What Wales Could Do with a Community Food Strategy

By Jane Powell

This article was originally published by IWA on August 31, 2021.

As pressure to meet net zero emissions targets grows, Oxfam has warned that the drive to plant trees could lead to vast areas of land being taken out of food production, leading to hunger for the most vulnerable.

Now carbon offsetting is causing concern much closer to home. As reports emerge of corporations buying whole farms for afforestation. Ceredigion MP Ben Lake has warned that rural communities, the Welsh language and food production are being sacrificed to a ‘green-washed business-as-usual’.

Wales has its own target of net zero by 2050. Following guidance from the Climate Change Committee, it plans to move around a fifth of agricultural land from livestock rearing to carbon sequestration, supported by a change in diet away from red meat consumption. 

However, even given the need for more trees, there does not need to be a simple sacrifice of food production for forestry. What is needed is a comprehensive land use policy, one that recognises that food production, forestry and other land uses all have a place, and can even sometimes be combined, as for instance in agroforestry. 

A food strategy for Wales

An effective land use policy would need to be linked to a food policy. England has come up with some pointers in its recent National Food Strategy, an independent report to which government has yet to respond. Such a food policy could help us decide what our land is for, as well as pulling together other threads, from farming and the economy to health and social inclusion.

Both the Welsh Food Manifesto and the Food Policy Alliance Cymru have been calling for just such a joined-up food policy for some time. Now, the Welsh Government has announced that it will create a Community Food Strategy during its current term.

At first glance, the reference to ‘community’ seems limiting. It makes no reference to how Wales as a whole intends to feed itself, or to the global impacts of outsourcing food production to countries with lower farming standards, or of importing livestock feed grown on land taken out of tropical rainforest.

Maybe, though, communities are a good place to start. We have many inspiring grassroots projects which are busy reconnecting people with food production. Numerically small, these projects nevertheless represent the citizen power so essential to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.

They are pioneering new ways of doing things, including community gardens, local food hubs, community meals and Community Supported Agriculture projects. 

Local integration

In particular, community food projects could be an important way to integrate farming and food policy. 

On the one hand, we have a forthcoming Sustainable Farming Scheme that will reward farmers for managing the land environmentally, while at the same time supporting them to develop their businesses. Food production, which is not considered to be a public good, will not be directly supported and so will depend on other policy moves. 

On the other, we have an action plan for food that is mainly about developing the food and drinks industry, with an aspiration in the next version to contribute to community development.  This strategy has little to say about farming.

What community projects might do therefore is to bridge the gap between these two policies, by reaching out to local farmers and growers and connecting them with markets, tapping into a growing demand for local food. 

These markets include retail, the hospitality sector and public procurement; Carmarthenshire is already backing local sourcing as part of the government’s Foundational Economy programme.

The missing link here is infrastructure, including small abattoirs, processing facilities, cold storage and distribution, which will need investment. The returns are big though: the regeneration of rural economies, vibrant communities and a healthier population with cooking and gardening skills.

Alongside physical infrastructure it is also important to build democratic processes that allow citizens to contribute to local decision-making, something that is encouraged by the Well-being of Future Generations Act but difficult to attain in practice.

Here, there is inspiration in the shape of Food CardiffOur Food Crickhowell and the Sustainable Food Places network which have shown their worth in mobilising community responses to the pandemic.

Land use

Food security is a key concern of community food projects, and provides an impetus for local food production. But this depends on access to land. As outrage builds over the sale of the countryside to corporate interests, what can we do?

One approach might be to develop a Rural Land Use Framework, as the English food strategy recommends. The English model would assign land to one of three compartments: intensive food production, natural habitats or an agroecological combination of farming and nature. 

We might not follow that model in Wales, but without any plan at all, we may default to a combination of intensive farming and rewilding which will disappoint many. 

The Food, Farming and Countryside Commission is calling for the English land use framework to be led by local communities, and again, a Welsh Community Food Strategy could allow for that.

Another approach would be to follow Scotland’s example of the community right to buy, so that Welsh farms that came on the market could be bought by local groups, such as Community Land Trusts

Alternatively, local authorities could step in and increase their stocks of county farms, neatly reversing the sad case of Trecadwgan, where a community group failed in their bid to buy a 14th century farm from Pembrokeshire County Council.

Wales has no equivalent of either the Scottish land reform legislation or the English Localism Act, and we will need to establish our own principles of land management. 

