The vicar-turned-farmer building a rural community

A CLA member in Buckinghamshire has transformed a neglected farm into a thriving haven that supports biodiversity, food production and the local community
Francis Orr-Ewing, known as Frog, with sheep
Francis 'Frog' Orr-Ewing alongside his 'flock'

A vicar who swapped his Peckham parish for a derelict farm has spoken of his pride in blending conservation, agriculture and community on his land.

The Rev Dr Francis Orr-Ewing, known as Frog, bought Stampwell Farm near Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire with his wife Amy in 2012. The 70-acre site has been farmed for 1,000 years and was in poor condition when the couple arrived, but it now has a vibrant vision for the future and a flourishing community that works and lives at Stampwell.

When Frog and Amy took over, the farm lacked running water, electricity, services and fences, and the buildings were in disrepair. It hadn’t been actively farmed for at least 15 years, but they have given it a new lease of life.

It is now home to donkeys, chickens and goats, as well as 70 sheep that graze most of the site. Its orchards and incredible biodiversity, including more than 100 fungi species, attract groups of enthusiasts.

It established itself as the home of the Latimer Minister, a new Christian community that initially met in a barn, and the farm is also a base for a coffee roaster, musicians, painters, craftspeople and educators.

At least a dozen people live and work on the farm, and in the last few years, it has also homed Ukrainian refugees and those fleeing persecution in Nigeria. Extra accommodation has been added and community features developed, such as a village green area and fire pit. During Covid, its woodland acted as an outdoor church and hosted prayer walks, while revenue streams include camping and running one-off events.

An outdoor community

Frog, who was ordained in Oxford Cathedral in 2000 and has no background in farming, says: “We bought the farm because we really wanted an outdoor community and church base. We were attracted to Stampwell because it had this blend of wildness, beauty and potential that lay hidden in the ruins.

“It was a big change to our life in Peckham, and I’ve learnt a lot. It’s taken a decade to discover what does and doesn’t work, and we’ve had to spend the seasons learning about our land.

“I treat the farmland like a cluster of little outdoor rooms; some are very small but full of interest and biodiversity. It’s a patchwork quilt. We don’t use pesticides and herbicides on the farm, and because it had been abandoned for at least 15 years before we came, nothing has been sprayed on this land for a good 30 years.

“Parts of the farm were overgrown, like a jungle, and we’ve made a big effort to create wildlife corridors, lay hedges and uncover lost treasures, such as an incredible pond in the woods. Once you start, it’s like having your eyes opened.”

Sustainable farming future

Frog, who until recently also taught the MA in Mission at the University of Winchester, is passionate about blending food production, conservation management and community engagement to build a sustainable future for the farm.

He says: “I’m proud that we’ve managed to keep the farm viable and active, and usable for many people to enjoy. The children who live here have little volunteer jobs with the animals, the refugees became full participants in the community during their stays, and during Covid, our woodland prayer walks offered sanctuary and kept many people sane and mentally well.

“Everything is joined up and integrated, linking into something else. We work with charities, home education groups, schools and church groups, and a psychologist offering trauma therapy. There are artists and musicians who interact with the land in their creation of music, and use natural arts materials directly from the land, such as oak gall and charcoal inks, plus goat and sheep vellum instead of canvas.

“I take great delight from hearing music composed on the farm, or seeing an art exhibition with pictures of our trees painted with our ink.”

When you have worked hard in the winter months and then see young people from the Ukraine or children from London’s urban areas enjoying the natural beauty and the space and laughing, care-free – those little moments make other elements of hard work more worthwhile

Francis ‘Frog’ Orr-Ewing

Future plans

Plans for the future include redeveloping some of the farm buildings, growing more herbs and expanding the orchards.

They have come a long way in 12 years. Frog adds: “I love to see the bluebells in the cherry orchard, the vibrant colours take your breath away.

“It’s been hard work but so rewarding to bring life and biodiversity back in a way that creates a meaningful peace – with God, one another and the land.”

Brewing a successful business

Stampwell has become the base for Ivan Chakraborty’s coffee roasting company, Nuach Coffee, plus a home for his young family.

He roasts and packages his product on-site to supply restaurants and coffee shops across the country, with natural waste products used around the farm for chicken bedding, organic fertiliser, firewood and by the artist-in-residence.

Ivan says: “It works well, access here is good and it’s really helped our business. It’s very restful on the farm, and a nice pace of life.”