Burnt Edge Farm is a five acre smallholding on the edge of the moors on the Burnley side of Blackshaw Head. When Lucy and Phil bought the land in 2007 it had not been farmed for over twenty years, fields were unfenced and full of reeds, and there was no sign of a garden or vegetable plot. ‘Buying marginal land was the only way we could afford to do it,’ says Phil.
Since then Phil and Lucy have worked hard to restore the land, dividing the large field into smaller paddocks and unblocking old drainage systems. They have gradually invested in livestock and poultry, and in animal housing (much of it self built or second hand), to shelter their stock from the wild weather 1200 feet up in the south Pennines.
Help came from neighbouring farmers Jonathan and Sally, who fenced their field and sold them their first weaners, and perhaps more importantly offered help and advice when they were setting up their smallholding. Other local people have also helped, with an elderly sheep farmer lending his prize Lleyn ram at tupping time, and another neighbour building them a mobile hen house from recycled pallets.
Lucy and Phil have gradually built up their business, Burnt Edge Farm Produce. They now keep a small flock of Shetland and (mainly) Lleyn sheep, and 40 laying hens throughout the year. During the Summer they then rear several small batches of pigs, ducks and geese for the table. Animals are slaughtered locally, and poultry on the holding, to reduce stress and food miles. ‘We’re lucky enough to have an animal feed manufacturer, an abattoir and several traditional butchers within a few miles of our holding, and we’re proud that in a small way, we can contribute to sustaining the local food economy and preserving these important skills’, says Phil.
‘We want to stay as small producers, to maintain high animal welfare standards and to make sure that we follow sustainable farming practices – though it is a challenge to remain economically viable,’ says Lucy, who works off the smallholding as a freelance researcher on poverty and local economic development. Phil runs a support service for other local landowners, helping transport animals or equipment, building chicken houses or minding stock whilst people are away. They have also recently invested in a pole barn, which will not only make lambing less precarious but also offers new opportunities to welcome more people onto their holding.
The smallholding is remote and attracts little passing trade. As a result Lucy has set up the ‘Egg Club’, an informal network of friends and acquaintances who are keen to buy ‘real’ free range eggs from small producers. Eggs are delivered to ex-colleagues, friends and acquaintances in Manchester, where Lucy travels regularly for work. Meat is available on an occasional basis, and again, the couple maintain an email list of over 50 customers, and arrange deliveries, both in Calderdale and in Leeds and Manchester.
Lucy is a founder member of the Great Rock Coop, and Phil’s sausage rolls, made with their own free range pork, have become a firm favourite with many regular customers! They also supply the shop with eggs, lamb and pork, and Lucy co-ordinates the meat producers’ group. She is keen to find new ways that producers could work together to reduce both their costs and their environmental impact.