Tablehurst became a community farm in 1996 and has been growing and developing ever since.
1967: Emerson College acquires Tablehurst Farm
In 1967, Emerson College, then a small adult education initiative, moved to what would become it’s permanent home on the hillside above Tablehurst Farm. At this time, the College owned the farm land, and a training in biodynamic agriculture was offered by the College, using the farm for all the practical aspects. This continued until 1994, when the College decided that the agricultural training was no longer viable. It announced a proposal to sell the land.
1994: Can a Community Farm be Created?
At the time of Emerson’s announcement, Peter Brown had recently arrived at Tablehurst. He, and many others in the locality, were very troubled at the thought of Tablehurst being sold, because this was likely to spell the end of biodynamic farming here. A group formed and started a campaign to create a community farm. The campaign faced two challenges: to persuade Emerson College to hold onto the land – for the time being at least – and rent it to a new farming entity; and to find the money to purchase all the equipment and livestock of the farm from the College.
1996: A Community Farm is Born
The community initiative was a great success: £150,000 was raised, and The College agreed to retain the land and become landlord to the new initiative. A community co-operative was formed to act as the ownership vehicle for the new farm business. By the end of 1996, about 100 individuals had purchased shares in the Co-op, thus becoming the collective owners of Tablehurst Farm.
In the very early days, Tablehurst had a small farming team and a tiny shop that opened one day a week selling limited quantities of meat from the farm. Despite this, as early as the summer of 1997, Tablehurst was staging large events on the farm to draw the local community to Tablehurst.
2001: Plaw Hatch Farm joins the Co-operative
When the Co-op was formed, it was always the plan that Plaw Hatch Farm – another biodynamic enterprise just three miles from Tablehurst – should also come under the umbrella of the community co-op. In 2001, a second wave of public fundraising secured the £60,000 needed to make this happen, and we became sister farms under common community ownership.
2003: Unifying ownership of the farm land
Until 2003, the land and buildings of Tablehurst Farm continued to be owned by Emerson College, whilst those at Plaw Hatch were owned by a small local charity called St Anthony’s Trust. St Anthony’s Trust had biodynamic farming at its heart, and in 2003, we persuaded Emerson College to give the land and buildings of Tablehurst to St Anthony’s Trust. For the 17 years since, we have had two farms under common community ownership with one common (and very supportive) landlord.
Two decades of development
Since 2003, there have been many gradual developments at Tablehurst including helping two new local biodynamic farms to get started, many changes to our own farming mix, a substantial increase in vegetable production, new cow and pig barns, a lot of investment in farm accommodation, a new enlarged farm shop, the opening of the farm café, the addition of the pie kitchen, the construction of a new house using straw bales, the planting of nearly 2,000 trees and, most recently, the arrival of our new small herd of dairy cows.
Throughout all these developments, two things have remained constant.
Tablehurst is committed to biodynamics as its core farming philosophy, and to community engagement as a central pillar of our work. The journey towards becoming the “ideal” biodynamic farm is never over – we still have a long and interesting road to travel!