Green Dragon Rare Breeds Farm's Eco Centre in Hogshaw
PUBLISHED: 16:15 22 July 2015 | UPDATED: 16:15 22 July 2015
A delightful corner of Aylesbury Vale has gone very green, so Sandra Smith visited to meet the man behind an unusual project
As we sit inside Green Dragon Rare Breeds Farm’s light and airy Eco Centre at Hogshaw, it’s clear that owner Ray Marzek is a man on a mission as a dream he’s had for years becomes reality – and it’s one he wants to share.
“What has fuelled this project is a passion I have for all the different things tied up here: the environment, cooking, art, growing food,” he enthuses. “There have been challenges with planning permission, funding and weather, but I remained focussed.”
The Eco Centre is a timber framed barn with a glass dominated central section. The spacious area’s plainly painted interior is balanced by inviting displays of Green Dragon fudge, locally made biscuits and a gift shop stocked with children’s toys, greetings cards and all manner of colourful temptation.
As families arrive to sample the outdoor activities, Ray describes the decades since he first nurtured the idea of owning a rare breeds farm. “I had to bide my time in finding a suitable plot but eventually, in 2002, this 44-acre site in Hogshaw was advertised in the local newspaper,” he shares. “The farm was previously used by a hybrid pig farmer and had been intensively farmed. Any changes were bound to be an improvement.”
Purchasing the land was certainly a step forward, yet years of rejections from banks along with endless bureaucratic hiccups followed, testing his resolve. Eventually, however, just a few months ago, Green Dragon Eco Farm finally opened.
The Eco Centre was the first building to be completed on this site which lies northwest of Aylesbury in a tranquil part of the county. In keeping with his principles, Ray has ensured it remains as eco friendly as possible: “We have underfloor heating. LED lights reduce the amount of power used and solar panels help keep down the energy mass.”
In fact the environmentally sensitive nature of the farm extends much further. A biomass boiler burns old wood and timber such as tree trunks and donated pallets, with the resulting ash scattered around the farm’s heritage fruit trees. Photovoltaic panels on the roof generate power and light. A hydroponics system enables water to be pumped to plants while an aquaponics system uses waste water to fertilise the vegetables growing here.
In the Eco Café a Perspex section in the wall reveals part of the heating system. Fascinating for some as this is, far more enticing is an impressive selection of cakes on display. Visitors can choose from a mouth watering menu of sandwiches and cream teas, all catered for in a large, state of the art kitchen which overlooks the grounds.
With the ground floor dedicated to food and gifts, upstairs, via a staircase showcasing local artwork and an eye catching white chandelier made from recycled plastic bottles, is a triple aspect function room. The simple lines and neutral tones render it easy to dress up for all manner of functions from meetings and seminars, to parties and weddings.
The building, Ray tells me as we head downstairs, benefited from community input. “Students from Aylesbury College helped with structural things and graphic design. We had catering placements in the café too. At the moment we employ 18 members of staff, 90% of whom are very local.”
The rear of the Eco Centre leads to a large pedal kart area, bordered by stacks of rubber tyres and divided into two sections to cater for different ages. Alongside is a Messy Play Barn, the primary colours and play areas providing indoor entertainment for young children during redevelopment of a nearby soft play barn.
Ray’s commitment is as admirable as the project is wide ranging. As we walk towards the kitchen garden, previously a pig barn, he shares that their aim is to grow as much as possible for the kitchen, including herbs. And the food cycle doesn’t end there.
“We have rare breeds of chickens,” he says. “Oxford Sandy and Black pigs, dwarf goats and Boreray, a rare breed of sheep. All our animals serve a purpose – they are either for breeding or food. Meat from our Dexter cattle goes into our Dragon burgers. In the pet area are harvest mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits and gerbils. There are lots of animals, but we hope to get everything from a bee to a cow.”
Ray’s interest in nature is clearly a driving force: “I want to stimulate people’s interest in lots of different areas, encourage them to get their hands dirty and try things. I wish when I was young I’d had someone who could take me on a walk and show me things about trees, animals and insects. People can do that at Green Dragon.”
With their own orchard blossoming and a half mile nature trail, plans to attract wild flowers as well as bats and bees are also underway. Enthusiasm and knowledge are qualities Ray longs to share with others. “It’s really important to educate the public. The site was never going to be just for fun. Most people told us there’s no money in education but we want to see if we can do it.”
In addition, and reflecting Ray’s support of The Arts, during this year’s Bucks Open Studios over a dozen artists will take up residence in the Eco Centre.
He is as hands-on as anyone could be. In fact, I suspect his preferred option would be to undertake everything himself. The scale of this project, however, has taught him the unfeasibility of such an approach. “You can’t control everything yourself. The staff have different skills.”
Green Dragon Eco Farm offers a chance to appreciate nature in a relaxed environment. Open all year round, it champions renewable energy and appeals to every age range. There are plans for workshops and allotments, too.
“This has been a lot harder than I ever thought,” Ray Marzek confesses before returning to farm duties. “It’s like a calling without religion. I don’t know how people without a passion for their business go on.” Not that that was ever an obstacle for this project. Years of planning may have proved frustrating yet the vision and passion of Green Dragon’s owner has finally ensured its success.
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