One starting point could be to find common ground between those who want to preserve traditional family farms, with all they contribute to the local culture and language, and new entrants to farming, often from urban backgrounds. A community food strategy could help to do this. 

Food democracy

There is strong public feeling about the Welsh countryside. Concerns about the sell-off of farms to corporate interests and the proliferation of intensive poultry units are rooted in a deeper concern about our national culture and the natural world. 

A Community Food Strategy must give people the means to ground those concerns in practical action, and a voice into government.  The mechanisms exist: the Future Generations Act provides for communities to influence local authorities via Public Services Boards, and the Environment Act invites collaboration through the Area Statement process. 

The Public Services Boards do not have the power to block the sale of farms for carbon offsetting, any more than they can stop the proliferation of intensive poultry units. 

What they can do, however, is provide a space for community organisations to propose strategies for local land use which could then be picked up by national government. This would allow local and national priorities to be matched.

They could also set up mechanisms by which environmental goods such as carbon sequestration and flood prevention can be rigorously audited to allow for a blend of public and private investment, leaving farmers in control of the land. In Pembrokeshire, the BRICS project is pioneering a blended model for water quality. 

It will not be easy to create these new structures for a new form of governance, but working locally does bring the energy and creativity of communities, and maybe they can do what government cannot.

Jane Powell is a freelance education consultant and Renew Wales coordinator and writes at http://www.foodsociety.wales.

Photo by Beth Macdonald on Unsplash

UK names first food with protected status in post-Brexit scheme – here’s how it will promote sustainable farming

By Luke Prosser

This article was originally published by The Conversation on August 17, 2021.

Sheep have been grazing the salt marsh landscape of the Gower Peninsula in Wales since medieval times. Today around 3,500 lambs and ewes feed there, where a diet of naturally growing samphire and sorrel gives their meat a unique flavour.

Gower lamb, which is available to buy and eat between June and December, matures more slowly and lives longer than intensively reared lamb, which further adds to the characteristic taste.

That flavour has now been given protected status, providing the farmers of those lambs with membership of an exclusive club. Fellow members include producers of Cornish clotted cream, Melton Mowbray pork pies and champagne, which have long been part of a European scheme which means certain food and drink can only be made in certain places.

Since Brexit, the UK has established its own geographical indication scheme, which closely resembles the EU version. Gower salt marsh lamb is the first product to be added to the new British scheme and must be born, raised and slaughtered within the 19 electoral constituency boundaries that make up the Gower Peninsular. It joins 16 other Welsh products already protected including Anglesey sea salt, Welsh laverbread and Conwy mussels.

My ongoing research is looking into the the contribution to that sector of local food production which is sustainable – environmentally, socially and economically. My colleagues and I are so far finding that locally produced food contributes significantly to making sure rural areas are viable communities. And evidence shows officially recognising and protecting the links between a food product and the area it comes can have significant benefits for that community.

In a competitive market, this protection really counts. The food and drink sector is worth £29bn to the UK economy, so standing out from the crowd has never been more important.

The protected designation of origin (PDO) awarded to Gower salt marsh lamb is reserved for products with the strongest links to the place in which they are made. There is strong evidence that such protections mean better prices for producers. For example, prices of French cheeses with a PDO are higher by an average of 11.5%.

PDOs also help to preserve traditional methods from being driven out by intensive agricultural systems by stipulating a number of requirements on the methods of production. In the Gower’s case this includes recognising the shepherding skills and knowledge of the salt marsh tidal ranges to protect the animals from dangerous rising tides. These are skills which have been developed and passed on through generations.

But it could potentially have a damaging effect on the sale of Welsh lamb from other regions, which is itself protected by a similar but less specific classification, known as a protected geographical indication (PGI).

Again, this is designed to emphasise the relationship between the specific geographic region and the name of the product. The PDO will likely be seen by consumers as a mark that Gower salt marsh lamb ranks even more highly for quality and taste against other Welsh Lamb, which could be a blow for many of Wales’ other sheep farmers currently boosted by their PGI status. At the moment there is a lack of research on the differing perceptions of PDO and PGI categorisation, so we will have to wait and see if this turns out to have any significant impact.

That issue aside, geographical indicators generally work well in protecting consumers against food fraud, through an official process of audit and authentication. They are designed to avoid things like the 2013 scandal in which a number of beef products from across the EU were found to contain varying levels of horse meat.

