By Miranda Robertson
A young farmer has been given a huge boost for his future in the industry after a couple offered him a rare farm share opportunity.
It’s a traditional, yet unusual idea, where older farmers (the average age of farmers is 59) invite younger people to share the profits from their land.
Thomas Stinton is just 21, yet he’s been keeping sheep since he was 13, when he volunteered at the community farm Shaftesbury Home Grown. He now has a flock of 130 mules crossed with Suffolk and Texel Rams.
With no farming background, and buying a farm out of his reach, Thomas, who attended Bourton primary, Gillingham Secondary and then Kingston Maurward, set about creating opportunities for himself, renting land in Mere, travelling around doing fencing and the like.
In spring this year Maggie and Quentin Edwards of Cools Farm in East Knoyle sent out an invitation for a share farmer. The plan was to operate their accounts and the share farmer’s accounts side by side, and share the profits – along with the different skills brought by both generations.
It was a match-making exercise that aimed to secure the future of the farm – and Thomas immediately hit it off with the couple, both 69.
Now, in addition to the couple’s usual grass fed beef at Shaftesbury Street Market they offer lamb too – and this is not any old meat.
The beef herd take 32 months to mature, leading to a distinctive marbling of the meat (commercial beef can sometimes be reared in 18 months). The lamb are reared on a simple grass diet and take eight or nine months, compared to around five or six on intensive farms.
Thomas and his partner Emily and Quentin and Maggie’s ideas for sustainable farming chimed with each other, and a few months after meeting, the young couple are living at the farm and bringing some of their digital nous to the table.
There’s a new Facebook page and Instagram account (search for Cools Farm Organics), and the youngsters are keen to expand upon the Edwards’ already impressive environmental efforts, with wildflowers being encouraged, not only to improve the soil but to naturally combat worms in the herd. Ancient woodland is being preserved, and Saxon hedgerows nurtured and maintained.
The farm also sells its pedigree red poll heifers and when calves were born last week they decided not to castrate the boys as they would normally do, but let them grow into useful breeding stock.
Thomas said: “I tried all aspects of farming and had a go at lambing, which I’ve steered towards ever since.
“I look forward to getting up in the morning going to sort some sheep out.
“You can definitely taste the difference in our meat.
“We farm in in rotation regeneratively and I’ve gone into organic conversion.
“The beef cattle were already organic so it’s something I’ve had to learn. There’s a lot more paperwork but it’s worth doing.
“I think that’s the way forward, making the farm sustainable.”
Maggie said: “The share farming scheme means Quentin provides land, buildings and expertise to enable a younger person to build up capital and his own farming experience while benefiting from his new ideas, energy and skills.
“We realise the physical demands of keeping cattle will, in time, be beyond us. We are delighted that Tom and Emily will add new ideas, enthusiasm and different expertise to the farm business.
“There is a fashionable push not to eat red meat and some bad press about cattle and global warming. Do watch the film on Netflix Kiss the Ground, which dispels the myths about cattle rearing.
“At Cools Farm, carbon is constantly sequestered in the soil as the entire farm is permanent grassland and never ploughed. No pesticides or fertiliser are used. The cattle eat only grass, never corn and therefore take longer to reach maturity. The meat is much better for you than corn fed beef and Tom’s lamb will complement it.
“The land is full of hedgerows many of which date from Saxon times and, together with the woodland, the farm is extracting carbon from the air and storing it in the soil. By buying meat raised in this way, you are supporting a local farm and the world.”
Thomas added: “I’ve had no farming background, so I can’t inherit a 200-acre farm and wouldn’t be able to afford one – so this sort of arrangement is perfect for a young farmer.
“I will be forever grateful to Quentin and Maggies for this opportunity.
“That’s what the farming community is like – we all help each other out. I’ve had a lot of help from fellow farmers over the years.”