WillowBrook Farm – Recommended Family Day Out 😃

We were very blessed to have visited the gorgeous Willowbrook Farm, located in the expansive Oxfordshire countryside, twice in the last few weeks, alhamduLillah. With at least two more visits planned this Summer, I feel compelled to tell you what attracts us to this beautiful farm.

I’ve been meaning to write about it ever since the first time we visited. It’s hard to explain what it means to me. Bear with me whilst I use the analogy of a certain pizza we can order up here in our quintessentially ‘Black Countryish’ small town.

When we’re reminiscing our South Asian roots, we tend to order the ‘Apna-style’ pizza from our local pizzeria. A wonderfully gorgeous blend of a freshly made Italian pizza merged with tantalising South Asian spice. And when you’re able to visit a beautiful, spacious, well-cared for farm run by a sincere, down-to-earth Muslim family, one can’t help but think we’ve stumbled upon an Apna Style Halal Organic Farm. It was amazing and it felt as though we belonged!

The first thing we did upon entering the farm was to gather in the Farm Cafe. Surrounded by handmade notices and a wonderfully handmade model of a house, we get a taster of what’s to come.

The owner of the farm, former agricultural consultant, and researcher/ lecturer at Oxford University, Dr. Lutfi, introduced himself and spoke to us about tayyib and halal meat, the importance of being khalifas, or stewards, on this Earth and the idea of a creating a naturally sustainable and bio diverse environment which is not only a hot-topic right now due to the climate change we’re experiencing but also was always a huge area of concern our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.

In his life, the Prophet ﷺ showed through beautiful examples how important it was to look after our animals and our environment and I really feel that the family at Willowbrook are doing this to massive degree. I urge those who haven’t seen what they’re up to, to visit them and thus boost their own potential and desire to fulfil the Prophetic sunnah to become the stewards on earth that we’ve been encouraged to be.

Allah, the Most High, says in the Quran,

Indeed, We (God) offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, and they declined to bear it and feared it; but man [undertook to] bear it.

(Qur’an 33:72)

In Arabic the word for human being is Khalifa (خلِيفةً), in other words a deputy; a guardian; ‘a friend of the Earth’; a steward.

Human beings are the most intelligent beings on this planet so it makes sense that we have the responsibility to care for our planet, our animals, plants, trees and all things green.

And this is the resonating message, as we walk through Willowbrook Farm, connect with it and make it our own. It is this stewardship of the Earth that calls us to act to look after our fellow creatures and living things on Earth as best we can.

What is striking as one walks around is how loved the animals are, how wonderfully they are looked after and the care with which they are introduced and handled. While we were still in the cafe, we were each able to hold and pet the youngest chicks on the farm and the glee on the children’s faces (which you can’t actually see in the pic! Heehee) said it all, as they were told exactly how to hold these cute little chicks in the correct way.

We were able to get up close and personal to the sheep and goats as we fed them while visiting them inside their enclosures! It was a memorable experience to be sure!

We were then taken around and shown the eco-friendly outdoor toilets, which don’t use a traditional flushing system, but have a rather large pit underneath. One is still allowed to use water and tissues to clean oneself and the waste is then covered by wood chips, which neutralise the odours very effectively. This is an example of how far the family go to ensure sustainable farming. The extent of thought and practical effort that has been put into every detail, from the handmade willow fences (which have also been used to cordon off a lovely little prayer area amongst other things) to the purpose-built buildings dotted all around the farm, is both inspiring and astonishing. SubhanAllah!

Next, we met the lambs and sheep. The children listened attentively as they were regaled with details of how much it takes to look after the sheep, while the lambs frolicked in the background. A funny moment follows when the sheep make a run for the open gates behind Dr. Lutfi as he’s still talking! Haha, excellent entertainment!

The love with which all the animals are reared really shines through. It warms and comforts the soul and reminds us of our Creator and why we are here in the first place. How sweet is this lamb? MashaAllah!

