Blackburn with Darwen Food Alliance

Back in 2014 Mr Tabassum bought a 7 acre stretch of land in Burnley with view to developing a Muslim burial ground.  Six years on, the local authority finally declined permission and sadly Mr Tabassum passed away. This was 2020 and Mr Tabassum’s family were left with managing the charity and project he’d left behind, against a backdrop of a global pandemic exposing the fragile nature of our current food system. “The pandemic had been the catalyst, as not only did it highlight the insecurities within the food supply chain, it also highlighted to me how I had given up control of my own food security to someone else- mainly big corporations” So out of the sadness of his father’s passing and his already burning desire to at some point be part of a pure food production system, came his mission and vision “ To produce pure, nutrient dense food, whilst regenerating the soil and ecosystem”. Oakstream Pastures was born.

 

“Our mission might sound like it’s only possible to achieve on a smaller scale but I believe that it doesn’t have to be the case – if we start to think differently.  There might be grassland farmers out there with livestock across hundreds of acres, who may spend thousands of pounds on chemical fertiliser. They could lease part of their land to an enterprise with a flock of chickens and some mobile coops. The chickens follow the herd of beef or dairy cattle, pecking at the bugs and grubs the cows leave behind in their pats. The chickens sanitise the pastures by eating the fly larvae that would otherwise be troublesome for the cattle. They’ll also fertilise the land with their own droppings, building soil and helping the pastures regenerate better than they were before. They’ll improve the soil food web in there and reduce the need for any chemical fertilizers that would otherwise destroy the natural soil food web. The chickens are doing it all for them whilst being a profitable egg enterprise in their own right – That’s a no brainer choice really.”

 

Ammar said the interest in the farm has been huge, with an increasing number of interested people contacting him “Its amazing that more people are taking an active interest in what they eat and how their food is being grown and why its impact on the health and the environment is important”

 

He takes great pride in his chickens and eggs and goes to great lengths to make it clear and simple about the importance of understanding egg production . He has a great write up on his website. Our Eggs — Oakstream Pastures

As he showed me the no dig beds in the market garden he explained “ We are all about promoting soil health and the biology here. The soil is the conduit for giving the plants what they need. You could put all the minerals and nutrients in the soil but if you haven’t got the microbiology in there to make it available to the plant, the plant won’t be able to utilise it. When we add compost to the soil surface, It’s not the fertility in the compost that you’re really getting a benefit from, its the biology that’s in there, that allows the plants to actually take up all of those minerals and nutrients – that is what gives food its flavour. That’s what gives it the nutrition and that’s what keeps you in good health”

 

We started off in 2021 with literally 2 market garden beds, as a practice run to see what we could grow with minimal input, using the no dig system.  We now have over 40 beds , 620 chickens in mobile coops, several sheep, meat rabbits and ducks.

 

Challenges:

Its not all been plain sailing there has been huge challenges along the way. There’s been theft, losing tools and various bits of equipment.  They lost a whole flock of chickens to a bad bout of feather pecking. The next flock bought in had many some chickens with egg peritonitis; meaning the eggs laid internally ultimately leading the chickens dying. Even with providing optimal nutrition and living conditions these things happen – “The alternative would be to ultimately breed and rear our own hardy chickens but this would take a few years to develop the right genetics.”

The chicken feed prices made him look at different alternatives, he moved to organic peas and beans and milled them himself. Then moved to sprouting his own organic wheat, its cost effective and highly nutritious for the chickens. Now he’s looking to produce his own matured compost to provide a live protein source for this chickens. Not only are the chickens getting a high protein and mineral food at the same time they then build better soil and grass for the next run by spreading the compost we provide them whilst they’re out on pasture.

 

Going forwards

“Leveraging the synergies that different local enterprises can bring. Working with others with similar visions to be able to create community resiliency.

We really want to get into meat production here both with poultry and meat rabbits. But in order to do that as sympathetically as possible and in line with our values, we need to have a slaughter facility on site.

We will be expanding the market garden and the number of veg boxes being produced.

We will continue to produce superior quality eggs by constantly innovating”

They are currently breeding their own stock of live mealworms to help provide a live protein source for the chickens. They work a lot with biochar and are developing more efficient, large scale methods to produce it to a point so they can sell back to the community to use in their compost process or animal feeds. “We’re also beginning a journey in vermicomposting and worm breeding to help create our own elite-level fertility on the farm”

“We have just planted about 6000 trees to develop a silvo-pasture system. After all the chicken is a descendant of a jungle bird and so being out amongst the tress not only is their natural habitat and environment but another source of natural food. Also interplanting fruit trees and medicinal herbs and plants.”

“I really want to encourage people to grow their own and help get the permaculture aspect and education side of things a bit more out there in the mainstream – that’s what I’d really love to do.”

Ammar is an accountant by trade, has no background in food and farming but in the space of 2.5 years he has gone from 0 to all of the above. His passion, drive and family support has made it all possible.

 

You can support Ammar ?

You can buy eggs, seasonal veg boxes and currently laying hens all through the website.  Local delivery is offered or a once a week pick up. They are looking into a national courier service.

Shop — Oakstream Pastures

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