Yorkley Court Community Farm is in the Forest of Dean. They contacted us as they’re involved in a legal battle to stay on the land that they’re currently occupying. The ownership of the land is contested, but a lot of damage has been done (felling and burning of trees, compaction by heavy machinery) by a local property developer on behalf of one person contesting ownership. The same developer has hired bailiffs to remove the community farm, but they’ve managed to get an injunction to prevent forced removal.
Here’s something from Tilo of the community farm – first the local situation, and then their views on land ownership generally. Love these guys – they deserve some support, and it explains how you can help on their website.
Where and who we are
Yorkley Court Farm is a large estate along the Lydney road going into Yorkley. The three storey grade II farmhouse dominates the landscape. Traditionally pasture, the last tenant farmers left 10 years ago. Since then it has fallen into a state of disrepair and intervention is now necessary to prevent any further degradation. Unfortunately there is no known owner and the solicitor that was dealing with the estate had been withholding information form the tenants. The children of the these former tenants all still live locally and are concerned about the future of the farm. The Yorkley Court Community Farm Land Trust is in the process of claiming the land through the creation of a Community Benefit Society. This is a pioneering model of a community farm land trust based on the principles of Agroecology. These principles will outline how the land should be developed. We will raise funds through community shares to cover legal costs, restore the infrastructure, renovate the buildings and provide working capital for Yorkley Court Community Farm (a co-operative consortium of individuals, local organisations and businesses).
Why we’re here
The way food is produced distributed and consumed in Britain today is shaped by a complex history spanning 1000 years of struggle.
Understanding this history is essential in understanding the way things are today, not just for land workers but for all of us. It is a social history that leaves a divisive legacy across our landscape, our people, our food and our daily work, entrenching poverty and privilege in Britain. Any serious attempts to create local, sustainable food systems must address it.
The history of Britain has been driven by the dispossession of land based communities as the ownership of fields, forest and commons has been progressively concentrated into the hands of a few powerful landowners.
Over the centuries our ancestors have faced enclosures and clearances, the loss of common land and grazing rights and the development of a culture of exclusive land ownership and prohibitive land prices, all intimately connected with the process of industrialisation and colonialism. From this history we look out today on a country where over 75 % of the land is owned by less than 1% of the population, where the average age of a farmer is over 60 and where less than 1% of the population work on the land.
Corporate business dominates all levels of our food system, resulting in complicated and fast moving supply chains where prices for producers are squeezed and scandals such as contamination, gang labour and health scares are increasingly common.
The relationship between land ownership and food systems is clear. Between 2007 and 2013 the EU lost over 25% of its farms because an agricultural industry based on chemical inputs, large land holdings and a high degree of mechanisation is the only farm capable of surviving in a food system dominated by a few big retailers. That kind of agricultural industry leads inevitably to the exploitation of the land, the producers and the health of those who consume its products, whilst making it harder and harder for people with alternative ideas to get a foot hold on the farming ladder.
A just and more sustainable food and farming system would involve short supply chains and a multiplicity of small scale sustainable food producers. Such a system can deliver healthy nutritious food with responsible environmental stewardship and the creation of more meaningful land based livelihoods. However, to do this we need a change of perspective on land and food: we need to understand that the right to food and the right to land go hand in hand.
The story is told in different ways in different places but essentially it goes like this: a destitute man wearily stumbles down a country lane on winters evening and finding a field sheltered from the wind by a good sturdy fence, climbs over and beds down for the night.
In the morning, he wakes with a start, the landowner is prodding him with his cane.
“What do you think you are doing here?” he demands, “this land is private property!”
“Is it?” the man asks, waking up.
“It certainly is, I own it!” the landowner snaps.
“Well, says the man, rubbing his eyes, “how did you come by it?”
“What a silly question!” the landowner exclaims “why, my father owned it”.
“And how did he come by?” the man enquires.
“His father owned it” he replies continuing impatiently “and his father before his, and his father before his and his father before his all the way back to the Norman Conquest.”
“I see and what of your forefathers at the time of the Norman Conquest, how did they come by this land?”
“Well they fought for it of course”.
“Right” says the man getting to his feet and rolling up his sleeves, “then I’ll fight you for it”.
The story exposes the absurdity of our system of land ownership. Whether by direct violence or making a killing in business there is something crazy about anyone laying claim to large tracts of land for private amusement or gain while the majority of us cannot lay claim to “one handful of earth”.
“The earth was made a common treasury for all” declared Gerrard Winstanly of the 17th centrury Diggers. To them the land should be worked communally and it’s fruits divided equally. A co-operative alternative to the Diggers’ collectivist approach might be that, at the least those who wish to live and/or work on the land should be given control of that which they can manage in a sustainable and productive way: no more, no less.
These are just two “models” of a fairer system of land distribution; there are plenty more voiced and yet to be voiced. What they all have in common is that they throw into stark relief the fact that the current land ownership system continues to reward downright theft and is ultimately a cause of many of our current environmental, social and economic ills.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's