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Last Updated: Friday, 30 June 2006, 06:04 GMT 07:04 UK
Family's battle for organic farm
By Sarah Portlock
BBC News

Charlotte and Ben Hollins
Charlotte and Ben Hollins have been overwhelmed with support
It's been hard work, cost a few sleepless nights and the result means their new landlord is the great British public but Ben and Charlotte Hollins reckon it has all been worth it.

The brother and sister were faced with the prospect of losing the family's organic farm in Shropshire when their father died last year.

But the pair, who are both in their early 20s, decided to fight against plans to sell off the land.

They set up a charity selling small plots for 50.

And on Friday the pair said they had raised more than 800,000 in time for the 1 July deadline.

They now have more than 5,000 shareholders including celebrities such as singer Sting, actress Prunella Scales, environmentalist Zac Goldsmith and television farmer Jimmy Doherty.

Tenant farmers

But, obtaining the land is not the end of the story. The land will pass into the ownership of the charity, the Fordhall Community Land Initiative, and the Hollins' will be the tenants.

There is also the matter of a 200,000 bank loan which needs to be repaid.

Fordhall Farm
Fordhall farm has been tenanted by the family for three generations

"It is going to be a lot of hard work. This is only the beginning," Charlotte, 24, said.

"It's a lifetime commitment but then farming is a commitment anyway.

"When I get tired sometimes I do start to think 'what am I doing?'.

"But it has been so exciting - we just want to stay. We miss the farm when we are not here."

Fordhall Farm, near Market Drayton, has been tenanted by the family for at least three generations.

Their father, Arthur Hollins, took it over in 1929 when he was just 14-years-old. He went on to become famous in the farming world for his organic techniques. The farm has been chemical free for 65 years.

But, when he died last year, the landowners were being encouraged to sell and the family faced eviction.

'David and Goliath'

Dr Martin Toogood of the University of Central Lancashire, who lectured Charlotte in human geography, said she had the drive to succeed.

"It is a great story. It has the David and Goliath element, a brother and sister fighting for their future.

"The organic element also makes it unique. People are more interested these days in where their food comes from."

Ben Hollins with his pigs
Ben takes care of the farming, his sister does the fundraising
People-owned farms are quite common in countries such as Germany but almost unheard of in this country, he said.

"Hopefully they will get a free hand to carry on doing what they are doing.

"They will not be rich and they are going to have to run it as a business.

"But they obviously have an entrepreneurial spirit and a committed supply of labour.

"I think their future is good."

Ben, 21, who is waiting to hear the results of his degree in agriculture at Harper Adams College, takes care of the farming and the farm shop.

He said: "It means everything to me and Charlotte to succeed."

The farm currently has 70 cattle and 160 sheep. But they plan to introduce more livestock and the farm will hopefully earn enough to pay their wages.

Other projects which still need funding are a bunk house where school parties will stay for educational visits and tea-rooms selling local organic food for visitors.

"We have beef, lamb and pork which is all sold through the farm shop. And we will be going for our organic certification," Charlotte said.

"It is exhausting but our volunteers are helping us out. Once we are up and running we will have up to 15 people helping us and their enthusiasm gets us through."


SEE ALSO
Pair raise 800,000 to save farm
30 Jun 06 |  Shropshire
Public helps to save organic farm
27 Jun 06 |  Shropshire

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