Farm Co-op is Common Ground for Good

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

A new community-led, Christian-based agricultural and environmental co-operative in Larne is well on the way to establishing what could be the first community-owned farm of its type in Northern Ireland.

As a co-operative social enterprise, Jubilee Farm is raising funding for their impressive project through a community share offer due to close this Friday, January 25, with minimum share investment starting at £50.

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.

Society Managing Director, Dr. Jonny Hanson said: “The response has been most encouraging and we are on track to meet our goal. 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 said, “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 (eight), Bethany (aged six) and Sophia (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,“ he said.

A second Jubilee Farm Pig Club has already started. 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.

Jonny sai: “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 and Saturday, June 21 and 22 , 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 February 27 and March 8. 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.

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. 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.

Jonny said: “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.”

For more information about Jubilee Farm or the share offer visit www.jubilee.coop