The winner of the 2009 Smallholder of the Year competition lives on a narrowboat and says her favourite shopping is at the dump.


The winner of the 2009 Smallholder of the Year competition lives on a narrowboat and says her favourite shopping is at the dump.

Jane Fanner, from Oxfordshire, says the philosophy of ‘make do and mend’ is at the heart of her self-sufficient lifestyle.

“On a smallholding you have got to be able to invent things yourself. I am very pleased I am growing veg and milking the cow because I need to. All this has made us useful people,” she said.

Jane picked up a £1,000 cheque and a trophy at an awards lunch at a Devon country hotel. It was the climax to a national competition organised by Country Smallholding.

The compere was James Strawbridge, a presenter of the BBC TV series It’s Not Easy Being Green, and a writer for the magazine. In announcing Jane as the winner, he said: “Her remarkable smallholding truly typifies the self-sufficient lifestyle.

Amazingly productive

• From left to right: Anna Merritt, publisher for Archant SW Rural Magazines, which produces Country Smallholding, Editor Simon McEwan, winner Jane Fanner and compere James Strawbridge “Visiting the 32-acre smallholding near Bicester is like walking back in time, with a working pony, an old Fergie tractor, a 1940s bailer, and a 1960s Morris 1,000. There is a marvellous Heath Robinson system for heating water with solar power, efficient rainwater harvesting, and even a home-made incubator for chicks.

“The vegetable garden is amazingly productive, and the smallholder has a loving relationship with her livestock, especially with her Jersey cows, which she sees as the hub of her smallholding.”

Jane earns a modest living running a tea garden by her canal-side home, and James said: “She told us that in material terms she is not rich – but that she is rich beyond her wildest dreams in terms of quality of life. This is a smallholding that is magical and inspirational.”

Second place went to Jurg and Yvonne Hacon, from Cornwall, and third place to the Blevins family from Lincolnshire.

Entrants in the competition were asked about a range of issues, including their care of livestock, land management, self-sufficiency, care of the environment and involvement in the wider community.

The awards ceremony was held after a lunch at Percy’s Country Hotel and Restaurant, on the border of Devon and Cornwall. Owners Tina and Tony Bricknell-Webb run a small farm and aim for self-sufficiency themselves, using much of their own meat and produce at their awardwinning restaurant.

In welcoming guests, Archant SW magazines publisher Anna Merritt said 2009 has been a very successful year for Country Smallholding with substantially increased sales.

She thanked judges James Strawbridge, Alan Beat and Pammy Riggs, who all write for the magazine, and Natural Animal Feeds who supported the competition.

In accepting her award, Jane said: “I am very honoured. This is not just for me, it is for all smallholders. Eventually the time will come when we run out of resources. It is important to make-do-and-mend, and to nurture Nature rather than plunder Nature.

“If people like us continue to do what we are doing, when that fateful day comes, when the lights start to go out, we will be able to continue, possibly in a different way.”

After the awards ceremony, Tina Bricknell-Webb gave guests a guided tour of the farm.

In second place: Jurg and Yvonne Hacon from Cornwall

Second place in the 2009 Smallholder of the Year Competition goes to a Jurg and Yvonne Hacon from Cornwall. The couple have transformed a neglected former cattery into a lovely little eco-friendly house, and used creativity and originality to create a rich three-acre smallholding on a windswept hilltop near the sea.

One of the most impressive features of this smallholding, at St Agnes, is an imaginative, green approach, with lots of recycling and an ingenious system for recycling water for the land and livestock.

Jurg and Yvonne told us that seeing the land grow, learning from mistakes and enjoying the whole process is what makes it work.

In third place: The Blevins family

Third place goes to a family who have worked wonders on a neglected 13-acre potato field in Lincolnshire, turning it into a highly productive smallholding in just three years.

Peter’s Eden is run by three generations of the Blevins family and, in addition to a variety of livestock, and a packed polytunnel, they run a thriving jam, chutney and cordial business.

The official entrant, Hannah Blevins, was unable to attend the awards – she and husband Chris were busy working at a market – but Hannah’s mother Liz, also a key figure in the smallholding, was there to represent the family.