Measuring and valuing: Farmers, workers and community

  • 12.07.2023
  • article
  • Global Farm Metric
  • Labour and Livelihoods
  • Measuring Sustainability
  • Alicia Miller

How can measuring sustainability help us to understand and value the produce and services that farmers deliver? In this series, we explore the role of metrics in transitioning to a more sustainable food and farming system, and we meet some of the people who are leading the way. Here, Alicia Miller, Content Editor for the Sustainable Food Trust, looks at why farmers, workers and communities are the bedrock of a resilient food and farming system.

Social capital refers to the shared values or resources that enable us to work together towards a common goal. Within farming, building social capital is essential in the development of the networks and connections that bind people together and support the wellbeing of farmers and workers. At its heart, is the generation of community, which can be realised in a wide variety of ways: from a neighbour who helps you with a task or a friend who introduces you to a valuable contact, to more expansive interactions in which diverse individuals band together to create meaningful social change through activism, such as Greta Thunberg’s ‘Fridays for Future’ movement or grassroots campaigns promoting improved farm safety.

For farmers, social capital can have varied value and it is frequently overlooked in what is, for many, a lonely profession. It’s important for farmers to have engagement with peers and their wider community but long hours and the demands of farm work can make this hard. Connection with others is important from a purely social perspective but it is also crucial for sharing knowledge and best practice. Learning from one another can be the difference between failure and success.

The SFT’s Global Farm Metric emphasises the value of a thriving local community as being ‘vital for farmers, their families and their workers’. While these networks remain strong in many ways, there are also vulnerabilities due to the erosion of local services and infrastructure within rural communities. An example can be found in the decline of local abattoirs, which are disappearing at an alarming rate as smaller, locally owned businesses are pushed out by larger, centralised facilities. The decline of these key services erodes local networks, reduces employment opportunities and skills, and can damage the productive capacity of farms.

However, despite these challenges, many small and medium-scale farms are finding value in diversification, embracing new opportunities and ways of thinking. Evaluating the impact of social capital in agriculture requires a multi-faceted perspective. There are increasingly diverse ways of working and interfacing with other producers to strengthen networks but also to work holistically to support one another. In the US, for example, organic milk producer Albert Straus works with a group of small family farms in Marin and Sonoma Counties. He sees it as a way of revitalising rural communities and giving space for new enterprises to develop. Straus feels that “collaborating with the next generation is essential.”

There are many other farmers who have grounded their business in the value of people and community. Stream Farm in the Quantocks, Southwest England, is built on a share-farming model that is also a means of training. Workers typically come to them for a couple of years and take on one of the farm’s businesses; these workers are self-employed and receive a share of the gross profit. It is a chance for new entrant farmers to learn and develop, without the immediate need for capital or skills. Stream Farm has now supported over 25 share farmers, most of whom have stayed for two years before moving on to continue farming enterprises elsewhere or pursue further self-employment opportunities.

Farms are also diversifying in unexpected ways, becoming more public and outward facing. The SFT’s CEO, Patrick Holden, and his wife, Rebecca Holden, are using their farm, Bwlchwernen Fawr, as a centre for educational encounters and a place to facilitate dialogue and exchange around issues in the local community. Recently, they hosted an event in collaboration with NFU Cymru and The Harmony Project that brought together people from across the Welsh food and farming system to explore how schools can introduce more local, seasonal produce onto their menus and integrate food education into the curriculum. Such events can strengthen social ties between people working in different but related sectors, creating meaningful change that can help to overcome stasis in complex or difficult issues.

The Sustainable Food Trust has also been exploring the potential of social prescribing in a recent pilot project with several GP practices in and around Bristol. Social prescribing involves linking individuals to social or community-based activities or resources which have the potential to improve health and wellbeing. During the pilot, a six-week programme of farm-based activities was offered to participants, including spending time with farm animals, farm walks, foraging and harvesting, healthy cooking demonstrations, collecting honey and getting occupational experience.

