Soul in the Soil: Hannah Steenbergen’s Plans for Regenerating our Land

When I introduced myself to the neighbour as the Farm Manager at 42 Acres and the Hermitage he laughed and asked, “What farm?” Seth Tabatznik’s vision to create a working farm and productive gardens is a new and pivotal development for 42 Acres, and I am so excited to have joined the team at the beginning of 2018, in order to help make this vision become a reality.

When I consider the ‘farm’ I include all the ecosystems within the landscape: from the micro-organisms in the soil to the micro-organisms in the guts of the people who eat here. The 42 Acres Somerset retreat centre already serves high quality organic food, but soon this will be lifted to another level when fresh seasonal produce – from just a field or two away – become a key part of the menu. Our plan is to produce food for the retreat centre, as well as for further afield, in ways that actually improve the soil, encourage biodiversity, and regenerate the land.

Since growing up on a biodynamic farm in North Yorkshire I have always had a keen interest in sustainable food and farming, whilst my most recent position was working for the Sustainable Food Trust, helping to promote better food and farming systems. However, I don’t have size 11 wellies or wear a Tattersall shirt, so I may not fit the typical farm manager image… Instead of spending a lot of my time driving heavy farm machinery around, I can often be found in a field staring at what looks like a plastic hula hoop on the ground tapping numbers into my mobile phone. Doing soil health surveys and increasing my understanding of the plant species growing here are essential elements of my job (although I do sometimes drive tractors too!) I see my role as attempting to integrate ecology and food production as well as business and education.

Truly healthy food is also nourishing for the land, and we strive to demonstrate this at 42 Acres through our farming methods. Despite the name, the combined land area of the estate is actually 170 acres of permanent pasture, gardens, woodland, waterways, lake and solar panels. This landscape provides an ideal opportunity for ‘agri-wilding’ where farming and wildlife conservation co-exist and complement each other. The ambition is for 42 Acres to demonstrate how we can work with nature to create an abundant and beautiful agroecological system and for this to have positive knock-on effects in the local region, as well as internationally.

After a lot of observing, planning and design work during the early months of this year, we have made some exciting first steps. The greenhouse is bursting with plants, a new polytunnel has been constructed and a variety of homegrown salads and vegetables have already made their way onto plates. 15 young Khaki Campbell ducks have joined the garden team and have started laying delicious eggs. A small herd of beautiful Shetland cows and calves have arrived to help us manage the pastures and to produce beef.

There are many more plans in the pipeline for the coming years as, day by day, we work towards creating our vision of a regenerative 42 Acres farm

  •  – By Hannah Steenbergen
42 ACRES Somerset, photographed by Jamie Lau

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