By Alice Favre
After the death of her mother three years ago, Alice Favre inherited the Chettle Estate; 900 acres of land near Blandford Forum in Dorset which includes dwellings, a restaurant with rooms, a busy village shop, a church, a village-built playground, four farms and various workshops for local craftsmen to rent. In doing so, Alice was suddenly in a position to make radical changes that would impact on the land and the community for generations to come. Here she talks to the ORFC Review about her journey and those who have influenced her decisions to make Chettle into a model that could work for many other landowners in the UK.
Alice has released a call for proposals to set up a micro dairy in Chettle (near Dorset): An Opportunity to Establish an Ethical Micro Dairy (PDF) Deadline is 1st July, 2020.
Tell us about your journey into regenerative agriculture. How did you become interested in this way of farming?
Growing up I had no idea I would inherit the estate and therefore have to learn about farming. My mother wanted me to go to Cirencester after school but I was more interested in getting into the music and events industry! So quite the opposite really. My uncle, who ran the estate with my mother, got cancer in 2009 and I started spending more time with him and my mother, splitting my life between London and Dorset. I always said that I had to wear two hats for most of my life, but eventually my rave hat had had its day and I found that I was more and more interested in the environmental crisis, biodiversity loss and our destruction of the planet. Once you start down that road there is no turning back. The dots all start to join and you can’t unsee what you have seen. And when you start learning about it you realise most things come back to the food we eat, our broken connections to nature and the lack of education about the natural world… Regenerative agriculture is a good way to start to fix some of the problems.
Did anyone in particular inspire you along this journey?
My biggest inspirations have come from ‘Doughnut Economics’ by one of the most forward-thinking economists, Kate Raworth, ‘Local is our Future’ by Helena Norberg-Hodge, ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree, ‘Rebirding’ by Benedict MacDonald, ‘A Farm for the Future’ by Rebecca Hosking and Richard Perkins’ enthusiastic videos and talks on regenerative agriculture and permaculture design. The turning point for me was going to ORFC in January 2019, it was full of young people and there were even women there (!), all enthusiastic about farming and nature and it confirmed for me where my heart and passion lay and I couldn’t wait to get back and make the changes on the estate…
You grew up on the estate in Dorset. Tell us about your childhood there and your relationship with nature as a result?
I spent most of my childhood in nature, either up a tree or catching newts, butterflies or grasshoppers, although my interaction with nature was more as an observer as none of my family were involved in farming. With my eyes now open, I passionately want what’s best for the land, the wildlife, the people, the properties and the environment. I inherited Chettle from my amazing and unconventional mother. She didn’t have a huge knowledge of nature or understand any of the issues facing the planet for future generations (in fact she loved to burn toxic things on bonfires), but despite those jarring qualities all of the rest of her being was generous, unrelenting and strong. She was a great custodian and took the estate into the 21st century (with the help of my uncle – a lawyer, visionary and well-known raconteur), whilst continuing the feeling that it was still bumbling along in the 1970s when community was still at the heart of any village. This strong sense of community has been lost in many places, especially amongst the rich villages in the countryside where many cottages are just second homes. She instilled in me many different values and the most important ones are my love of this village and the land it is nestled within, a strong work-ethic and not to be interested in money and the trappings of it. Getting into farming has been far more exciting and rewarding than I thought it would be. I have the same buzz from it as I used to when putting on festivals and raves!
You’ve been on quite a journey since you came home to Dorset. Now you’re in charge of the estate, what is your vision for land and the community?
The environment is at the heart of my drive for change but the future of Chettle has to address the environment, social and economic issues together. At the end of the day, Chettle is a community and you have to think about the people and the land together. There is no point planning things that don’t compliment both. I want the village to become as self-sufficient and resilient as possible. We have no idea what the future holds but one thing is apparent in these strange times, where the worst things are becoming normalised, is that we are better to try and safeguard our own futures rather than rely on our useless government.
We are passionate about thinking more widely about how we use the land of Chettle, to bring in ideas from other farmers, growers, land stewards and communities who are being bold and innovative in their approaches. These ideas should have the local people and local wildlife at their heart. We also want to practice longer-term thinking, where we make plans that will have positive benefits far into the future, for generations that we will never meet.
Tell us about the next steps for the estate are?
Right now, I am looking for someone to take over the old conventional dairy land and buildings and turn it into some kind of calf at foot dairy, where the animal welfare is as important as the end product. That is the first step and one that was forced on me sooner than I thought by a previous tenant going bankrupt. But alongside this I am working out what the wider vision is for the land. I am at a unique point in Chettle’s story, how often do you get to remodel a whole village and the land that surrounds it?!
What sort of person would be right for this role? And what are the perks of the job?
I am looking for someone to take the tenancy rather than just someone to run it. That person will need to be a good farmer but also good at branding and marketing. The great thing about Chettle is that we have a thriving village shop that already sells several hundred litres of milk so there is a ready-made market there. There is also a possibility of living in the village, if I can find a house, obviously no-one ever moves out though!
You were a speaker at this years conference, tell us about your experience and what were your highlights of your time there?
Yes I was. I spoke about common land for common good and told people all about Chettle and how it works. I spoke to a lot of people from the audience after who were all very complimentary about what I am trying to do and my ethos behind it. Highlights this year were meeting Farming George, as I am intrigued by what he is doing in Essex. I also particularly enjoyed seeing more ‘big ag’ players there, as in people farming several thousand acres, but in a sympathetic way and hearing about their transition from chemicals and bad practices towards a more holistic approach. ORFC is always the highlight of my year.