Ever since that Surbiton garden was torn up for Geraldine the goat, having a smallholding has been symbolic of a simpler, happier lifestyle.
Yet Tom Good of The Good Life was only harking back to an earlier time, when most people kept a pig and a few chickens. The brave new urban lifestyles that blossomed in the 20th century severed our links with where food comes from, but, today, as people retreat from the recession and seek earthy satisfaction, even city gardens are home to the odd chicken coop or beehive. Some 50% of the CLA’s members own less than 100 acres and NFU Countryside, which supports those with more than a garden but less than a farm, has 60,000 members.
The kind of crops you grow and which animals you keep will depend to a large degree on how much land you have and the quality of the soil. Consider how much time you can give to your smallholding-if you have a full-time job that means most work is done at evenings and weekends, don’t grow anything that needs constant attention. Start small and expand as you become attuned to the lifestyle, rather than kitting out every corner of your acreage and finding yourself falling asleep at your desk because you’ve been pulling up potatoes all night.
Getting started with a smallholding
As smallholdings have risen in popularity, so courses have proliferated. You can learn about any aspect of it, from lambing to cider-making, but a general one is ideal for newcomers.
Smallholding for Beginners with Liz Shankland on Kate Humble’s farm in Monmouthshire takes place on selected Saturdays from March 1, and costs £105 (www.humblebynature.com; 01600 714595),
The Empire Farm in Somerset offers a one-day introduction to running a smallholding, costing £75 (www.empirefarm.co.uk; 01963 371681), and Mumbleys Farm, near Thornbury, Gloucestershire, offers taster days and weekends, from £95 (01454 415296; www.mumbleysfarmhouse.co.uk).
Kate’s Country School offers various courses at Great Trerhew Farm near Abergavenny in Wales, famous from the BBC’s Lambing Live (01873 821585; www.katescountryschool.co.uk) and there are two-day courses in Devon at South Yeo Farm West, near Okehampton, priced at £175 (www.smallholdertraining.co.uk; 01837 810569).
There’s a surprising amount of red tape involved, even if you only own two goats.
You’ll need to register with Defra (0845 933 5577; www.gov.uk/defra) and also be awarded a County Parish Holding number, without which you won’t be able to move any livestock onto your land. The Rural Payments Agency (0845 603 7777; www.rpa.gov.uk) and the CLA (020-7235 0511; www.cla.org.uk) are vital contacts.
Give it a try at Open Farm Sunday
Visit a farm on the annual Open Farm Sunday (June 8, 024-7641 3911; www. farmsunday.org). Some 365 farms around the country open their gates and you can take the whole family. For a more extended taster, book a holiday on a farm through Farm Stay UK (024-7669 6909; www.farmstay.co.uk). Accommodation varies from luxury tents to converted barns and you can try your hand at lambing, feeding the pigs and milking the cows or goats.
Tips from the expert
Rosemary Champion, who has a smallholding in Angus with fruit and vegetables, Shetland cattle, coloured Ryeland sheep, pigs and hens, and runs the website The Accidental Smallholder (www. accidentalsmallholder.net) tells newcomers what to expect.
* Starting to grow your own fruit and vegetables is relatively easy and learning by trial and error is fine-nothing gets hurt but your pride and pocket money
* Do support local food production by selling or giving away your surplus
* If you’re considering keeping livestock, poultry or waterfowl, you must do your research and, ideally, get hands-on experience. Cute piglets and fluffy lambs are the bacon, sausages and Sunday lunches of months hence, so if you want to produce your own meat, you must get your head round that. When you see a crispy-bacon sandwich from your own pigs, you’ll know it was worth it
The best books on starting a smallholding
Hobby Farm: Ideas for the New Countryside Willy Newlands (Souvenir Press, £10)
The Smallholder’s Manual Katie Thear (The Crowood Press, £25)
Smallholding Manual: The Complete Step-by- Step Guide Liz Shankland (J. H. Haynes & Co, £21.99)
Make a weekend of it
Whet your appetite on this 75-acre hill farm near Stroud, which has sheep, cattle and an abundance of wildflowers on the edge of the Golden Valley. Children will adore resident donkeys Teddy and Chester, who do a weekly grocery-delivery round in the village and farm dog Tyke likes to visit each of the four self-catering cottages to check the guests are happy. A week’s stay costs from £300 for a two-bedroom cottage (01285 760262; www.westleyfarm.co.uk)
Spend your days tending native and rare breeds, such as Oxford Sandy and Black pigs and Guernsey goats, before exploring nearby beaches or the charming town of Llandeilo.
Accommodation is in three beautifully converted stone barns, with exposed beams and slate roofs. You can book in simply for a holiday, or take a course-pig-keeping, cheese-making and charcuterie ones are on offer, and a two-day Smallholding Experience, which can be tailored, costs £180 per person. (01558 669160; www.cwmcrwthfarmcottages.co.uk)
Events to attend
Royal Welsh Agricultural Society Spring Festival
Builth Wells, Powys (01982 553683; www.rwas. co.uk/spring-festival)
June 5-7 Royal Cornwall Show,
Wadebridge, Cornwall (01208 812183; www.royalcornwallshow.org) July 5-6 Smallholders Show, Ardingly,West Sussex (07714 102381; www.smallholdershows.co.uk)
August 3 Norfolk Smallholders Annual Show and Market, Sheringham Park, Norfolk (07942 274299; www.nstg.org.uk)
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