SCOTLAND’S first community farm started in the Borders last week when a share launch raised nearly £200,000.
Rural Affairs Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead started the share float at the award-winning 130-acre organic Whitmuir Farm near Lamancha last Thursday morning.
Owners Pete Ritchie and Heather Anderson hope to raise £600,000 selling the former sheep hill farm to further develop it as a community and educational centre.
The first day selling the £50 shares raised £170,000; £400,000 is needed to buy the land with the remaining £200,000 required to purchase the livestock, machinery and equipment.
“We are nearly halfway to buying the land itself from the launch which is fantastic,” said Heather.
She said the couple had always been motivated by the farm also being a place of education. “We are [operating like] a community farm but we don’t have that legal standing. By making it physically a community structure now it gives us a lot more scope to work with other agencies,“ said Heather.
She and Pete have applied for Leader funding to develop educational opportunities. And they plan to do a feasibility study on the site. But the first priority is to secure the £400,000 to purchase the land, she said.
The couple bought the farm in 2000 when they were still running an Edinburgh charitable trust working with disabled people. They rear sheep and beef, chickens, turkeys and pigs, vegetables and soft fruit, and a small amount of wheat for baking.
Neither is from a farming background: “Pete was always passionate about growing food, I’m from Dundee. But I think that’s what we bring to it: ‘This is really interesting and people who live in towns need to know about this’,” said Heather.
Asked what about Whitmuir would be relevant to mainstream farmers, Heather said: “Everything. All we are trying to do is to farm with the soil we have got and within the climate we have as best as we can and the whole thing about organics is how do we manage to do that without degrading the soil or causing more problems for future generations.”
But the key to Whitmuir is “reconnecting people with food” said Heather: “People have been buying anonymous food from anonymous producers through big industrial warehouses called supermarkets. But food is personal: here this animal was reared by somebody you know, butchered by somebody you know and sold by somebody who knows you. Farms are for growing food, if you are farming and are not producing products for use, what are you farming for?”
For more information about the farm and shares visit www.whitmuircommunityfarm.org.