The family also keep a close eye on the sheep, with the help of a threesome of comedy Alpacas, to ensure safe lambing day and night as the sheep live outdoors on the farm.

Lovingly named, Goofy, Barak Alama and Alpacacino (!!), these great big, nosy, friendly Alpacas make a big impression on us all.

And then we met gorgeous Gracie the pony!

We are reminded of how important it is to consume meat that is both halal and tayyub (pure) and how the fact that the animals are stunned refers to the last few minutes of their lives and doesn’t actually affect the halal-ness of a product. The only thing that will make an animal haram to eat is if it’s killed by the stunning rather than the blade and the name of Allah, the Most High, afterwards. The whole life of the animal needs to be considered and on a farm like Willowbrook, the animal is nurtured and given natural food from the land (rather than processed pellets) and I’m telling you, you can taste the difference!

As we are talked through the human energy exerted in making this an energy-efficient venture, it is apparent how hard the family works. From the sustainable and responsible use of trees (they built a Cob boiler room to house the bio-mass system which heats all the farm buildings) to reducing carbon consumption by utilising local produce and boosting local businesses, this family has a concern for all. Here is a pile of wood, ready to be dried for the Winter.

We were literally awestruck by the gorgeous Earthen (Cob) Farmhouse that was made from clay, sand and straw. With little knowledge of how to go about building this (Dr. Lutfi had previous experience in the very dry, hot climate of South Africa) the family had to learn ‘on the job’ during this project. Apparently, this impressively detailed children’s book really helped too!

Over two years, the family (and lots of helpers!) managed the awe-inspiring feat of building the house from scratch. A truly grand Family Project!

The house is designed to maximise incoming solar heating due to its alignment and is insulated with Willowbrook‘s own lamb’s wool. How amazing is that? SubhanAllah!
Its thick walls provide great insulation and the thatched roof gives it a traditional and natural finish. 
Almost all materials are 100% natural and came from within a 30 mile radius of the farm. 70% of it (the clay) came from within 10 metres. There is pond very close to the house which was a natural result of all the digging close by!

Absolutely stunning mashaAllah!

The second time we visited we enjoyed a luscious lunch, served by Khalil (the eldest son) and his wife, Lamia. It was a halal organic bbq burger meal with a fresh potato salad (all home grown veggies!) and a delicious tea, (the coffee with cream is also to die for!), delish! We sampled both the chicken and lentil wrap and were duly impressed. The best food I’ve had whilst outdoors in a looooong time! It’s worth going just for the food! Yum😋.

We were then taken around the vegetable garden by Adam, the second eldest son, and were blown away by the sheer effort and thought that had been put into making this space a success.

Covering a variety of vegetable families and housing a number of green houses, the garden is an excellent example of what can be achieved if one works persistently and tirelessly with a sincere intention. Running with the theme, no chemical pesticides are used and all vegetables are organically grown in a natural environment.

Willowbrook runs many workshops on their open days throughout the year. You can find out more information on this (and lots more!) from their website.

We attended a workshop on spinning wool, lead by the very creative Ruby, Dr. Lutfi’s fellow visionary and wife, which was really interesting, taking me back to my childhood memories of sessions like this in the famous Textile industrial hub of Lancashire.

The whole process was explained, from shearing the sheep and alpacas to spinning the wool into a yarn thin enough to use to make garments. A thoroughly enjoyable and educational session for all.

To top off the day we spent time in the menagerie…

And played in the woods…

There, they have some magnificent tree houses and you may even find a door to a mystical land far far away! The children could’ve easily spent another few hours in there but, alas! It was time to go home.

With fervent wishes to return, our bellies full of food and our tongues full of dhikr and praise for the Lord who made all this possible, we travelled back home.

Now do you see why I had to tell you guys?!! Visit, please visit! You will not be disappointed.

I heard a rumour of an awesome festival which will take place very soon. If you like qawallis, folk songs and all things natural and organic, you’ll find a wonderful family experience at Willowbrook.

