With just one acre Jez and Caroline Rose have created an environment and introduced visitor experiences that have enabled them to pay for the small farm.

Jez had been a behaviourist and author for 15 years, travelling the world, when he decided he wanted to return to his rural roots.

He had grown up on a farm and so he and Caroline decided to look for one. They made a mistake inputting the desired geographical area into the website search engine and the result was that they fell in love with a dilapidated farmhouse with an acre of land on the Lincolnshire/ Cambridgeshire border and buying it.

Thinking back, Jez laughs, “It’s been hell. It’s been the worst thing I’ve done in my whole life but it’s also been the most rewarding.”

Within three days of moving into Elm Farm 75 square metres of the roof fell in and the couple had to take the bathroom fitter from hell to court. When it came to repairing the old cattle barn they found that its lighting was powered from a spur off a plug socket in the living room of the house. Removing the plaster from the living room wall exposed live wires that were bare as the plastic had disappeared. Even worse was to come.

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After six months the septic tank was found and it became apparent that it had been discharging into the dyke at the bottom of the farm, which is sited in an area of special scientific interest. Further, the tranquil sound of water that they had come to love from what the previous owners had called an artesian well was found to in fact be a bore hole. It had been concreted over and fitted with a drainpipe and 49 cable ties to stop it leaking. Essentially a reservoir was going in to the dyke, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water day by day.

Jez says, “We arrived comfortably off and we had nothing in three months. We had a crazy amount of hope and totally unrealistic financial forecasting.”

Prior to buying the farm Jez had set up a research project with psychologist and neuroscientists to investigate the impact that nature has on people. ‘The Good Life Project’ has already found that being in and around nature lowers levels of sickness and attrition, so the team was considering whether it is possible to increase workplace wellbeing and efficiency by introducing nature into workplaces. They found, for example, that having a pot plant on a desk increases a worker’s sense of wellbeing by 17%.

This knowledge and the couple’s financial state lead to them looking at the farm with new eyes. The acre of land was scrub and bare, with unusually few birds and scarcely any other wildlife.

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Just a year later Jez and Caroline have recovered the orchard and seeded it with wild flower. They often see partridges and there are now resident fresh water voles. Every day they see tree sparrows and finches, amongst other garden birds, but they also regularly see barn owls, buzzards, a kingfisher and even an eagle.

The couple worked hard to recover and plant the land but they did it with a clear purpose, to share their land with people who would benefit from spending time in nature and would pay for the privilege.

Elm Farm now hosts workshops for employees of companies wishing to increase their corporate social responsibility. It has become a place of inspiration, somewhere to gain a different perspective. Day long courses include smallholding, rural skills, cidermaking and beekeeping but the farm also hosts yoga sessions and a supper club. The Roses also sell honey from their bees and run an ‘adopt a beehive’ scheme. Thinking about new courses, Jez remembered studying with an animal behaviourist and learning that chickens are difficult to train. Consequently, he developed a course of training chickens for managers, so that they could learn skills that are directly applicable in the workplace.

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About opening up the farm in this way Jez says, “Making the farm commercial doesn’t mean selling out. It’s our home and we decide when we open it up. It depends how commercial you want to go but sharing space is really valuable. We have managed to remain true to what we need and want while still making it work. People sometimes feel the need to escape from their lives, even temporarily. They enjoy spending time here and we put in place activities that they like to do. It’s not pretentious and there’s no right or wrong. We’ve managed to create an environment and experiences that people really enjoy.”

“During the work on the farm doctors suspected that I had a brain tumour, then a heart issue and finally I was sent to an eye specialist. In fact, I was suffering from stress. Strange as it may sound, the pay-off from nature has made it worth it. Seeing the sunsets and sunrises here help arrest everything that is wrong. Living here gives us the gift of being able to go for a walk and come back thinking differently.” This year The Good Life Project is studying the benefits of gardening. Scientists will scan brains before, during and after gardening to get actual pictures of what happens to our brains when we’re exposed to nature in this way. Gardener’s World’s Adam Frost, who is a neighbour, has joined the Project as an ambassador, alongside Kate Humble and the Soil Association.

It scarcely seems worth saying that being in nature is good for us but it will be fascinating to learn more of the science surrounding how and why this is the case.

Jez and Caroline had a nightmare as they began their journey to live the dream, but in this single acre they have created a space that both nature and people love.