Standing in George Young’s farmyard, overlooking a post-industrial estuarine landscape on a grey June morning, there was little of the usual small talk as we waited for our members to arrive for the farm walk. ‘If you think regenerative agriculture is min-til and cover cropping - you’re wrong’ George boldly proclaimed. I got the impression that this was a man unafraid of challenging conventional wisdom.
Once assembled, we all introduced ourselves and headed off across a field, struggling to keep up with our pioneering host as he strode through an impressively established herbal ley in full bloom. It was brimming with chicory, salad burnet, chamomile and clovers, including Persian clover which George told us he added to his leys because it ‘looks and smells beautiful’. It truly did.
From our elevated vantage point, George explained the lie of the land which slopes down to the marshes, an Essex Wildlife Trust and RSPB reserve, the flood barrier and a former oil refinery. It is to these marshes George plans to link his land with what he describes as a ‘wild seam’ (he is not a fan of the term ‘rewilding’) that will run through the heart of the farm. This seam will be comprised of wildflower areas, trees, hedgerows and ponds.
This ‘land sparing’ approach will be coupled with his ‘land sharing’ methods of managing the productive areas of the farm regeneratively. These include no-til, zero insecticide, pasture cropping (with a handsome herd of red polls) and a recently established agroforestry area. Along with the many varieties of ancient grains George is experimenting with - some of which are so sparsely available he hand-harvests the seed corn - he has recently invested in a mill so he can supply flour to local artisan bakeries. He has also given over some land for a friend experimenting with natural textiles to grow flax - more hand harvesting!
George’s enthusiasm for the pursuit of a truly regenerative way of farming, coupled with his brave appetite for experimentation is inspiring. As is his fathers’ quiet acceptance and encouragement of the new direction George is steering the farm. We look forward to following their journey and wish them every success.
Above: Experimental strips growing ancient wheat varieties, some of which must be hand-harvested.
Below: Agroforestry strips have been planted with a diversity of fruit tree species across some of the farm, along with willow, which is harvested, chipped and used to mulch the strips.