Whitmuir Community Farm, a few miles south of the Scottish capital Edinburgh is selling itself to the local community. Literally. For a couple of years now, Whitmuir Community Benefit Society has been selling shares in the working organic farm, with a view to securing the future of the educational work that already goes on there. “Transferring the land from private ownership to community ownership not only protects the long term future of the farm, but also allows greater collaboration with the educational and science sectors than is currently possible and enables the development of accommodation and teaching facilities on site,” explains Pete Ritchie, director of Nourish Scotland, who is currently farming Whitmuir with his partner, Heather Anderson.
The process of selling shares was launched in 2013, with the first share being bought for then five-year-old Maya by her family. The launch event was also attended by the Scottish Parliament’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, Richard Lochhead (pictured below, with Maya). There are now 14 shareholders under the age of 16 and the Whitmuir Community Benefit Society is well on its way towards reaching its first target of GBP 400,000.
The long term aim to develop a Living Learning Space where future generations can learn about food production and its place in the environment. The educational aspects of Whitmuir have been accelerating over the past seven years and the farm now hosts around 50 tours a year as part of the 80,000 visitors to the farm shop, gallery and restaurant.
This year Whitmuir has funding for a 2,000 square metre project, to show visitors just how much food can be grown on two hectares of arable land, along the lines of the ARC2020 study. The project will test a rural food waste recycling scheme for up to 60 households and work with two local primary schools to recruit up to 40 community growers to grow vegetables for the schools.
Whitmuir has a very wide base of support. MEP Alyn Smith describes it as: “…a truly inspirational example of sustainable organic farming.” He went on to say: “Scotland’s got a good story to tell when we talk about high-quality food, and consumers knowing that they’re getting fresh, organic produce is a significant part of that.”
Local SNP candidate Emma Harper is particularly impressed by the scale of the educational programme at Whitmuir: “As a nurse educator I am especially impressed by the focus on education at Whitmuir, in that both visitors and the local community can reconnect directly with farming and food production.” Over the past five years, Whitmuir has hosted 355 educational events for a wide range of audiences, from primary schools onwards.
In April, work starts in earnest on the two thousand square metres project. Heather Anderson explains how Whitmuir will put the “local” into local food. “From April 2015, with support from the Climate Challenge Fund, the farm will be working with two local schools to grow vegetables for the schools. Every person on the planet has 2000 square metres of arable land and 4000 square metres of pasture, so the site will demonstrate the land use decisions we can make in Scotland, like similar projects round the world.”