Check meat

Products with geographical indicators are subjected to extra auditing to ensure authentic products for consumers, with controls conducted by local authority trading standards.

Compliance is monitored, and suspicion of counterfeit products can be reported directly to the enforcement body who have the power to impose fines or imprisonment under various consumer protection laws.

Geographical indicators also promote a sustainable food system by promoting localised approaches to food production. They champion and protect local and traditional production systems that limit intensification and market saturation, and promote high quality and welfare produce.

By supporting low impact practices GIs provide greater stability for those working in the industry, protecting traditional skills and maintaining viable rural livelihoods by placing requirements on production processes

Asked about the importance of designation for its Anglesey Sea Salt (protected by a PDO since 2014) Halen Mon director Alison Wilson told me it was one of the company’s “proudest achievments”. She added: “It gives protection when it’s needed, and status and proof of the particular qualities of our hand-harvested sea salt. It means that we are the only British sea salt to be audited and proved 100% authentic, in a world full of food fraud.”

As dietary habits continue to change, many people are looking to reduce the impact of their diet on the environment. The new status for Gower salt marsh lamb will hopefully give consumers reassurance that they are eating a high welfare, pasture fed animal, which has had a minimal environmental impact over its life. A protected product can help protect the planet.

Luke Prosser is a PhD researcher at Bangor University with a specialism in Food and Drink Geographies and Rural Communities, focusing primarily on Food and Drink supply chains and procurement.

The Brecon Beacons Mega Catchment: A proactive and collaborative approach to delivering a resilient drinking water supply

By Dave Ashford

The ongoing debate around the sustainable production of food and the inextricable links with the climate and nature crises is vitally important, but there is an extra element which is often overlooked. In a country like Wales blessed with our wonderful rivers, lakes and abundant (occasionally too abundant) rain, it seems odd to worry about the quality and availability of drinking water sources. However, there are a number of challenges that we need to respond to, so that we can ensure we protect our drinking water supplies for current and future generations.

The cluster of drinking water catchments across the Brecon Beacons supply almost half of the drinking water Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water provides to customers every day – that’s more than 400 million litres of water, equivalent to 160 Olympic-sized swimming pools. But it’s not just water that make the Beacons extraordinary. Communities, biodiversity, agriculture, forestry and tourism all play a part in making it such an iconic landscape that provides so much for so many.

As a water company, we need to treat water to remove a range of contaminants to ensure we serve our customers safe, wholesome drinking water.

For example, pesticides enter our water ways from a variety of sources including our gardens and allotments, parks and sports grounds and from farms. Our routine water monitoring programme has detected increasing traces of pesticides in areas we have never seen them before, and therefore more treatment is needed.

Sediment, which has to be filtered out, enters water courses from a number of sources including landslips and cultivation, and that sediment can carry pathogens, nutrients and agricultural chemicals, all of which need to be removed as they can impact the safety and enjoyment of our drinking water.

And these are just some of the water quality risks we deal with daily. As a result of climate change, we can expect to see more erratic floods and droughts, and we may even see different animal and plant diseases that we have not encountered before in the UK. This could mean more erosion of soils, new pathogens or veterinary medicines finding their way into drinking water catchments. We may start to see changes in food production trends – for example more home-grown fodder and horticulture expansion could mean detecting more pesticides being used in areas where we aren’t used to dealing with them.

While we already work hard to respond to these changes, we believe there is a huge benefit to be gained from trying to get ahead of the risks. That is why we are shifting our emphasis from reactive treatment of water to proactive measures to reduce or prevent water quality issues before they happen. We will, of course, treat water to make it safe and wholesome to drink, but we believe that by focusing on the management of water within the wider environment we can reduce the chemicals and energy needed in the treatment process – which is better for everyone.

Considering some of these issues in the context of drinking water may help clarify why it is important to adapt certain practices. However, we don’t want to implement more actions for overstretched farmers to juggle, because many of the actions needed to improve water quality are the same actions being discussed in relation to sustainable food production – improved soil husbandry, proactive animal health planning and caring for our precious habitats – including restoring them where needed.

The Brecon Beacons Mega Catchment (BBMC) is a Welsh Water-led initiative, and we’re now getting underway with an active programme of collaborative land management and engagement trials.  We want to explore new ways of working – on the land and with each other.

