Once upon a time

I have to admit that I’m more interested in planting trees than creating websites.

But we’re also keen to share and document our journey. We want to sketch out our vision, and to invite you to be part of it. Let’s start at the beginning of the story.

Almost two years ago I started dreaming of an orchard.

I was keen to get back to working on the land, but struggling to get my head round how to make that possible whilst parenting and home educating my two kids and needing to earn a living. A chance sentence in a book on organic orchards caught my attention. It suggested that if you are short on time now, but likely to have more time in future, you should plant trees. They will, to some extent, at least more than vegetables do, wait for you.

The orchard idea became more attractive as I realised that to grow trees you don’t necessarily need exclusive access to land. In fact, agroforestry – combining productive trees with other crops or with livestock – is the currently one of the trendy new ideas in the world of regenerative farming.

One day I plucked up courage to casually ask Kees at Stroud Micro Dairy if he thought there was any possibility to integrate fruit trees with his dairy cows. I knew that when the farm had first been bought through a community share offer a few years earlier, there had been mention of agroforestry, but I was still rather taken aback by the enthusiasm in his response.

With no excuse not to pursue the idea, the months still ticked by alarmingly fast. I wasn’t doing nothing, but it was hard to prioritise a vague vision, and even harder to pin it down. I read up about agroforestry, about community supported agriculture, and about apple growing. I talked to farmers and growers. I had more formal discussions with the team at Oakbrook Farm, home of the micro dairy. I learned how to graft new apple trees. Everyone I spoke to was positive and supportive of the orchard idea, but it was taking its time arriving.

Then lockdown in March 2020 gave me a desperate sense of needing to do something. I ordered 75 rootstock, and took a bus to Day’s Cottage orchard. Dave and Helen, always generous with their knowledge skills and resources, gave me scions from their trees. Much to the annoyance of my kids, I spent every spare minute of the next few weeks sitting in the back garden grafting. We planted the baby trees in the allotment and waited anxiously to see if they would take. All but three came in to leaf.

Now I needed a long term home for the trees, and I knew I needed a collaborator too. I didn’t want to go it alone. I figured that I had no idea how to write a business plan, and no time either. I landed on the idea of a pilot project – a small start, which, as a trial, didn’t need to prove that it would be profitable before it was planted. And happily my friend Sarah, somewhat bemused, agreed to jump on my crazy bandwagon.

Cutting it very fine, we got a proposal in to Oakbrook Farm in the last week of August, and we were given the go ahead for a pilot project a few days later.

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