The evolution of Ladderstile Farm, Congleton
PUBLISHED: 16:00 21 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:32 20 February 2013
Photographer Jane Sebire records life on a Congleton farm which has diversified to survive
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Farming has been dealt a series of savage blows in recent years, with farmers and land managers having to overcome one challenge to their livelihood after another.
Falling prices, rising costs and a succession of outbreaks of disease have pushed many to the brink, with scores of others forced to explore new ways of generating income.
And few farms have diversified as successfully as Ladderstile Farm in North Rode, near Congleton.
Over the last 20 years Peter and Rose Brocklehurst have added a log business and a holistic retreat to their sheep and cattle farm and they have also developed stronger links with their local community.
Peter, whose father bought the farm 40 years ago, still runs a traditional working farm and specialises in continental breeding sheep, charollais and beltex. But he said: In recent years, and in common with many other farms, we have needed to increase our income.
Farming seems to have been hit with one thing after another and it was clear that we could not continue to rely solely on farming and that we should look at capitalising on the amazing place we live in.
When Dutch Elm Disease accounted for many of the trees on the farm Peter applied for a grant from the Rural Development Fund to buy a log processor and began selling logs which now come from their own managed woodland. They also sell a range of oak timber beams and boards as well as wooden log stores.
And in the aftermath of the Foot and Mouth outbreak, Peter started to sell half and full lambs from the farm to family and friends. There was a ripple effect as word spread, he added.
We are now part of the Food4Macc Direct scheme which looks to source food locally in exchange for us giving people the chance to see how things are done and giving visitors tours of the farm.
They commit to buy lamb from us and we have people who come to look round the farm. Its a way of re-connecting with where their food has come from. Thats something Im quite passionate about - that people should know that their meat and milk doesnt just come from a supermarket, it comes from a farm. Its all about getting people on the farm and them learning what we do.
And people now visit the farm for other reasons too. Rose, a nurse who works one day a week at East Cheshire Hospice in Macclesfield, opened a holistic retreat last year, offering treatments and therapies
I learned complementary therapy, aromatherapy, reflexology and reiki and started seeing clients at home and again the ripple effect led to more and people coming, Rose said.
We live in a beautiful place and I always wanted to offer bed and breakfast. We know were lucky to have what we have got and lucky to live where we do and its a pleasure to share it with others.
We have one self-contained, ground floor suite at the end of our bungalow. The idea was to offer relaxation breaks. Its a place of space and quiet reflection which people often dont have these days. We offer a time to be still.
At each stage of the diversification there have been people we have been able to turn to for advice. There is help out there for people in our situation who are looking to branch out and diversify and the help we were given made things much easier for us. n
Growing for gold
Theres a quiet revolution underway in Macclesfield where spare plots of land and overgrown gardens are being transformed into burgeoning vegetable plots.
The Food4Macc scheme was launched in the wake of spiralling energy costs and group chairman Colin Townend said: We became aware of the effect of energy costs on food prices and got together to see what we could do.
We decided to concentrate on food and started a community garden in September 2009.
They now have five community gardens and have given a new lease of life to gardens owned by people who are unable to care for them. That seems to be a win-win situation, Colin said. 'People who want to grow things get the chance and older people get someone to chat with and a productive garden.
We are encouraging people to grow their own but we knew that unless we involved the professionals we would only be scratching the surface. Thats where Peter Brocklehurst and the lamb from Ladderstile Farm come in.
We are helping to market his produce to the local community and we have put together a buyers list so he knows he has confirmed orders and it seems to be working well. Its a pilot scheme with Peter but hopefully in time well extend it to include providers of beef, eggs, chicken whatever we can.
There is a lot of enthusiasm for the scheme and we are now looking at ways of taking it a step further and developing Macclesfield into a transition town, thats a worldwide movement to create sustainable communities.
Stewards of the land
Ladderstile Farm stands in the east of the county, close to the Peak District, with views over Bosley Cloud and the river Dane. And Peter Brocklehurst is keen to share those views with as many people as possible. Over the years people have always commented on what lovely place we live and we have never taken that for granted, he said. We are aware that we have a responsibility to the land.
We have planted thousands of trees and we have signed up to the Natural England High Level Stewardship Scheme.
We have a commitment to preserve our natural environment and we are coppicing, planting hedges and trees and protecting areas with important flora and fauna.
Were also trying to encourage more birdlife and that is paying dividends, with lapwings, woodpeckers, kingfishers and owls. We run courses on the farm too, teaching traditional skills such as shepherds crook making and hedge-laying.
There does seem to be a lot of genuine interest in rural skills at the moment and if we can play a part in that, then we will.
When we retire we will hopefully be able to hand something on that is in good condition and hopefully people will say we did a good job and looked after the place.