We are a growing partnership of individuals and organisations representing farming, forestry, community, tourism, academia and ecology. This is a network we want to expand further to encompass other elements, but the most valuable partnerships we have are with the farmers and community members at a grass roots level who can bring their experience and ideas to bear, helping us develop and trial these new ways of working. Collaboration has recently become another fashionable term to use in land management discussions. But we believe the value of coordinating our expertise and resources with others, means that we can achieve far more together than we can achieve individually. We are not a major landowner in these drinking water catchments, so we must work in partnership with others if we are to have a positive impact.

For example, inspired by a knowledge exchange with our friends working in the Catskills catchment which supplies New York (widely recognised as one of the most successful catchment management examples globally) we are trialling a new approach to smarter nutrient applications with the Beacons Water Group – a farmer led group in the heart of the Beacons. Here, we will be using data on drainage patterns across individual fields and whole farms to identify ‘spread / no spread’ zones to reduce nutrient run off to water courses and make more efficient use of manures.

We’re also scoping out the restoration of damaged areas of peatbog to reduce water quality risks of sediment and colour compounds from eroding peat. In addition, this restoration should prevent further carbon emissions and regulate peak water flow. But again, we will need to work with a range of partners to deliver this. There are many peat restoration activities taking place across the country, but importantly, we will be working closely with local graziers to explore how best to share information on the importance and ambitions of peatbog management, and how to monitor the success of the project and make more locally based management decisions that are right for the conditions and the season.

We are also exploring opportunities for working with groups of farmers to develop more integrated livestock health planning, biosecurity and quarantine that will support livestock health as well as reducing pathogens and medicines lost to water.

We will be trialling these initiatives in the Brecon Beacons with a view to rolling these new ways of working out in the drinking water catchments throughout Wales. These results cannot be achieved over night and our ambition is to deliver long term sustainable solutions to safeguard our environment and drinking water for generations to come. We are keen to hear from any new partners who would be interested in working with us to deliver these ambitions.

For more information contact bbmc@dwrcymru.com.

Dave Ashford currently works for Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water as Programme Manager for the Brecon Beacons Mega Catchment – a programme of collaborative activities to avoid risks to drinking water supplies.

Photo by Carl Jorgensen on Unsplash.

Taking trees off the menu: How our food behaviour in Wales is driving tropical deforestation and what we can do about it

By Angie Kirby

Tropical forests are complex ecosystems rich in biodiversity – the work of millions of years of evolution captured in the DNA of every plant and animal. Each one is a tiny thread in the tapestry of life: each interconnected, each reliant on and contributing to a healthy, functioning ecosystem. In their ability to sequester vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, tropical forests are an essential tool in the fight against climate change, helping to regulate our climate and maintain a healthy planet – our life-support system.

In addition to sucking up carbon and storing it deep in the soil, tropical forests provide a huge range of ecosystem services, from regulating services, such as water purification and flood prevention, to provisional services, such as shelter, food and medicinenot to mention cultural benefits, such as spiritual enrichment and inspiration.

However, currently, global rates of deforestation cause more CO2 emissions than all the world’s transport combined, seriously undermining our ability to tackle climate change. At the New York Declaration of Forests in 2014, governments and organisations around the world committed to removing deforestation from their supply chains by 2020. However, since 2014, deforestation rates have increased by 44%. According to the World Resources Institute, around 18 million hectares of forest are lost every year – roughly nine times the size of Wales. Not only is this diminishing the health and viability of forest ecosystems, but it is having a devastating effect on indigenous communities, who frequently suffer severe human rights violations at the hands of corporations, criminal gangs and local law enforcement

Alongside these impacts, the destruction of tropical forests also brings an increased risk of pandemics. Seventy-five per cent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic – spread from animals to humans – with increasing rates of tropical deforestation providing the perfect opportunity for zoonotic diseases to leap into human populations. It is clear we cannot continue down this path and expect our world to be a safe and habitable one, but what is driving this increase and what can we do about it here in Wales?

Firstly, it is helpful to know that 73%of all tropical deforestation is caused by a handful of key agricultural products – products we buy, use and consume in Wales every day, including beef, soy, palm oil, coffee and cacao. Many of us will be aware of the impacts of unsustainably produced palm oil, thanks to campaigns such as Iceland’s Rang-tan the Orangutan, but how many of us would relate a dash of milk in our morning brew to tropical deforestation? I think you would agree the answer is not many. However, emissions from imported deforestation are deeply rooted in the Welsh economy. For example, 80-90% of soy grown in tropical regions and imported into the UK goes into animal feed, including farmed fish, pork, beef and dairy cattle and poultry, particularly here in Wales where there are a growing number of intensive poultry operations. Therefore, by consuming meat and dairy from animals reared on soy, we are inadvertently contributing to the problem of deforestation.  

