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A conversation with Tree of Life Veganics

Tree of Life Veganics Q&A

Newly named Tree of Life Veganics is an exciting recently established farm based in Kent on a 5.6-hectare site. Barely two years old this family-run farm has hit the ground running integrating agroforestry into the very heart of their growing approach.

Being veganic – a fusion of organic and avoiding farmed animal inputs – the system aspires to be as ‘closed loop’ as possible. Beyond growing this also entails minimal impact living and working, sustainable building, and social justice. Far from excluding themselves in a ‘bubble’ of self-sufficiency they actively strive for community-sufficiency collaborating where possible forging mutually beneficial partnerships with the local community.

Hugh Blogg spoke with Jo Kidd from Tree of Life Veganics to see how they were coping with the COVID-19 lockdown.

Could you elaborate on what you mean by community sufficiency?

“Whilst we are off-grid, living sustainably and low impact we want to work in collaboration with other people, particularly local enterprises, not cutting ourselves off in a self-sufficient bubble. We are keen to work with local schools, colleges and community groups. Also social enterprises that work with people with learning difficulties and other marginalised groups. We look to work with local vegan businesses and cafes and usually we run a vegan market and festival. We are collaborating with our local sourdough bakery, Wild Bread, who we have supplied with heritage wheat flour. Our large-scale sowing and tree planting is often an opportunity to collaborate with friends and the local community too.”

What sort of things have you been focusing on recently?

We have sown 0.3 ha of heritage wheat and 1.2 ha of organic oats, started a Three Sisters trial and a Fukuoka-style trial of perennials and annuals with white clover. Work has begun on building the main barn all from local wood excluding plastic, concrete and chemicals. We have planted chamomile and comfrey transplants grown locally by zero-plastic nursery, Edible Culture. We have been receiving some excellent advice from heritage flour and natural farming expert John Letts. Work has continued on our research trials on hazels and mulberries with an agroforestry expert who lives locally, Prof. Steve Newman of Biodiversity International. We are very excited to be embarking on a woodchip mushroom trial too with Soil Association Head of Horticulture, Ben Raskin. The dry spring weather has prompted us to buy a dowser and we are installing a sprinkler system ahead of our reservoir being lined and filled. The reservoir will be filled from a stream that runs through our holding and lined with London blue clay. Being mainly tree crops, forest garden and perennials we ultimately hope not to irrigate extensively.

Overall how would you say you are coping with the COVID-19 crisis?

Actually the crisis has highlighted strengths in our model – personally and as a family we have been able to focus on the farm and what we need to be doing. Even more so it feels that this is how we (society) should be living – how we should be growing and farming, recognising that we are not separate from nature but very much part of the web of life. All the time we think we are above, superior, separate, in need of controlling nature, it’ll come back to bite us which is exactly what’s happened. The planet is certainly taking a deep breath and hopefully wider society will wake and realise we can’t carry on business as usual.”

Tree of Life Veganics was selected to feature as a case study as part of Organic PLUS research into farms that have successfully phased out contentious inputs in organic agriculture.