Enjoying the good life in Royston

Growing your own produce, keeping chickens and coppicing your own woodland are probably something we daydream about. Philippa Pearson meets a couple near Royston whose dream has become a reality and a way of life

SIMON Saggers's family have been farming at Bassingbourn for more than 400 years. Growing up on a farm, Simon always knew he wanted to stay in the family business, but along a far different route than previous generations. 'I wanted to create a smallholding that was self-sufficient and linked to the local community', says Simon. Guilden Gate Organic Smallholding began life as a ploughed field in October 1999: the field, known as Guilden Gate was bought in the 1880s by Edward Saggers and has been in the family ever since. Intrinsic to Simon and his wife Jacqueline's approach to the new venture was to create a business and family home that were in harmony with nature, using sound eco principles and diverse conservation projects. 'We wanted to create something resilient and self-reliant that integrated the house with the land,' says Simon. The land is maintained organically to Soil Association standards and the eco-cottage, built on the site of concrete bases of the old chicken sheds where Simon's father kept battery hens, was built using sustainable materials. They have a wind turbine that generates their own electricity and water is recycled; household overheads are minimal, their carbon footprint zero.In the two years preceding the launch of the project, Simon and Jacqueline worked on organic farms in the UK and abroad, gathering information on an eco style of living and working. Simon didn't want to maintain the smallholding with a tractor because of its use of unsustainable fossil fuels and does most of the work himself, with help from Jacqueline who also looks after their two children, George, six, and Maddie, four. 'This is a family smallholding designed around the human scale so all work is meant to be done by humans, not by mechanical machines like tractors,' Simon explains. An acre of the land is given over to growing organic produce, vegetables, herbs, nuts and fruit, which provide the local community with a wholesome veg box scheme throughout the year. Simon used to deliver these around the village on his bike but the popularity of the scheme has spread further afield and customers now collect their veg boxes direct from the smallholding. 'What is great about this,' Simon says as we walk around the burgeoning vegetable plot, 'is that our customers become more involved in what we are doing here.' Families come to collect their boxes each Friday and take the opportunity to look around the site: children see how wholesome food is produced and where it comes from.Elsewhere on the smallholding, a large woodland area is part coppiced to provide fuel for the cottage in winter and another source of income from the split hazel hurdles that Simon makes. Honey and eggs are also offered in the veg box scheme and a wildflower meadow and orchard are a perfect home for the beehives whilst chickens enjoy foraging amongst the cob nut ride.

Simon Saggers's self-sufficiency top tipsGrow your ownChallenge yourself to grow five of your favourite produce. Start with a 2ft� plot, you'll be amazed what you can grow in a small area, then progress onto larger and more beds. If space is limited, grow in containers: climbing beans can grow up a wall, herbs and veg grow happily in containers.

Plant a treePlant a fruit nut tree in the garden. Trained trees take up less space, look pretty and produce a high yield so are perfect for smaller gardens.

Keep chickensYou don't need a cockerel to have fresh eggs every day, just some hens. You will need an adequate hen house that is fox-proof, though.

Keep beesYou can keep a couple of beehives in a reasonably sized back garden. Do get expert advice beforehand.

Visit the smallholdingSimon and Jacqueline Saggers's smallholding is open by appointment only. Guided tours are available, price on application, which give an interesting and entertaining insight into what makes a smallholding tick.Guilden Gate, 86 North End,Bassingbourn, Royston SG8 5PD01763 243960

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