On average, the UK consumes around 3.3 million tonnes of soy per year, requiring nearly two million hectares of land. Of this it is estimated that at least 77% comes from countries and regions with a high risk of deforestation, including the Brazilian Cerrado, which has lost over 50% of its mass due to land conversion. The Cerrado is a rich, biodiverse savannah, vital in the fight against climate change and home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity.

In Brazil, the global demand for beef is the single biggest driver of deforestation and land conversion, accounting for around 65-70% of all deforestation in the Amazon region between 2000 and 2005. During a five year period, the UK imported around £1 billion worth of beef linked to deforestation in the Amazon – enough to make 170 million burgers a year. Brazilian beef imports include tinned corned beef and highly processed beef, which is linked to fast food consumption and rising obesity levels in Wales.

Forest footprints also vary within commodities. For example, Welsh cattle is mainly grass-fed and supplemented with soy to help them build protein before slaughter. So, Welsh beef has a significantly lower forest footprint than imported beef, such as beef from Brazil. Building on this, certified organic or 100% grass-fed beef goes even further in taking trees off the menu. These variations can make a huge difference to tropical forests.

So, by joining the dots from farm to fork, we can see that our consumer behaviour – for example, which products we buy and how they are produced – can have a direct impact on communities, tropical forests, biodiversity, climate and health.

The need for collective action

In order to tackle these complex and compounded issues, Wales must transition to a sustainable food system that respects environmental limits and human rights. To do this, it is essential that public bodies, businesses and civil society work together to remove imported deforestation from the Welsh economy.

As civil society, whether individuals, groups or businesses, there are practical steps we can take to reduce our forest footprints. These include:

  • Eating more plant-based foods, including high protein pulses, such as beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas and alternative proteins, such as organic tofu and tempeh.
  • Eating less, but better quality and locally sourced meat and dairy, such as 100% grass-fed animal products. Look for the Pasture for Life label, which is widely available in Wales.
  • Buying products with an ethical certification, such as Fairtrade, which includes a no-deforestation criterion, and Soil Association Organic, which guarantees nature friendly farming methods.
  • Avoiding processed foods, such as fast food and ready meals, to reduce your consumption of unsustainably sourced palm oil and beef and soy from deforestation risk regions.
  • Only buying products that contain sustainably sourced palm oil. Palm oil and its derivatives are found in over 50% of packaged products, ranging from foodstuffs to household and body products. Furthermore, with over 200 names it is incredibly difficult spot in the ingredients list. While many organisations have called to boycott palm oil, switching to other oil crops would require more land to produce the same amount of oil, resulting in wider deforestation and environmental degradation. So, when out shopping, look for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) logo, which now includes a no further deforestation criterion or burning of land to clear it. Chester Zoo has compiled this handy shopping list of common brands that source 100% of their palm oil through RSPO certified physical supply chains.

While we can take practical steps to reduce our impact on tropical forests, it is still incredibly difficult for the consumer to know the true forest footprint of a product or ingredient. This is due to the complexity of current systems, ranging from traceability and labelling to local laws and standards, including country definitions of what is deemed ‘sustainable’ practice. Furthermore, regardless of the desire or motivation to live more sustainably, many people cannot afford to make these choices. That is why clear, legislative commitments are so important. By taking a firm position on imported deforestation, we can create more demand and fairer access to sustainably sourced goods that work for both people and planet.

As part of the transition, Welsh Government should lead the way by introducing a deforestation free public procurement policy and creating a public register of deforestation free businesses. Many countries and states have either implemented or are currently developing policies to remove imported deforestation from public procurement, among them France, Norway, California and most recently, the United States.

We must also introduce sustainable farming practices that do not contribute to deforestation overseas. This includes ending the reliance on imported soy animal feed that originates from forest risk areas and adopting nature and climate-friendly farming methods, such as, organic farming, agroecology and agroforestry. We need a new cross-departmental food system strategy that incentivises local and sustainable supply chains and prioritises sustainably sourced goods from overseas to support livelihoods both at home and abroad. Furthermore, as we enter new trading relationships around the world, it is crucial that policymakers in Wales and the UK ensure that any future trade policies will guarantee environmental and human rights standards. We cannot do this alone, however. Politicians in Wales must urge the UK Government to implement mandatory due diligence legislation that applies to all companies importing deforestation risk goods, including those deemed legal by weaker local laws and standards.

