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Tough love

How to set up a small farm

15-08-2013 | Rain, sweat and tears

"Last winter was horrendous. When we moved here in August a year ago, it rained until the beginning of February. There was water and mud everywhere. In November we had winds like I've never known wind in my life and it literally blew the roofs off. We lost three chicken houses and our brand new turkey house. Even parts of the roof of our wood cabin came off."


""There was not a single fence or gate. We had no water, no electricity, no phone line, no barns, not even a place to live," 

Tom Mettyear, Haddon Copse Farm

For Tom Mettyear and Mark Sparrow, starting up their small organic farm in Dorset has been tough. They moved to Haddon Copse Farm just over a year ago and basically had to start from scratch.

"There was not a single fence or gate. We had no water, no electricity, no phone line, no barns or a place to live," says Tom. Over the last twelve months the couple have done a tremendous amount of work and achieved much, despite the staggering weather conditions.

Living the dream

Tom had always wanted a small farm to produce food for him and his partner, and a modest surplus to sell and share. Initially they didn't have the means to buy a farm but in 2001, with income from their Neal's Yard Remedies franchise in Salisbury, they bought Angel Cottage in Sutton Mandeville, about six miles from Salisbury. The cottage and its surrounding five acres of land were soon turned into a vibrant organic smallholding, primarily breeding lambs and producing eggs. At that point, their main objective was to produce extraordinarily good food.

"Over time our motivation for farming organically has become more about the environment than about food. I suppose I'm more aware of what organic farming means on a day-to-day basis with regard to the environment. To me I feel I can raise really good chicken meat on normal non-organic land. The issue is where the food for the chickens comes from. I feel very strongly about grain raised animals like pigs and poultry; they really have to get organic food.  Grain being grown the organic way is imperative for a healthy environment. Butterflies, insect numbers and biodiversity are key to protecting the planet."

Plot thickens

Just over a year ago Tom and Mark decided to spread their wings and move to a bigger space to realise what they'd started; a diverse smallholding with more room to breed animals and grow food. With the help of a Triodos Bank loan they bought Haddon Copse Farm, an organic plot of land with great potential, but with very little accommodation or infrastructure to work with.

Since then, Tom and Mark have put in an immense amount of work and love into their business. They've built 450 metres of farm track, three barns, a wood cabin and three miles of fencing. They've planted 380 fruit trees, hedgerows and put troughs in every field. Even an overgrown pond full of junk has been restored to its former glory with lilies and wild flowers.

Now the farm is sketched into the landscape, Mark and Tom's ambitions are as strong as ever. Next year they hope to add a small herd of cows and flock of Manx Loaghtan sheep to their existing animal business. They're also setting up a fully operational on-farm campsite. "Part of the loan we're getting from Triodos Bank is to develop our showers and toilet facilities with solar hot water. That is our big project for next year."


Organic agriculture recognises the relationship between our environment, our health and the food we eat. Organic farming avoids the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers and maintains the highest standards of animal welfare. If you'd like to read more about organic farming, visit the Soil Association's Small Changes, Big Difference for Organic September page.


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