The story so far
In late autumn of 2017 I was sat waiting for a buyer who was flying up from England to by an old ruin I had been trying to sell. I had already had one offer on the ruin but this lady wanted it and she was booked onto a flight and was going to be with me by midday. 3 years ago I decided to sell this ruin and start anew. I had been discussing with an old friend about leaving the UK and heading to the Pyrenees to create a sustainable vegan permaculture centre where we could teach, run courses and live as self-sufficiently as possible.
While waiting for this buyer to arrive a nearby crofter came by who I’d known for years as this is not far from where I used to live when I first moved to the Highlands in 1999. He stopped and we chatted for a while and told me that he was thinking of selling one of his crofts. He asked me if I knew of anyone that could be interested and did I want to see it while I wait for the buyer (who never showed up).
So I jumped into his old rickety Landrover and we entered the driveway of his nearby croft. At first I was just wracking my brain to try and think of anyone who I knew who would buy it. The rough track meandered down into an old woodland and he stopped and asked me to get out and follow him. We climbed a wee path and suddenly I was struck by such overwhelming beauty. My eyes feasted onto a series of waterfalls that fell over dark rock nestled between moss and fern covered banks and ridges. The woodland each side of the waterfalls is old and mixed but heavily grazed. Below the trees of the steep banks next to the waterfalls a pungent rich undergrowth of ferns, blueberries and wild edible mushrooms. I was transfixed. We then left here and he drove me to another equally diverse area of heathers, grassland, meadows and more mature trees and more streams flowing down to the larger river below. Most of these areas were being extensively grazed by sheep and cattle and the damage of these ecosystems stood out to me as I have been studying this damage in detail over the 20 years of living in the Highlands. There is zero tree succession in intensive grazing and no new saplings ever survive the first year after germination. If they do survive they end up being stubby foot high bonsai versions of themselves.
Badaroch Croft also has 2 old stone cottages in need of renovation and 2 large barns. It comprises of 80 acres and a further 100+ acres of common grazing.
I left the croft owner saying that I will think about who could buy it, I gave up on my buyer ever turning up and drove home. I phoned the guy who made me an offer on my cottage and accepted his offer.
For the next few days Badarach croft was all I could think about. I personally did not have enough to buy it as he was asking about £25,000 more than I would have once I’d sold my ruin. The price he was selling this Croft at seemed ridiculously cheap though. I took a gamble and made him an offer of every penny I would have once my ruin was sold.
He turned it down.
I then spoke to my friend, the one I was planning on going to the Pyrenees with and said maybe all the things we had discussed were actually right here after all and would she consider Scotland instead. I described the beauty of Badaroch croft and sent her some photos.
She said that it sounded lovely but was still set on the Pyrenees. But she had some money that she could lend me to be a part of it at some point in the future but would never foresee herself moving to Scotland. So I went back to the crofter and offered him a bit extra which was still well short. He said he would go away and think about it.
I would like to point out here that it is very difficult to get to buy a croft assignation as they are normally handed from father to son and most have been in the same family since crofting started.
So for somebody like me, a Vegan English woman to be able to actually be in this position is unheard of. I felt at this point oh my god what if this were to become the first ever vegan croft. I was overwhelmed with this thought alongside the thought that another way to stop this horrific exploitation of animals was to change farming itself. What if I could create an abundant example of plant protein production, an oasis of all things ecological, sustainable and vegan right bang in the middle of the sheep industry? I think at this point a slight driven madness might have came over me as it seemed like the whole of my life had bought me to this point.
3 days later the crofter called and said YES.
There then was a lengthy vetting process and I had to write a brief outline of what I would do with it. I just want to grow vegetables for the local villages instead of them being shipped from god knows where. I want to run courses in how we can live sustainably. To repair the parts of this land that have been battered and used to rear sheep and cattle and grow fodder crops for those sheep and cattle. I want to create an example of local veganic food for local people, vegetables, plant proteins, nuts and fruits for wider use. I would like to re-wild parts of it to enhance and protect biodiversity.
To create an example of how we could live and a centre for progressive ecological education has been inside me since I were a young adult. I have been practicing Veganic Permaculture for years and have created edible ecosystems in schools, run workshops and am passionate about growing food and nutrition.
