Two farms, about 800 acres of land, one community initiative, training for young farmers, biodynamic methods, outstanding farm shops, award-winning organic and biodynamic produce, food so local it has barely moved, and as much community involvement as we can muster. It's hard to know where to start really.
We have only ourselves to blame for this. "Tablehurst Farm" is one of our two farm enterprises. Likewise "Plaw Hatch Farm". However, "Tablehurst and Plaw Hatch Community Farm" is the community-owned co-operative which owns the two farm enterprises. Hereafter, we'll refer to it as "the Co-operative", or just "the Co-op" for the sake of everyone's sanity. We also need to explain where St Anthony's Trust comes in, but we'll save that for a bit later (see under ownership, below).
The Tablehurst and Plaw Hatch Community Farm initiative was born in 1994 when it appeared that Tablehurst Farm might be lost to biodynamic agriculture after more than 25 years of careful husbandry by Emerson College. The college could no longer support the farm and, following a major community fund-raising drive, agreed to sell the farm assets to the community whilst retaining ownership of the land.
Thus was the Co-op founded early in 1995. At this stage, there was a clearly expressed intention that Plaw Hatch Farm - also biodynamic and only three miles distant - should also be brought into the Co-op in due course. It was owned at the time by a local charitable trust to whom it had been donated some twenty years previously. For a variety of reasons, this transfer did not take place until 2001, again following major community fund-raising.
One final transaction took place in 2005, transferring the land ownership of Tablehurst Farm from Emerson College to St Anthony's Trust. Thus today, individuals in the community - known as "farm partners" own the Co-op, the Co-op owns the two farm businesses, and St Anthony's Trust owns the farm land and buildings.
The Co-op is governed by a committee, which in turn is elected at the annual Co-op AGM by the farm partners. Each farm is a limited company and has a board of directors which is answerable to the Co-op. In practice, the farm management teams make all the day-to-day decisions about the enterprises, whilst the Co-op committee attempts to set the long term agenda for the wider community initiative.