If we are to reach our target of net-zero by 2050 and preserve our planet for future generations, we must eliminate imported deforestation from the Welsh economy and work with international partners to end global deforestation. With 87% of people wanting action on deforestation, the public appetite for change already exists. Wales might be a small country, but we are a global leader in sustainability. In 2008, we became the world’s first Fairtrade Nation, in 2015, the first country to legislate for sustainable development through the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act and in 2019, the first parliament to declare a Climate Emergency. So, let us pursue our goals of becoming a healthier, resilient, prosperous and globally responsible Wales and commit to become the world’s first Deforestation Free Nation.

The Deforestation Free Nation campaign is a coalition between Welsh charities Size of Wales, WWF Cymru and RSPB Cymru. The campaign invites individuals, communities, businesses and the Welsh public sector to pledge their commitment in eliminating tropical deforestation from the Welsh economy. For anyone interested in establishing a Deforestation Free Community in their area, please contact Size of Wales for more information.

Angie Kirby is the Advocacy Outreach Officer for the Deforestation Free Nation campaign. She has experience working in the voluntary and public sector in Wales – most recently with the Health and Sustainability Hub in Public Health Wales NHS Trust, where she worked on policy and sustainable behaviour change, including climate change education, active travel, green recovery and biodiversity. She is also a creative practitioner, singer, artist and poet.

Photo credit: Felipe Werneck

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

‘A Small Farm Future’: could it happen in Wales?

By Carwyn Graves

A Small Farm Future by Chris Smaje is subtitled ‘making the case for a society built around local economies, self-provisioning agricultural diversity and a shared earth’. Smaje’s surprising core argument in this ambitious and timely work is that some kind of ‘small farm future’ in the above vein is both necessary and in fact, inevitable. Necessary, in the sense that in light of the compounding crises that now beset western civilisation, a society of this kind offers our best chance of a humane, liberal society that both reflects the democratic values held dear by most in the West, and respects the ecological limits set on human civilization by the planet on which we live. This is a desirable small farm future.

A Small Farm Future published by Chelsea Green 2020

But a small farm future of some sort is, says Smaje, inevitable in the sense that as a result of the crises facing our civilisation a significant proportion of the world’s population will likely end up in a situation where they are dependent on cultivating small parcels of land for their economic basis – and, he intimates, this is likely to be the case for the majority of the world’s population regardless of the trajectory we take. This is far from a groundless assertion, describing as it does what is already the reality for 1.2 billion people globally[1], and as Smaje notes, without the inflated symbolic economy drawing people to the slums and peripheries of the early 20th century’s megacities, the security offered by the land will once more increase in weight in their decision–making. This phenomenon is already in evidence in economies rejected by the arbiters of the current system, such as Greece and now Lebanon: a dystopian small farm future.

Wales is not, of course, currently in that economic place. It therefore stands in a position where it could opt to set a course for the former, desirable small farm future.[2] Most of Smaje’s energy in the book goes into outlining the choices and trade-offs that societies across the western world will need to negotiate in order to avoid the latter future and land instead somewhere in the realms of the former, desirable one. And as a small political-cultural unit currently on the periphery of the global capitalist system (or rather, the western inner ring thereof), Wales is in some-ways well-placed to make choices that would lead to that desirable option. A number of phenomena in the Welsh cultural and political landscape also augur well for this, on paper: a government that has, in its rhetoric at least, long been supportive of ambitious action towards creating a sustainable society (cf. the Future Generations act, the early adoption of planning policies allowing for low-impact dwellings and livelihoods and other legislation in a similar vein); the small size of farm holdings in the country and the high percentage of owners, rather than tenants (in contrast to Scotland or England); the fact that the current economic settlement doesn’t work well for Wales, at least when in comparison with most neighbouring societies (so that government and civil society hasn’t much to lose in opting to chart an unorthodox course).

Cwmyrarian was once a prosperous mixed farm, known for miles around. It provided work for a large family and several farmhands into the mid 20th century but now lies in ruins with its lands split between other holdings.

