To some it may have seemed a utopian pipe dream – a community-led farm in the shadow of the city centre, tucked away off the busy and traffic-choked Kirkstall Road, writes John Baron.
But, thanks to a group of determined activists at the Kirkstall Valley Development Trust (KVDT), that dream of a tranquil oasis growing produce on land sandwiched between the busy A65 and the River Aire will become a reality.
Leeds City Council has agreed to lease the 16-acre Burley Mills Farm (now known as Kirkstall Valley Farm) and allotments to the community for a minimum of five years from next April at an affordable rent.
There are plans to employ a ‘grower’ for the site next year, who will help co-ordinate the variety of voluntary positions and local helpers on the community farm.
It’s hoped to sustain the area – which was privately farmed for many years until the previous leaseholder died in 2017 – by selling weekly vegetable and fruit boxes to residents and shops, as well as developing educational and social projects.
One of the leading lights behind the project is local resident and fleet manager Roger Plumtree, whose father was a farmer. He says the project will allow him to re-connect with his roots. Mr Plumtree added:
“We see a huge opportunity with the location of the farm. There are very few community farms across the country which are so close to the city centre and we’re hugely excited to be bringing real-world sustainable agriculture to the community.
“We want to bring agricultural land back into use, enhance wildlife on the site by preserving the boundaries and make it a community asset.
“We intend to start working on the farm, fundraising and creating the infrastructure needed as soon as we can, even if full scale veg box production might have to wait until 2021.”
Mr Plumtree is a keen supporter of the community supported agriculture model – and is also quick to stress the value of producing organic food, using natural pest control. He’s inspired by the smallholding model of agriculture the Chinese have mastered as a way forward for this country.
In the meantime Roger and the band of around a dozen volunteers on KVDT’s farming steering group are looking to pull supporters together to gather ideas and see what skills and time there is locally.
There will be a supporters meeting followed by farm visit on Saturday 2nd November, starting at 12pm at KVDT’s new base at Unit 11, Kirkstall Bridge Retail Park.
If you can’t make it but want to be involved, contact Roger at email@example.com.
From November to Xmas 2019 KVDT will fundraising £20,000 on Crowdfunder to finance Kirkstall Valley Farm’s start up. Go to the fundraiser here from November to help them get there.
Money will go towards a tractor, equipment, green manure seed, toilets, a collection hut and social area for volunteers. It will also make the site secure.
Kirkstall Valley Development Trust is a community benefit society set up in 2016 to develop a learning and leisure park over 200 acres of inner West Leeds and to refurbish Abbey Mills in Kirkstall for housing and community use.