Willowbrook farm, residing in Oxford, are the UK’s first halal and tayyib farm that rears traditional animal breeds, free from hormones and artificial chemicals.
With a background in academics and an interest between health and the environment, Dr Lutfi and Ruby uprooted their family of four and began a humbling and life-changing decision to own their own farm. They began their farm in 2002.
From there, they built their farm from the ground up, with the family home being made with 90% local materials by family and local workers.
I spoke to Khalil, one of their sons, about the reasons why Willow brook farm came about.
“We weren’t happy with the halal meat in the UK. It has no consideration of rearing and tayyib, it was only looking at the slaughter. This is before the wider community had even considered the environment and halal as linked, because of course 20 years ago there wasn’t a discussion outside of small green environmental groups. It wasn’t until the last five years that we’ve had dialogue surrounding the environment and how important it is.
“If we’re not happy doing it, performing in that way, producing that way, we’re not going to sell it. We’re not going to put business ahead of personal values. Because of this, we’re limited by our production. Our customers have said they wish we could do more chicken, but if we are to hold our morals at the same level then we can’t.
Willowbrook isn’t just a farm. It’s a space where they aim to raise awareness and embody sustainability, social justice and looking after the earth, which are all fundamental Islamic principles.
They now open their farm up every Saturday to teach the public to be more sustainable, invoke passions for natural resources and give people food for thought on how we can all do our bit, no matter where we live.
“We do events, open days, camping and we run a summer festival in August. The focus is, of course, what we’re doing on the farm, but also connecting people to the land and showing them how to live sustainably and ethically.
“There’s one thing about social justice. When you’re farming intensively, you may be outsourcing your workers. The workforce is very scattered, meaning the connection to the land is scattered.
“We’ve managed to draw in our family and friends to help with the farm, so that’s the social aspect of connecting people to the land.
Wanting good quality and ethically reared meat isn’t just a ‘Muslim’ thing. Willowbrook is for everyone and aims to inspire everyone to embody the philosophies of looking after one another and the earth.
“We see non-Muslims, who are looking for good quality local produce in the UK, to Muslims looking for good quality halal. They both want the same thing, despite what the media pushes forward.
“We want to make people think about what it means to actually have halal meat. In the Quran, halal is organic, wholesome & ethical. It isn’t just the slaughter. Arguably, the slaughter isn’t the most important thing. It doesn’t excuse a lifetime of abuse, you can have a lifetime of abuse, give a halal slaughter and it’s still unacceptable.“
Willowbrook also aims to inspire and teach people more about nature, and how we can work with nature rather than against it.
“We just ignore a lot of medicines and foods because they’re difficult to find or because we’re scared of going out into nature and picking things, whereas in the past you had to. It’s a knowledge that’s been lost.
“It’s getting to know the seasons and growing yourself and connecting to the land. It gives us that humility. We need to plan with nature instead of against nature. It’s about showing people that seasonal food is seasonal.
“It’s nice to have a choice, but first and foremost, our attention should focus on sustainability. If that means you can’t have your grapes all year round, don’t have grapes! There are other things we can enjoy in life.
“Eating seasonally has its benefits. One example would be meat in the winter is fattier. We need more fat in the winter, so have fatty meats in the winter, and less of chicken as it’s lean meat.
“We’re all animals. What is good for them is often good for us, and what’s bad for them is bad for us.
“Growth hormones in our fruit and veg causes deterioration in our meat and veg. Instead of your five a day it’s now been recommended to have six or seven fruit a day because of the decline in quality of the fruits. Because they’re mass produced they’re mainly water content instead of the minerals and vitamins you need.”
Reducing our food mileage is one way we can all decrease our carbon footprint and do a bit for the earth. Whilst it may be a small change and you may feel it will not amount to much, imagine if everyone in the world ate seasonally and locally for a week.
We saw changes to the environment during lockdown. London’s Co2 emissions cut by 60% during this time [i]. Change is possible, it’s all about changing our mindsets to believe we are capable of the change we want to see.
Instead of increasing our fruit and veg intake to 7/8, making changes like shopping at your local farmers market and buying seasonal or making a conscious effort to be more sustainable in how we eat is better.
Willowbrook is almost self-sufficient in its energy and waste output.
Khalil talks to me about the renewable energy sources on the farm.
“We build this house ourselves. It’s made of COB which is clay, sand and straw.
“It’s a closed circuit, we’re seeing the whole process from start to finish. we’re not just talking about how Muslims should get the environment we’re actually doing and taking responsibility for the waste. We go through a recycling process on the farm and have compost toilets for all of our toilets. We’re fully off grid for toilets, there’s no water treatment in that process.
“We managed to build a house from 90% local materials with most of our own labour and all other buildings are made of wood. Anything that’s painted was a couple of years ago because now we’re trying to paint everything out of oil to be more sustainable.
“It will mean that things need repairing more and they don’t last as long, but that’s the cost that we’re going to have to pay rather than making the environment pay the cost.
“We should be paying the cost ourselves and be taking responsibility and be aware of what’s going on. if you can’t pay that cost, you need to consider whether you need these things or just want them. Once you start looking at everything that way, it’ll change your life.
“You can keep looking for ways of avoiding responsibility or you can change the status quo. You can find ways of keeping the system going and make excuses as to why we have to farm intensively and why we have to keep doing what we’re doing.
“We, as the people, have buying power. We need to be aware of what we’re doing. On the other side, they’re frantically trying to make you not aware and keep you busy, keep you in the system.
‘Don’t think about what’s produced. Just give yourself these treats’.
We need to step back and say, ‘Hang on, I’m not going to just get the trinkets that I’m being forced to buy.’
“Islam constantly teaches us to step back. We step back 5 times a day in prayer. Ramadan is a whole month of stepping back. We’re repeatedly given these opportunities to step back and reconnect.
“Religion or non, there are so many opportunities in life to step back to focus to meditate to focus on wellness. We have to keep pushing, it’s very tough, and it goes against human nature in a way because it’s causing us hardship. It goes against our modern desires because we’re constantly bombarded and told we have to have these things, that we deserve them.“
How has being raised on the farm brought you closer to Islam?
“We live it.
“Humility is the main thing. I think I’ve learned on the farm, you accept that you’re not a master domain. You can’t just demand that things happen because the human wants it to. You just have to tie your camel and trust in Allah.
It’s hard to understand how your actions impact on nature when do you don’t feel connected to it.
“When my father does the farm tour, we draw parallels about how our choices and behaviour is so important on earth. We have the free will of animals. We can choose how we conduct ourselves. You can’t get angry at an animal because they’re not in control.
“Somebody can go on retreats or go to the mosque and study and separate from the wider world for a moment. You don’t need a farm to reconnect.
“The world we live in now might be negative in many ways. But there’s so many positives. There’s so much information around us, it’s up to us to learn it. We have no excuse not too.
To find out more about Willowbrook farm and the services they offer, click here.
If you’re interested in attending their annual summer festival, WAM, running on the 6-7th of August, click here.