There are however significant obstacles to the realisation of anything approximating Smaje’s vision in Wales. Many of these arise from the Welsh situation: perhaps the most important of these is the destruction over recent decades of the lingering vestiges of peasant culture in this country, as in other parts of north-western Europe. Add to this is the lack of a strong civic sphere: the peculiar fact that national conversation takes place within different bubbles (British/ Welsh-regional/ Welsh-language) with poor interfaces between these conversations. Much energy therefore necessarily goes into the creation and maintenance of those parts of civic society which many other comparable societies take for granted; and when you’re forced to argue about the terms of your own existence as a cultural unit, there is little bandwidth left for serious debate about issues which seem tangential.

One of these obstacles, however, illuminates tensions which will be of relevance to the discussion about desirable small farm futures well beyond the bounds of our small country. The attractiveness of the small-farm future option arguably applies in the western world most readily to people in marginalized rural areas, who already have emotional investment in the flourishing of the countryside and of farming in particular, and who can see with their own eyes the bankruptcy of the current settlement. The kind of society sketched by Smaje is likely to be intrinsically attractive to many in these contexts, and to be viewed as a solution to many currently intractable and emotionally draining problems for these communities (rural depopulation, lack of jobs, thinning of society).

But in a Welsh context, and undoubtedly many others, solutions touted for rural Wales’ problems (which are at their most acute in the Welsh-speaking parts that cover a good half of the country by area and represent an internal colony of an internal colony in the words of Seimon Brooks) are often bedevilled by a perception that they are foisted upon those communities from the outside. In other words, the kinds of well-meaning institutions and organisations that are the main vehicles for rebuilding the foundations for a positive small-farm future in rural Wales tend to draw their energy and support from outside the communities which they would depend upon and ostensibly benefit. Particular organisations are not the point here: culture and ownership are. From a Welsh perspective this cuts to the core of the greatest weakness in Smaje’s erudite tome: a reluctance, perhaps understandable given his project, to engage with cultural specificities – and thus to acknowledge the real-world implications of these specificities on the likelihood of a positive small-farm future of the type he outlines arising in many contexts.

In other words, there will only be a desirable small-farm future if the effort to create one comes from within the communities themselves: otherwise, all that happens is the creation of a new fault-line between the advocates of such a settlement and everyone else. This potential disengagement is a serious issue, which pertains to ownership – in the emotional sense. In a section touching on these issues in section 4 Smaje states that, ‘as communities develop new commons through self-provisioning from the local ecological base, everybody’s voice counts, not just that of local elites…’[3] But it is far from clear in real-world scenarios where efforts to make this happen are underway that everybody’s voice does count – not because of exclusion so much as the fact that not everybody (or everybody that ought to matter) is in the room. They won’t be in the room if they aren’t invited; but they also won’t come if they don’t feel any potential ownership.

This is about more than simply making the case for a small farm future within wider western culture (vital though that is). Local ownership only happens through the means of local culture – there isn’t an alternative for the kind of bottom-up shift that Smaje is advocating (top-down is different, of course). And so that local culture needs to be the prism through which an argument for a small-farm future is filtered. In other words, the very rationale for why a small-farm future could be a desirable future needs to differ in meaningful ways from context to context. Where this doesn’t happen, only the “likely candidates” will take this forward – which risks alienating those very communities who most need a future of this kind, and who will also be most needed to make it happen in many western contexts. To avoid this, the argument in favour of a local small farm future should therefore look substantially different in the US rust belt, and Welsh-speaking rural Wales and wealthy Bavaria (where much of the same applies, mutatis mutandis). This is a point which Smaje almost acknowledges and often touches on, but which may transpire in practice to be key to the balance between the dystopian and the desirable small farm futures he outlines.

Despite this weakness in his argument, A Small Farm Future is a watershed work – intellectually brilliant and strongly argued. Several of the heuristics Smaje employs are illuminating (the concept of stocks and flows, the centrality of trade-offs for his analysis or the term ‘symbolic economy’ used above); and his bold marriage of sociology, political economy and philosophy with food history and agricultural analysis is riveting. We have here the ambitious groundwork, global in scale, for exactly the case for a small farm future that Smaje set out to write. It now remains for those of us who share his vision to do the hard work of applying that to our own varied contexts.

Carwyn Graves is an author, public speaker and linguist based near Carmarthen. Author of Apples of Wales (2018) and Welsh Food Stories (on its way in 2021…)

Carwyn will be speaking about the history and future of food in Wales at the second Wales Real Food and Farming Conference on 16-19 November. Get your tickets now!

