VIDEO: The Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC) is on the hunt for passionate landworkers and ecological entrepreneurs to become smallholders on three new available sites.

They have opened their application process to find future farmers for new sites in Arlington, East Sussex; Sparkford, Somerset; and on the Gower Peninsula, South Wales.

The Cooperative was established to address the lack of affordable sites for ecological land-based livelihoods in England and Wales.

It works to revitalise rural economies by creating affordable and residential small farms for those who would ordinarily be unable to afford a house in the countryside yet who wish to earn a living through farming.

South West Farmer:

image: ELC, Helen of Elder Farm harvesting calendula 2017

One of the ELC’s first tenants, and an experienced grower, James Dexter, said: “I always wanted a piece of land of my own.

"I’d been looking at buying some land and setting up a smallholding but I was aware that it was really complicated and our planning system wasn’t friendly to sustainable farmers.

"I’d been looking and got discouraged because it was so difficult and expensive. Then I heard about the ELC – so I applied.”

By focusing on access to land the ELC engages future farmers with real prospects of leading landbased livelihoods and producing good, local, healthy food in a fast changing political and rural landscape. The UK faces multiple challenges in terms of food security, energy and climate change. A response to these immediate and long terms challenges is the ELC’s cluster model of small mixed farms as low impact developments. By providing good, local and healthy food ELC plots contribute to rural regeneration and a more vibrant local food economy – whilst increasing biodiversity, wildlife habitat and soil health.

South West Farmer:

The new site at Sparkford, Somerset. Image: ELC

Set up in 2009, the ELC’s core business model is the acquisition of land, securing planning permission and installation of infrastructure for clusters of three or more affordable residential smallholdings. Smallholders are provided with permission to build their own sustainable home with off-grid utilities and road access.

The Cooperative's first project, Greenham Reach in mid-Devon, was granted temporary planning permission in 2013 and has recently been granted permanent permission (pending final legal agreement). Now home to three thriving smallholdings – including businesses such as veg box scheme, salad bags, micro goat dairy, tree nursery, medicinal herbs, meat and educational courses, Greenham Reach is a living example of ecologically managed land providing truly sustainable land-based livelihoods.

South West Farmer:

Applications open for new entrants to ecological farming. Image: ELC

Oliver Bettany, membership and engagement manager for the ELC said: “We’re really excited about our open application process. We know there are many talented people who would jump at the chance to have a land-based livelihood but are intimidated by planning laws or can’t afford to purchase land outright.

"As the ELC we are the interface between the authorities and our tenants. We work to support our farmers so they can hit the ground running and get on with what they’re passionate about: farming and food.”

With the current realities of an ageing farming population, high land costs and larger farms relying on EU subsidies and struggling to make a profit, the ELC focuses on removing such barriers and making land – and ecological farming – accessible to new entrants.

The Arlington site is ready for new tenants now and the Sparkford and Gower sites are being developed over the next year. The open application process is now live here.