Langford Farm, run by Teresa and Charlie Allward, was one of the farms involved in the pilot. The farm is an organic fifth-generation beef and dairy farm in north Somerset, which is mainly made up of permanent pasture and hay meadows, both rich in native grasses, wildflowers and wildlife. Here, we caught up with Teresa and Charlie to talk about why people and community underpin their approach to farming.


SFT: Can you tell us a bit about what you’re doing on your farm to deliver positive impacts for the community?

Teresa & Charlie: We have been a long-established dairy and beef farm for many generations, so our farm, land and family are deeply rooted in the local area, especially as we are situated close to a village and to people, homes and lives.

We have practised organic farming methods and principles for many years and have been certified for over 25 years, always farming with a more extensive and sustainable approach, which we believe has positive impacts on the wider community, not just those who live close to the farm.

Teresa and Charlie stand together in front of their herd of cows

Working in harmony with nature allows the flora, fauna and biodiversity to flourish on our farm, which people enjoy, and it has health, wellbeing and environmental benefits for all. We are particularly proud of our hedgerow management: the laying of our hedges in the North Somerset style provides wonderful wildlife corridors and helps nature to thrive, as does our stewardship of permanent pasture and small traditional wildflower and hay meadows, along with some woodland. We have footpaths across our farm that are regularly used, allowing the community to enjoy the surroundings.

We encourage people to visit our farm and see our animals, so they can connect with how the food is produced. We answer any of their questions and share our passion.

We are extremely pleased to be part of the SFT’s social prescribing pilot project that links with other organisations and local GP surgeries to benefit the community by encouraging people to spend time on our farm, which can have a positive impact on health and wellbeing. We have found this to be extremely powerful in connecting people through nature-based activities and opportunities to learn about the farm and our animals up close, whilst being immersed in nature. We find the animals to be essential in this, as their presence is extremely soothing.

SFT: How do you think farmers can support positive outcomes for their community and why do you consider that to be important?

Teresa & Charlie: Farming using a more sustainable approach can definitely support positive outcomes for the community. We are especially passionate about livestock farming and cattle, as, in our experience, they are completely integral to the carbon cycle, building soil health and fertility. As all life depends on soil health, we believe that farmers and livestock have an essential role to play. Our permanent pastures with grazing livestock can play an instrumental role in supporting sustainable management, preserving wildlife and biodiversity and enhancing soil fertility and nutrient cycling.

Teresa bottle feeds milk to one of their calf

We are passionate about the fact that, as well as environmental and social impacts, sustainable farming can also support rural communities by providing a local food supply and sources of income and employment.

Economically, there are so many businesses and livelihoods that hang off a cow’s tail. We believe that, as farmers, we can have an important role in fostering connectedness with nature, the environment, animals and how our food can be produced sustainably.

SFT: At the SFT, we’re developing the Global Farm Metric, a holistic framework that helps farmers to monitor and improve their farm’s sustainability. What do you think are some important considerations when it comes to ensuring that farmers benefit from such frameworks?

Teresa & Charlie: To be able to move towards more sustainable food and farming systems successfully, we will need to measure the impact that the farm has as a whole. The far reaching impacts and benefits that farms deliver are not always recognised. Important considerations would be to ensure that diverse social, economic and environmental outcomes are included, along with how they can be measured successfully and as tangibly as possible, to provide a common framework for evaluation.

Charlie strokes one of their cows

SFT: Do you think farmers and growers should be supported and rewarded for delivering positive impacts for the community and for other farmers and workers?

Teresa & Charlie: Yes, as this recognises the holistic role that they can play and therefore enables the continuation of the farm and delivery of these positive outcomes. If we aspire to make farming and food production sustainable and resilient in the long term, then farming, nature and the welfare of all people involved, all need to go hand-in-hand. Currently, this is not always understood or captured effectively by the market mechanisms.

To learn more about Langford Farm, visit

For more information about the Global Farm Metric, click here.

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