Britain's revolutionary farm of the future: earth, wind, water and sun

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The Independent Online
Britain's most ambitious green farming project, which its supporters claim is "a viable way to live in the 21st century", was yesterday given the stamp of official endorsement.

The scheme known as Earth Balance yesterday announced a pounds 1.3m second phase, about half of which comes from public sources, which will harness wind, water and the sun as power sources for the 220 acre site at Bedlington, Northumberland. The complex already includes a bakery and a brewery.

"What started as a fantasy is fast becoming a reality," said Steve Manchee, the project director. "We will show people a viable way to live in the 21st century."

"We are not trying to create a theme park," said Mr Manchee, although eventually 85,000 visitors are expected to try the "hands-on" green technology and sample the home produce. "We are relatively pragmatic, seeing whether it is possible to run businesses on sustainable lines without detracting from their commercial viability."

The largest slice of the money, almost pounds 500,000, will come from English Partnerships, the state-funded development agency. Northumberland County Council and the EU Regional Development Fund are also key backers.

The project has a serious practical purpose. It is not trying to create an idyllic hippie commune, nor a "green theme park"such as the futuristic Earth Centre planned for Doncaster. Drawing inspiration from the Centre for Alternative Technology in rural Wales, Mr Manchee and his co-founders hope to show how local economies can be revived on sustainable lines.

About pounds 760,000 was spent on phase one, including a bakery, a horticultural training unit for people with learning difficulties and partial conversion of the farm to organic production.

The Green Man Bakery started trading last September with a capacity to produce 11,300 loaves or other bread products per week. By 1999 it should be using wheat from the farm and its ovens will be fired by wood from a willow coppice.

Barley grown on the farm will supply the Northumberland Brewery, currently trading off-site but due to move in the summer to a building taking electric power from a photovoltaic array on the roof.

Phase two includes a 60kw wind turbine, linked to a 10 kw water turbine via a three-acre hydrostorage lake. The lake will provide a trout fishery while a reedbed system will convert sewage into compost.

In addition to its main operations, the farm also has three groups beavering away on their own ideas; re-cycling textiles and making small-scale wind turbines and kitchen furniture. By 1999 it is hoped the farm will directly employ 30 people - two at present - with another 60 jobs created indirectly.