Nikki Wilkinson

Bee-keeper

Farm Facts

Farm Size: 
33.3 acres
Manpower: 
3 full time / average 5 Wwoofers / 15 local volunteers
Farm Type: 
Mixed
Tenure: 
Community Farm
Rainfall: 
148mm
Altitude: 
125m
Soil: 
Sandy loam
Approach: 
Wholesome Food Association
Key Farming Practices: 
Novel crops
Undersowing
Mixed farming
Companion crops
Direct selling
Diversified rotation
Habitat creation
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'Our vision is to produce, support and promote local food in an environmentally, ecologically and socially sustainable way.' Bosavern Community Farm vision statement

The Farm: 

We run as a traditional small-scale, mixed agriculture, environmental stewardship farm, operating on Wholesome Food Association principles.

5 acres of the farm are field-scale in which we grow brassicas, potatoes, onions, and leeks, and 2 acres are a cultivated market garden. This includes 1 propagation tunnel and 5 polytunnels in which we grow a wide variety of seasonal produce; many standard as well as some unusual and speciality crops. We have one 12m fruit cage producing several varieties of soft fruits and a large rhubarb area, 320 free range laying hens, 5 beehives producing over 60kg of honey per year and 20 acres of traditional, species-rich hay meadows on rotation, which produce between 300-600 small bales per year. We are one of very few small-bale hay producers in Penwith, so our hay is much sought after, as is our own honey.

We provide for our own weekly veg box scheme and farm shop. One of our growers is also our wholesale co-ordinator, selling to local pubs, cafes and restaurants. We are stallholders at weekly farmers markets and special events and provide fresh veg for our year-round WWOOFers.

We employ several strategies to help engage a wide demographic of people with the farm; we host school and youth groups, team-building days, and seasonal campers to encourage eco-tourism. We run volunteer sessions, work with people with special education needs, host WWOOFers all year round and operate an open gate policy, holding annual events on the farm. We provide workshops in traditional crafts, food growing, countryside skills and natural building. Our 'Introduction to beekeeping' day course has been particularly well subscribed.

Sustainability in practice: 

"Keeping bees is the best way we've found to keep a perspective on why we are nurturers of the land and why what we do is so important."

In our experience, managed honeybees are the most efficient way to ensure successful pollination. Vegetables, fruit, flowers, and other crops that have been well pollinated are larger, better set and provide greater yields. In return, bees with access to land farmed without chemical inputs and a diverse range of forage are healthier and stronger.

We keep our hives on-site 365 days a year, as opposed to 'buying in' services from bees that would be brought in for a specific crop and then moved off again. This movement and associated transportation can put the bees under undue stress and is thought to be a factor in the spread of diseases within large apiaries. Sadly, it can be a challenge just to keep bees alive and healthy thanks to various diseases, mites, and agricultural practices. We keep our bees as naturally but responsibly as possible, and it is paying off. While some mourn winter losses of their hives we are celebrating the health of our colonies.

I first went to an 'Introduction to beekeeping' class to find out what it would take for us to keep some hives, the symbol of Bosavern is a bee! Within two months we had welcomed the first bees onto the farm and have since partnered with local beekeeper, Matt Pitt, of the Cornish Black Bee Company. In 2014 Matt established 4 hives of native Cornish black bees in a sunny corner of Bosavern’s Home Field.  As bees will forage up to 3 miles from their hive, the situation enabled us to keep a close eye on them whilst giving them access to the forage on the farm to the east, heather on the surrounding hills to the north, and domestic gardens to the west. Matt has kindly and patiently been training me in his particular style of bee-centred beekeeping, teaching skills and sharing his knowledge.

There is a great synergy between the farm, myself, the bees and the crops from which the whole community benefits. (Matt Pitt)

The farm has benefited in many ways through this partnership. Almost all the year round we see the bees on our crops, particularly the hedgerow flowers and borage and soft fruits in summer. We believe that we now see more flowers and berries and better set, and larger, fruit and veg. Matt extracts the honey, jars and labels it, and we sell it in our farm shop. The 4 hives produced enough honey in the first season to stock our shop for most of the year and, naturally, it's a best seller!

