Buying Honeydale Farm
Founder, Ian Wilkinson: It was always part of our plan for our seed business to have a farm for trials, demonstrations and education, and we had been looking to acquire a farm in the Cotswolds for a long time, but we’d never found anywhere quite suitable, until the opportunity came up to buy Honeydale Farm.
Jim and Wendy Pearce had farmed the hundred acres at Honeydale since they married but were ready to retire to the neighbouring village. Cotswold Seeds was celebrating its’ 40th anniversary in 2013, which made it feel like the right time for us to buy the farm.
Honeydale was being sold at auction by Tayler and Fletcher at the Fosse Manor Hotel. I went with my son, Jack, and though Matthew White, our land agent, took charge of the bidding for us, it was all very nerve-wracking. When the hammer fell, I remember feeling such mixed emotions, excitement coupled with anxiety. I think anyone who’s ever bought land or a farm at auction, or even a house, will sympathise.
The next morning we received lots of phone calls from neighbouring farmers who’d found out overnight that ours was the successful bid. They were so supportive and happy for us that it made the stress of it all worthwhile. As did walking round the fields and paddocks that first time, knowing it was ours and starting to plan how best to use it.
Founder, Celene Wilkinson: I recently discovered a wonderful book called ‘The Farming Ladder’ by George Henderson, a Cotswold farmer in the early 1900s. He was working the land nearly a hundred years ago, but his wisdom is timeless and summed up our vision for our farm.
George Henderson maintained that for the farmer there is only one rule of good husbandry - to leave the land in better heart than he found it. It has been said of George Henderson that: ‘This was his sacred trust; to maintain the soil's fertility and pass it on unimpaired to the unborn generations to come. For nothing justified the exhaustion of a farm. A civilisation lasted but a thousand years, while in the farmers' hands lay the destiny of all mankind.’
I feel very strongly that soil is an overlooked, over utilised and often neglected part of the farming system which can be kept in a healthy state through the use of seed mixtures which increase soil organic matter, fix nitrogen naturally, help in the suppression of weeds and thus improve yields, in addition to being cleaner and kinder to the environment and the pollinators so badly needed by farmers.
I’ve also become increasingly aware of the impact that farmers have on human health, as producers of the food that we all eat. As soon as we’d purchased the farm, I was looking forward to showing people around a fully functioning diverse farm, alive with the sounds of birds and bees and vibrant with a plethora of grasses, flowers and trees, as well as producing good food that’s grown well.
Sam Moves To Honeydale
The first thing we needed to do was find a tenant, ideally someone with a farming background who could live on the land and help look after it. Sam Lane was working at the local Swinbrook estate and was looking for a place to live near by. He moved into the cottage in November, we got talking, and then he also joined the team at Cotswold Seeds as technical advisor. It’s great how things work out sometimes. There was the first real link between FarmED and Cotswold Seeds, before we’d even started to sow anything.
Sam Lane: Having moved into Honeydale in late November I was immediately struck by the stunning panoramic views. They stretch from Chadlington and Charlbury in the North East and all the way around to Rissington, Stow and the Cotswold hills in the south west. I was lucky to experience a mild winter, having been warned that snow does drift along the driveway, when it blows in on top of the hill! On sunny days it was great to see lots of brown hares and an abundance of skylarks making the most of the over winter stubbles, as a habitat and food source.