Contact person:

Michael Marston Grower


LIVING LAB 7: United Kingdom

Gibside Community Farm

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm

General information

Gibside CSA is located 30 minutes outside of Gateshead/ Newcastle upon Tyne in the north of England. Michael Marston is the founder and principal grower at the farm. There is also a contract grower who works 1 day a week during the high season. The farm is reliant on 10 workshares who agree to do 4 hours of work per week for 40 weeks a year – in return they have a reduced rate on vegetable bags. There is also a group of volunteers who come to the farm on an ad-hoc basis.

Michael has been involved with growing vegetables since the days of his grandad and dad having an allotment. After working for the Soil Association setting up CSAs around the country for 10 years, Michael decided to set up his own in 2013/14. A 25-year farm business tenancy with Gibside National Trust estate was signed, the long lease time enabled the CSA to receive grants for buying trees. Agroforestry was part of the design at Gibside from the beginning. The first grant they received was from the ‘MOREwoods’ initiative by the Woodland Trust. However, they could only supply native trees and the variety of species was limited. After approaching a local charitable trust, another £3000 was secured to purchase trees which suited the silvohorticulture system at Gibside. The Agroforestry Research Trust’s Martin Crawford gave advice.

One of the main reasons for incorporating trees into the CSA was to reduce the impact of wind on what is a very exposed site. The additional benefits of trees to the vegetable production and the beneficial relationship were also a consideration.

When initially setting up the silvohorticulture field, Michael looked to the system at Tolhurst Organic with a view to potentially replicating elements of what they were doing. Advice from Tolly, the head grower, on the feasibility of the farm plan was also taken into consideration. Most of the trees in the alleys are immature at 5 years old. The shelterbelts are made up of semi-mature native trees such as walnut, sweet chestnut and medlars.

Initially, the CSA was operating from a walled garden, to test the model before moving to the larger scale field they are currently in. Before the 5.7 ha field was converted to silvohorticulture, it was part of an arable rotation. The rational for producing vegetables at a field scale is based on the amount of produce that can be processed on the farm. It was important when establishing the farm that the area was greater than 5 ha to qualify for the Basic Payment and Countryside Stewardship scheme.

The vegetable produce is mainly sold through a bag scheme, it includes whatever is in season on the farm and is also sold via an online system. Other avenues of sales are though organic wholesale, a pop-up stall at the National Trust shop, selling to a market stall holder, shops, and a deli. The yields in 2023 totalled 10.45 tonnes which included 5.5 tonnes of potatoes, 1.6 tonnes of alliums, 223 kg of beets, 2.22 tonnes of brassicas and 294 kg of legumes.

General farming approach


  • As Gibside is a CSA farm, the main objective is to produce organic vegetables for its members in an environmentally beneficial way through a bag scheme. Involving volunteers and workshares allows local people to be directly involved in the CSA whilst also making the project economically viable.

  • The silvohorticulture agroforestry system helps provide shelter to the vegetable beds as the site is high and exposed so often has a lot of wind. There are also major shelterbelts around the perimeter of the farm for protection, which contains several rows of semi-mature native trees. The tree alleys create a microclimate which favours the vegetable production. An extra income source is also created through the trees on the farm.
  • The CSA aims to give some support to the local community by supplying a soup kitchen with potatoes and gleaning (surplus vegetables and fruit) for the Junk Food Kitchen (Magic Hat Cafe).


  • Initially sourcing the trees through the Woodland Trust was a challenge as the varieties available were limited to native species and those that weren’t suitable for an agroforestry system. Gibside approached a local charitable trust who gave a grant to source trees from an agroforestry specialist.

  • Fitting the rotation in the field based on what other people had done and establishing the best alley width and length was a challenge – a good working length was needed for field scale.

  • The main issue they are trying to overcome on the farm is how to minimise tillage in the vegetables. They hope to find an approach that doesn’t require expensive equipment, doing it by hand isn’t feasible due to the amount of time it takes. At the moment, they are reliant on cutting back weeds.

  • Finding enough vegetable bag customers so that money generated from them can become the main income stream is an ongoing challenge. They would like to strike a balance between the amount of produce that goes to organic wholesale and direct sales.

  • F1 seeds have been used in the past which has been limiting as they produce everything at the same time, this doesn’t suit the weekly vegetable bag model. In the future, they want to use open pollinated seeds at Gibside so that produce is available steadily throughout the growing season and can be picked intermittently.

Research goals

The hope is to integrate more trees into the farm, there is still a wind issue on one side of the farm as a couple of rows of agroforestry didn’t take and need to be replaced. Michael would like to know more about additional tree species he could plant in these places, possibly medicinal ones.

The economics of the CSA matter as it wouldn’t be able to continue without being financially viable. The agroforestry creates an additional source of income for the farm and creates a microclimate that enables the vegetables to grow.

The main question that he hopes may be addressed through the living lab is the issue of reducing tillage in an organic system such as this and dealing with the resultant weeds. Currently he doesn’t have a solution that isn’t too expensive or time consuming but would welcome input on this from other farmers that are part of the living lab.

Design of the agroforestry system

In the 5.7 ha field of silvohorticulture there are 7 vegetable plots with 3 m-wide alleys of trees inbetween. Each bed is 21 m by 100 m. The plots follow a 7-course rotation – a cycle of potatoes, brassicas, and alliums, followed by a 3-year rotation with long term green manure. The plots were purposefully designed to be wide to minimise competition between trees and vegetables as well as making it possible to use field equipment. The trees in the alleys include basket willow, hazel, delicate fruit and tough fruit. The size of the fields allows for grains and pulses to be grown, Gibside has supplied Hodmedod’s in the past.

The major shelterbelts protecting the whole farm contain several rows of semi-mature native trees and provide substantial protection from wind. The shelterbelts are across the southwest, west and northwest of the growing field. A windbreak to the northeast is also in situ by the entrance to the farm. A fruit orchard area is located to the north of the silvohorticulture beds, to the north west of the field, with some protection from a hedge to the north. It currently consists of 44 apple trees, mainly half-standards on MM106 rootstock. The mixed varieties of fruit tree species growing in the orchard are valued as they have staggered harvesting times which ensures fruit is available for a longer period.

Michael applies horse manure from a local stable to the vegetable beds. There is a large polytunnel which is irrigated using overhead sprinklers. Michael is looking for funding to improve irrigation on site, potentially taking runoff from a large roof at the nearby stable, collecting it in a large tank, and pumping it to the field. A large hay area is cut for around 10 silage bails each year by a contractor.


Standard soil data has been collected at the farm in the past, this could be done again in the future to see if the soil has improved with the agroforestry system.

Michael would like to secure funds for a weather station in the future.

How to minimize tillage in the vegetable plots without using expensive equipment is a key issue. Finding out about ways in which people are doing this would make participating in the UK living lab particularly worthwhile.

England, UK

Fellside Rd, Burnopfield, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE16 4JT

Silvohorticulture, Orchards, Hedgerows, shelterbelts and riparian buffer strips

A range of vegetables including alliums, brassicas and potatoes

The field is rented from the National Trust and the official lease was granted 2017. Tree planting started in the winter of 2016 on the orchard, and in the winter of 2017 on the alley trees and shelterbelts.

Inter-row/In-row distance: 21 m x 100 m

Width of tree strips: 5 m

5.7 ha cultivated field
1.47 ha of vegetables
0.2 ha of alley trees


Livestock: No

Slowly permeable seasonally wet acid loamy and clayey soil