It’s based on 35 acres of farm land in the middle of the Isle of Dogs, but the main comment staff and volunteers get from new visitors is ‘we had no idea you were here.’
That’s probably because you wouldn’t expect a city farm 30 minutes walk from Canary Wharf, so we wanted find out all about this 39 year old farm and the people who run it.
Mudchute Park and Farm was established in 1977 by the local Isle of Dogs community in reaction to plans from the Greater London Council to build a high rise estate on the land.
The space was previously used for the spoil of construction from dredging Millwall Dock and had remained untouched for decades.
After the farm was established it was then open for the public, schools and corporates to use as an educational place to learn about life on a farm and the great outdoors.
It is governed by a board of 15 trustees, chaired by Justin Abbott, who gave us the lowdown on the farm.
How did you come to work at Mudchute?
I grew up across the river from Mudchute and was first introduced to the farm by founding member Mike Barraclough, the father of a great friend of mine.
Mike has been an inspiration – he is still a trustee, and has been over several decades instrumental in the conception, design and running of the farm. Mike’s wife Jenny is a very persuasive character and about ten years ago encouraged me to get involved and secure some funding.
Tell us about Mudchute
At its heart Mudchute is 35 acres of beautiful countryside, open to all, every day, free of charge.
Our staff are largely people from the area, and with more than 40 employees we have become an important provider of careers for the community.
Many of our team have started as volunteers or as junior members of the team and developed their careers at the Mudchute.
Educational officer Denise Lara has worked at the farm for nearly 17 years and looks after numerous children from mainstream schools and those with special educational needs.
She said: “We run special programmes 38 weeks of the year with mainstream schools and they will come in to learn about all sorts - from seed dispersal to working with the animals.
“We also have our 'from allotment to plate' programme, so children can understand more about where their food comes from.
“With all the children that we have in you can see the difference in them from the start to when they leave.
“For example, we have our donkey programme and we had one boy come in who communicated through his iPad with us.
“He saw the donkeys and started ticking, so we asked him what he was thinking and he wrote that he was ‘so very happy.’
"It’s lovely to see the difference the animals can make - they can be a very calming influence.”
Farmer Nick Golson, who has been in his job for four years after starting out as a volunteer, walks us around the fields and introduces us to animals.
He said: “It’s difficult to know how much you want to present the life on the farm - this is a Disneyfied version of what happens at a farm, but it’s still a good way for children to learn about the process.
“If only a few kids go away and think about how the animals are kept - and if they eat meat where it comes from - then it's worth it."
Although Nick isn’t keen to name the animals as he says he needs to remain impartial, he does refer to the two resident rams as "the Danny Dyer and George Clooney of the sheep world” due to their natures.
He said: “Sheep are nothing but the battering ram at the front and the breeding tackle so they are the perfect evolutionary example of an animal that has exactly what it needs for survival.”
One animal he has named is Bruiser - a Gloucestershire Old Spots pig, who he says has had some trouble with the ladies after his two previous ‘girlfriends’rejected him - with the latest one even biting him and attacking him.
And although the animals are kept in typical farm conditions, the team don’t produce a lot of typical products due to the costs and red tape behind it all.
Nick said: “We shear the sheep each year and have made things from the wool but it’s not worth doing it on a regular basis.
“We auction some lamb each year and recently supplied Plateau some honey - we have eggs from the chickens as well but we usually scoff them as there aren’t enough to sell.
“The big thing is if you produce anything for the human food chain you are tested and treated like a massive food producer and we don’t have the money for that.”
The farm isn’t just about the animals and the educational side though.
Nick said: “There is work being done to try and quantify the value of green space - people are trying to prove it has health benefits and there’s an economic value to the area.
“We’ve already launched a pilot project for people with mental health problems and it’s been great so far.
“People have said ‘I felt better than I have for months and care workers have said ‘It’s the first time I’ve seen them smile for months.’
“So all the waffle of it’s a lovely place etc is great, but now we’re getting these concrete measurable benefits, so you do actually see the value of the place.”
THE NURSERY: MUDDY BOOTS
Muddy Boots nursery nurse Jay Knight, 25, first came to Mudchute when he was six years old when he stared at the after school club.
He said: "Being at the farm has always seemed normal to me as I just live across the road.
“But I think for a lot of the kids this is one of the only places they get to see these animals and have the open sopace.
“It’s main benefits are you have the environment around you, fresh, air, and it’s quiet - everything you need is in one place.
“The kids love going to see the animals and love feeding them - but it does depend on the weather how much we can get out there.”
THE FINANCIAL SIDE
Mudchute costed just over £1million to run last year, yet they received £31,000 from Tower Hamlets council for running the park and farm.
Justin said: "To put things in perspective we estimate that if we had the same level of funding per acre that Tower Hamlets spends on the parks it manages itself we would be getting about £400,000 per year.”
Finance officer Ze Michael explains where further funding comes from.
He said: “We have no funding or any means of income to have animals here, but we have the nursery school which gets money from fees and we have big corporate groups down for team building days that they pay for.
“Mudchute also has members and they pay a fee or you can sponsor animals, or just donate to the farm - and you can provide as much as you want.”