To come home and then enjoy a wonderful home-cooked meal the next day, with nuances of a fantastic family time together whilst buying- you can’t go wrong! This fantastic organic halal meat is available online to order to anywhere nationally. The only catch is you have to order a week in advance for delivery on Thursdays.

Lamb bhuna And Roast Chicken. Finger-lickin good! 😋

OK that’s it from me for now,

Take care of yourself, have a wonderful holiday, stay safe and I’ll be in touch with you lovely people soon inshaAllah.

Peace and love,

Sidra Ansari

PS To help me on my journey to enoughism not only will I will write down 3 things I am grateful for at the end of each post but in an effort to be true to you all and to not paint a false picture of perfection, I would also like to mention 3 things we’ve had to work through this week, as a family.

So here are 3 things we’re working through:

1. Having the boys on holiday a week before Miss Craft is something I’m both grateful for and something of a test. I’ll speak about the gratefulness later. The testing part is that they are jumping with joy and a ceaseless energy from around 7.30am and are crying out for attention, sometimes literally! I’m trying to keep them busy and plan to take them out everyday- even if it’s a quick outing to shop for ingredients for a meal/snack. Keeping them busy is my mission so that we reduce daily screen time! Please pray for me!

2. My laptop hasn’t been working for a while and with the boys at home (and using the devices for audio stories amongst other things!) I’ve realised how much we need another device if I’m to get any writing done these hols. Looking at the prices for iPads I’ve reluctantly admitted that this is a luxury I’ll have to resist for a while yet. The irony is, I know I’ll be able to afford it inshaAllah once I actually make some money from my writing! I’m reminded of the advice at the Penguin mentoring day, where I was taught that many a writer had a day job, to be able to make a decent income from it. (Haha, oh dear! Will have to keep dreaming!)

It’s a reminder to be patient on this front. For now we’ve bought an economical Amazon Fire instead, which is small but surprisingly good! And I’ve also sent my laptop in for repair, which feels like progress too.

3. In between entertaining the children and managing a busy household, self care takes a back seat, unfortunately this includes my recent favourite regular exercise routine via fitnessblender.com. Even though a workout at home is easier than having to leave to go to the gym or park, I’ve needed a higher level of determination to get this done while everything else is going on! I’ll need to reprioritise this once the hols properly start inshaAllah. I’ve found regular exercise helps keep me sane! Duas!

And now, let’s focus on 3 things I’m grateful for:

1. The boys at home; a blessing.

It’s so lovely to spend stress-free time together. They’re old enough now to appreciate days out together and with Mr. Cuddles now two years old and less needy, it’s been a pleasant first week-a definite improvement from last year! AlhamduLillah!

We’ve also managed to stick to normal(ish) bedtime routines for now. This has helped with ensuring time and space for me to (sometimes) clear up everything and reset the house and (always!) rest! AlhamduLillah!

2. This week we visited ThinkTank Science Museum outdoor play area (FYI reduced ticket prices after 3pm and FREE to play in outdoor water/science garden on weekdays!). It was lovely to see the boys challenging themselves on activities they tried last year and finding that they’d improved mashaAllah.

3. We also travelled to Stratford-upon-Avon on the train this week and had a wonderfully relaxing and beautiful day out in the home town of Shakespeare. Highlights of the day were visiting the MAD Museum, where (amongst other mad stuff!) the boys got to make their own magnetic marble run mounted on a wall and also, enjoying the glorious weather at the colossal Stratford recreational grounds afterwards, alhamduLillah.

In Stratford-upon-Avon, we were assisted by no less than six different residents as we were walking along with a map (initially adamant to not use google maps!) to get to where we desired. What a fantastically friendly and helpful bunch of people. With the Butterfly Farm, peddling boats, locally made ice cream and mini golf course as future itinerary to look forward to, I can definitely say we’ll definitely be visiting again inshaAllah!

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