The Tablehurst & Plaw Hatch Community Farm initiative was born in 1994, when it appeared that Tablehurst Farm (which was then owned by Emerson College) might be lost to biodynamic agriculture after the College could no longer support the farm and was considering selling it. A group of local people formed a community group around the farmers, Peter and Brigitte Brown and, following a major community fundraising drive, managed to buy the farm assets and acquire a tenancy of the land. The Browns, together with farmers Alan and Bernie Jamieson and a management group of local people, built up the farm in the following years. This included extending and converting the farm house to a residential care home. This still provides a meaningful life experience for young people with disabilities, while also securing a revenue stream from the local care service to underpin the development of the farm business. During this period the farm expanded in size by renting and farming land from a number of private landowners. Today both Tablehurst and Plaw Hatch Farms rent and farm land at Spring Hill Farm, Kidbrooke Farm, Chailey, Michael Hall and several other locations in and around Forest Row.
An Industrial and Provident Society (known locally from the start as 'The Coop') was founded in June 1996. At the time there was a clear intention that the the neighbouring Plaw Hatch Farm agricultural community's original ideas should be realised, and that it should be brought into The Coop in due course. In 1979 St Anthony’s Trust had launched a public appeal for funds to buy Plaw Hatch Farm. This appeal was successful, and Plaw Hatch became an embryonic biodynamic agricultural community farm with 93 local community members. However, by 2000 Plaw Hatch was in financial difficulty and came into community management. The transfer of the Plaw Hatch farm business to The Coop took place in 2001, again following major community fundraising. This meant that St Anthony’s Trust was no longer involved in the farming, although it retained ownership of the Plaw Hatch land.
The ownership and management structure of the farms is designed to ensure that the farms are safe for biodynamic and community farming in perpetuity:
- The buildings and most of the land used by the farms are owned by St Anthony’s Trust, (a local charity which has education and training for biodynamic farmers as one of its main charitable objectives), to which the farms pay a modest annual rent.
- The two farm businesses are owned by The Coop on behalf of some 700+ shareholder members, mainly from the local community. The Coop Committee is elected annually at the September AGM from the shareholder base and sets the broad overall direction of the farm businesses.
- The direction and the day-to-day management of the farms is undertaken by the farms’ own boards of directors and managers.