The terrain at Badaroch is on a few levels. Near the road are several large grazing fields, fields used to cut hay and some rougher grazing where there were sheep and cows and some scrub at a total here of around 25 acres. These areas I have designated for the main production of plant proteins and rotational vegetable crops interspersed with green manures. At present as far as I am aware there are no Veganic farms or crofts in the whole of the Scottish Highlands. Highland Veganics would be the first ever plant protein croft in crofting history and I aim to make it a beacon, a replicable model for Veganic Agriculture and a move away from the barbaric unsustainable system that is animal agriculture.
In March 2018 I received confirmation that I had been successful in buying the Assignation of Badarach Croft and then had to get all its rights signed over from the previous owner into my name. At this point I was given a Crofting business number and named the business Highland Veganics.
I then tried to access some of the grants but the crofting grant system is not only complicated but all geared towards animal agriculture. I can get funding for an abattoir but not apple trees or green manures to build soil or any other climate mitigating practices. Even their Agri Climate Environment scheme to grow wild flower meadows is dependent on either grazers or hay making at the end of each season. I gave up looking in the end and turned to the large vegan community on twitter and asked for help.
After hearing a shocking program on radio 4 about how the far right were funding itself from crowd donations, I had an epiphany. What if vegans funded vegans to create veganic farms and rewilding projects. I shared this with a group on twitter and we formed Global Vegan Crowd Funder (GVCF) A crowd funding platform designed purely to help crowd fund all vegan businesses, initiatives and specialising in land use.
Highland Veganics was the first funding project to be featured on globalvegancrowdfunder.org and hopefully the first of many that we can replicate and use as a model for future crofting, farming and rewilding.
18 Months Later
We have just planted the first mixed cob / filbert / hazel orchard at Highland Veganics after running a successful campaign of GVCF.
As a permaculturist for the last 25yrs I have learnt the art of observation. Ther first Permaculture principle is Observe and Interact. This means that not only do you have some time to align yourself with the land and its species but you witness what grows and where, why certain species thrive and others don’t, how the elements affect the system, feedback loops, energy that can be utilized and all manner of other greatly overlooked components in conventional agricultural systems.
What grew in nearly all the Highland ecosystems I have observed were hazel nuts.
When we look at producing food surely the first port of call should be what edible species grow naturally in that ecosystem. Have these species been cultivated and if so can some of these varieties be trialled in this system? The answer to this question has to be yes.
The next piece of research was to research all the different varieties available and select the potentials that could produce a viable crop.
The 6 that have been chosen by a wholesale supplier/expert are as follows.
330 trees have been globally crowdfunded on GVCF, approx 55 of each variety.
The first 180 arrived on 28th Jan 2020 and along with 7 volunteers we planted all of these on the 3-4 Feb 2020.
I spent the rest of this week adding vole guards and mulch.
On the 25th of February the final batch of trees arrived and the same wonderful volunteers came to help plant on the 1st and 2nd of March.
Since this time we have had countless storms and severe unprecedented temperature extremes. All trees on the point of writing are doing well although Fertile de Courtard seems to be struggling a little and after deeper research I have found out this was a poor choice for this region.
Throughout the spring I have continued to mulch the trees and also sown a mix of green manures as an understory to cut and mulch at the end of the year. I plan to mulch twice a year once before winter with cut green manures and once after winter with cut rushes, bracken, leaf mould and all manner of other organic materials that are surplus on the croft. This coming summer I will be monitoring each variety to document what species if any is starring.
Sadly Fertile De Coutard was sold to me by the supplier as a hardy variety and it has not done well at all. I have since found out from The Kent Cob Society that this should never have been recommended. It is not hardy and also a nut used soley for oil. All the other varieties are flourishing and its hard to distinguish who is the star variety so far. If I had to choose it would the Red Filbert Rote Zellernuss. This seems unaffected by the unprecedented north easterly winds this year and has its first nut clusters on many of the trees.
My research can then be shared with other interested farms in this region.
What next for Highland Veganics
I have another larger 8 acre field that has been used to produce hay crops. I am this year going to design an Alley agro-forestry planting system for this field using the star varieties of the first nut plantation interspersed with trials of potatoes, root veg, beans, quinoa and flax.
Watch this space…