Cottage Farm Organics
Farmers: Paul and Celia Sousek
Location: Jacobstow, North Cornwall
Enterprises/Activities: Organic beef and lamb, renewables exemplar
Cottage Farm, as well as being organic, stands out for its dedication to being sustainable and carbon neutral.
Paul and Celia Sousek took over the farm in 2005, without any kind of farming experience, but spurred on by the aim of creating a food producing business with a zero carbon footprint that served its customers at an affordable price.
Their achievements in just a few years have not gone unnoticed, earning Paul a place on the shortlist of just three nominees in the Farmer of the Year category of the BBC Food & Farming Awards 2011.
The measures taken to cut the energy use of the farm extend across its activities, from the approach to grazing its animals through to creating its own biofuel to power machinery and even food deliveries. Using a range of approaches and technologies, the farm has cut its fossil fuel use to near zero.
Cottage Farm is home to native breeds of beef cattle and sheep, which are raised almost exclusively on grass, keeping the need for supplemental fodder to an absolute minimum. They sell their meat predominantly locally to the farm and, even in doing so, have an eye on environmental impact, powering the delivery van that’s used on 100 per cent bio-diesel, which is made on the farm from waste vegetable oil.
Paul explains: “Our sustainability ethos also extends to the type of machinery used. Almost all our machinery was bought second hand, all mechanical with no electronic components and thus maintainable and repairable by local mechanics, helping to maintain local skill base and keep value circulating in the local community.
“Another aspect of our methodology is to sell our produce only directly to end customers, cutting out all the intermediaries that would otherwise absorb the majority of the profit, leaving the farmer with a minimal return. We deliver directly to our customers, but limit deliveries to only a few specific days in order to minimize food miles. We also started a local Food Market with local food producers, community and proxy stalls. Our customers receive regular newsletters updating them on developments and explaining the various innovations, our methods and motivations.”
Being involved in research that informs ever better organic farming also occupies the Sousek’s time. They are actively involved in the Tamar Valley Organic Group, a research group of practising organic farmers who work with Duchy College and Clear About Carbon.
Paul said: “We have oversown our permanent pastures with an innovative mix of several old varieties of grass, legumes and other fodder plants, such as chicory, lucerne, and yarrow. All these varieties are perennials with extensive root systems and high feed value. The aim is to ensure 100% grass feeding by extending the season in both directions, by achieving high drought resistance and by saturating the soil with root systems to eventually allow overwintering in the fields.”
Cottage Farm is far from being the biggest example of an organic livestock farm, but it is providing a working demonstration and how carbon footprints, and therefore costs, can be reduced dramatically on farms, even with the adoption of just some of the measures being employed.
Every aspect of the business and the family’s living requirements has been minutely examined for its potential to contribute to energy use reduction, including the carbon footprint of the house alone being reduced by 119 per cent (as measured by the Cornwall Sustainable Building Trust, and meaning the property exports surplus carbon neutral energy back to the grid). Using its organic methods, the farm land is calculated to be sequestering 150 tonnes of CO2 annually.
Such is the achievement of the Souseks, Cottage Farm has become the first property in Cornwall listed by the Superhomes charity, which is a national network of exemplar energy efficient, older, retrofitted homes. As a result they hold regular Open Days to show exactly what they have done, why and how, including a hands-on inspection of the various renewable energy equipment, followed by a relaxing organic farm walk. Checkwww.superhomes.org.uk for forthcoming days or for groups of up to 16, email them directly onCottage.Farm@tiscali.co.uk.
Recently the Souseks have also started a new venture, Fieldpower Organics, delivering organic meat boxes to customers in and around London, on behalf of Cottage Farm and other nearby organic farms.
There are many more fascinating details of how Cottage Farm has put the theory of carbon reduction into practice and how what has been learned there is being shared.
For more information, visit http://www.cottagefarmorganics.co.uk/