The bees have generated much interest in the community and we now offer beekeeping courses that have had great uptake. Their presence have made us all more aware of all our pollinators and their forage and habitats on the farm. This has led to the creation of wild flower areas, bee hotels, bumblebee safaris, talks, and most recently, the development of our Bee Education Centre, funded by Kew Gardens and created with the help of local school and youth groups.

Being an open access community farm, some safety concerns were initially raised about keeping bees, but we decided to trial a small number and then re-assess. They have been such a pleasure and a success that in addition to the bee centre, we are establishing a second working apiary within the market garden.

The best advice we can give if you wish to host bees on your land is to become a beekeeper yourself! Finding spare time can seem impossible, but time spent with the bees is never time wasted. You could contact your local beekeeping association or beekeepers; they are often looking for an extra patch of land on which to situate a few hives. You will be rewarded just by the bees’ presence on your land and may even be offered a jar or two of honey made from the crops you grow!

Motivations: 

The farm was originally used as a training farm to encourage potential farmers in to agriculture at the end of WW1 and was owned and operated by Cornwall Council until 2011, when the farm and buildings were sold. Visionary members of the local community rallied others and in March 2014, Bosavern Community Enterprises Ltd. (BCEnts) purchased the farm, financed by a substantial grant from Local Food Lottery, a Community Share Offer and a loan from a local benefactor. We are now one of few community farms that own their own land. We are an Industrial Provident Society (IPS), under the stewardship of BCEnts Ltd. a locally run, not-for-profit community organisation.

We deploy many facets of sustainable growing; from natural pollination to re-using egg boxes and practicing permaculture. The 2,500 trees and willow coppices planted in an outlying field are helping us on our way to becoming carbon neutral. With increasing demands being made upon the planet we feel it is up to us all to 'think globally-act locally' when it comes to food security and environmental impacts.

As the community owns this land, we have a sense of guardianship over the soil and water, nature and wildlife and their habitats and forage. They all help form a healthy and productive environment that we have a duty to protect for the next generations.

Sustainable growing is hugely important to us, it puts the means of food production in the hands of the people. It means we have the facilities and knowledge to feed ourselves without damaging the earth, and people of all ages and backgrounds can experience how their food is grown, make connections with the earth and soil that nourishes us, and have access to food produced without chemical inputs. A big part of sustainable growing for us is passing on knowledge to others that they can use in the future; through teaching workshops, courses, volunteering, Wwoof and school hosting.

Socially, we exist primarily to give people access to land and community. Economically, we thrive on providing good, healthy food for the residents and visitors to our beautiful but deprived area; money is short and access to affordable, locally grown food is important for people’s health and well-being.

We work to prove that a community-led food-growing project is a viable concern and that small-scale farming is a positively necessary alternative to intensive, commercial agriculture. It's hard, hard work, long hours, there's never a 'quiet time'. There's a lot of mud and even more wind... and the livestock never agree to you taking your summer holidays!

We have big ambitions for the farm’s future production and development, in terms of what is grown and in community involvement (education, skills, training, and building local partnerships), whilst providing a model for good environmental practice in sustainable farming. All future development is planned to further increase the farm’s positive environmental, economic and social impacts, both on the local and wider community, as this is the very heart of our business.

In addition to selling our produce to local restaurants and cafes, running a weekly veg-box scheme, stocking our farm shop and supplying farmers markets, we are completely self-sufficient in veg, eggs, herbs and honey for all our staff, WWOOFers and volunteers, with more than enough to go around at seasonal shared meals and celebration events. Most of our food (except that lovingly taken 'up-country' by enthusiastic tourists!) is consumed within a ten-mile radius.

Being 'Cornwall Sustainability Award Winners-2015' we pride ourselves on the measures we have taken to ensure our environmental sustainability. We won 'Best Contribution Towards a Sustainable Food Economy from Nature to Plate', which we feel represents our efforts in all areas; from encouraging pollination, recycling and composting, to reducing food miles. We are very proud to have trained, educated and inspired hundreds of people in sustainable and local food production and to support and promote local producers through our farm shop and marketing. Overall our greatest achievement has to be that we keep our land, crops and livestock chemical and artificial input-free and in return the land supports a range of habitats and biodiversity.


You can find out more about Bosavern Community Farm by reading their blog and following them on social media.

The information contained within this profile reflects the views and practices of the profiled farmer and does not necessarily reflect that of Agricology and its partners.