Joshua Hanson get some practice in on Jubilee Farm, Carnduff, Glynn, near Larne. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

To date, they have already made significant progress, raising £280,000 to acquire a farmhouse, as well as 13.5 acres of land, outside Glynn in County Antrim. Their next milestone is to reach their £30,000 target for the purchase of essential equipment, livestock, a greenhouse and the installation of polytunnels.

“The response has been most encouraging and we are on track to meet our goal,” commented Society Managing Director, Dr. Jonny Hanson.

“Becoming a member-owner of Jubilee Farm is the perfect opportunity for individuals, families, schools, churches, and community groups to come together and invest in a community enterprise that works for the benefit of everyone. The option for members and non-members alike to purchase food from the farm while also getting involved in volunteering and special events, will create a real sense of community ownership and community spirit.”

The Jubilee Farm story has been in the making for several years now.

Jonny continued: “Such was the interest from over 28 organisations in attendance over the course of our four pubic consultation meetings at Drumalis Retreat Centre in 2017, that we haven’t looked back. For the first six months of 2018, Jubilee used a temporary site situated in the walled garden at Drumalis in Larne. This gave us a great start.

“Our move to the farm at Glenburn Road outside the village of Glynn, has given space and scope to further develop our project. Our five-year plan will embrace organic farming, educational outreach, school and group visits, care farming and an internship programme. A glamping initiative factored in for year four will also tick the box for rural farm staycations. However within the next six months a major focus for us will be setting up our veg box scheme, using fresh in-season produce from the farm.

“In line with our ethos, rediscovering how important being a custodian for the future is and as a Christian organisation, engaging with churches in Ireland, were key factors to our current success.”

Reinforcing the family-centred approach, so important to the venture, Jonny with wife Paula and children, Joshua (aged eight) Bethany (aged six) and Sophia (aged three) have just moved on-site to live at Jubilee Farm. And although only relocating from Larne, as joint founding members, they are finding their new life invigorating and can now really see things starting to materialise.

Jonny’s grandparents farmed in the Aghadowey area, where he spent many happy childhood summers. And although his parents were not farmers he feels he was hardwired for the great outdoors.

“When I was a child I wanted to be both a farmer and a conservationist. With this job I have a foot in both camps with my interests in nature and wildlife on one hand, and in sustainable agriculture and agroecology on the other hand. Importantly, the fact that I have realised this dream, is I feel, most encouraging for others with similar interests who are not from farming stock, especially when we desperately need new and younger entrants to the profession,” Jonny said.

A second Jubilee Farm Pig Club has already started with the pre-sale of 28 pig quarters. As many people are perhaps a little out of touch about where their food comes from, the idea behind the pig club is to market pig meat not just as pork but also as various cuts from the animal, giving not only traceability but useful insight into the production of high-welfare outdoor pigs. Turkeys will be raised in time for Christmas 2019. While, the planned addition of goats to the smallholding in the near future, will see them effectively manage the adjacent scrubland.

Commenting on Jubilee Farm events, Jonny said:“At our Bioblitz Festival of Science and Nature in June 2018, we welcomed more than 400 members of the public to participate in a 24-hour programme of walks, talks and activities. Our Bioblitz Festival will also run again this year, taking place on Friday 21 and Saturday 22 June, marking the official opening of Jubilee Farm.”

Due to their popularity, community volunteer days are also planned as on-going attractions. The last series in 2018 brought in over 100 volunteers, while almost 100 primary school children attended one of the curriculum-based nature education learning sessions.

Developing outreach to schools will also bring dedicated Teacher Tours for education professionals to the venue on 27 February and 8 March. Outreach to other groups such as the non-residential CARE – Care farming for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and the Environment - Project, offers structured volunteering opportunities to refugee asylum seeker groups. The first group of four to participate in the project includes refugees and asylum seekers from the Ivory Coast, Syria and Iran, some of whom were farmers in their home countries.

Jubilee’s aim to breathe new life into the old farm dwelling and create a legacy for future generations has certainly caught the imagination of its 105 members.

Society Secretary Dr Jeni McAughey is very appreciative of the support Jubilee has received to date: “We started with less than 10 members but through the help and guidance of Co-operative Alternatives and the Plunkett Foundation, we have steadily built our member base. Adopting the cooperative model has brought many benefits such as engaging with members who have shared values and diverse skill sets. This has developed a synergy from pooled resources, such as financial advice and business support alongside practical skills such as animal husbandry.”

Tiziana O’Hara, from Cooperative Alternatives, said: “The existence of Jubilee Farm is of great importance as an example of sustainable community enterprise which creates economic, ecological, and social value.

“With the Plunkett Foundation we supported Jubilee and, in particular, developed their investment offer to the local community and allowed them to raise the necessary capital. This successful initiative proves that there is a wide interest for projects that bring members ownership and democratic participation back to the heart of farming.”

The Society’s aim is to create permanence locked into the ecosystem through a long-term contribution to the stewardship of the countryside and a responsibility to nature, will provide a legacy for generations to come. An oak tree will be planted on the first members’ day to symbolise this nod to nature and the future.

“In summary, Jubilee Farm in essence, is owned by the community and for the community and importantly, welcomes people of all backgrounds and beliefs. Everyone is welcome. It’s a common ground for good in many ways,” Jonny concluded.

Minimum share investment starts at £50. For further information about Jubilee Farm or the share offer visit www.jubilee.coop