Feature image: A small farm in post-industrial Glamorgan, summer 2019. Whither Wales?


[1] p.91

[2] This term is also repeated, slightly ad nauseam, in the book.

[3] p.260

Food hubs: bringing people together and revaluing food

By Heather McClure, Aber Food Surplus

The idea of creating food hubs appeared in numerous different contexts at the Wales Real Food and Farming Conference in Aberystwyth last year. I hope to share a few thoughts on why I find food hubs an exciting way of working towards a more sustainable food system.

The word ‘hub’ implies bringing people together, and a ‘food hub’ suggests that people come together because of food. Driven by progressive organisations working towards more social and environmentally minded enterprises, food hubs have been gaining popularity in the UK over the last 10 years. This shows that people are inspired to work together, and that there is a desire for change towards a more sustainable food system.

Bringing people together is a central principle of a food hub

But what is a food hub, and what can it do? At the Conference,  people suggested many roles. All were presented as part of a solution and part of an opportunity for different aspects of our food system to flourish and become more sustainable.

Here is a summary of the different type of food hubs I heard being discussed:

  • ‘Producer Hubs’ – Supporting local smaller scale food producers to reach a market.
  • ‘Procurement Hubs’ – A focus on bringing in food to sell in quantity to institutions, offices, schools or hospitals.
  • ‘Redistribution / Food Surplus Hubs’ – there are lots of these popping up around the UK to deal with the environmental issue of supermarket and business food waste
  • ‘Waste Recovery / Value Hubs’ – A similar idea to a food surplus hub, but perhaps more focused on innovation and large-scale waste, to be used for creating a more ‘closed loop’ and circular food system. This could involve a focus on secondary products or by-products.
  • ‘Seed Hubs/ libraries’ – Challenging the ownership of seeds, building a more genetically diverse and resilient local seed base.
  • ‘Skill sharing hubs’ – small scale caterers or producers of manufactured foods can share the infrastructure and kitchen resources to operate self-employed businesses. These spaces can also be used for upskilling people in cooking.

This wide range of issues highlights what people want from our food system. Food hubs can enable more local decision-making powers surrounding food trade, and where our food comes from – an integral aspect of a healthy food system, where citizens have affordable access to food produced in balance with nature.

Furthermore, using these hubs, food does not go through the same valuing / de-valuing processes that it goes through in retail chains or institutional processes. Its worth is informed by people closer to where it is grown and eaten. Perhaps the food hub model of a food system could reflect the truer value of food? Where bringing people together within a transparent food system could showcase the enormous unaccounted value and power of food and food production, and produce a more circular and participatory food system.

The ECO Food Sharing Hub, Aberystwyth

In Aberystwyth, we have had an ECO Food Sharing Hub since March 2019. It is based in a former greengrocer’s shop on a busy shopping street, and was developed jointly by the community and the Aber Food Surplus project. Aber Food Surplus is a food waste redistribution project that started from conversations involving supermarkets, churches, community gardens, bakers, farmers, food banks, students, and charities who could see the community value that sharing food could foster. It was an idea designed in a ‘best fit approach’ to make food ‘waste’ available to the community – where it was ultimately intended to be all along – not in landfill bins!  

A shop window for doing things differently, on a busy street

Aber Food Surplus was founded in 2016, and the project continually highlights a strong desire for change in both our food system and our local area. There is a core team of three staff members and 35 volunteers that collect and redistribute the surplus food. This means the hub is always bustling. There is a kitchen where surplus food can be cooked up for community events, and a community fridge where food surplus is shared. The hub space aims to support knowledge sharing, entrepreneurialism, sustainability, and conversations about our food system. It also hosts the Aber Food Coop, which provides a weekly box of fresh produce to its members.

The ECO Food Sharing Hub is stimulating conversations about what else can be achieved by working together, and how else we can become closer to our food and food producers – a fundamental part of the community here in rural Wales. Through the conversations at our food hub we are evolving every day to become a town that has more knowledge and control over its food supply.

Food hubs have the potential to make change! If you want to be part of this conversation please get in touch. And if you are a grower or producer local to Aberystwyth looking to shorten your food supply chain please get in touch– our Aber Food Coop would be keen to meet you, visit your farm, advertise you, and sell your produce on a weekly basis!

Heather McClure is a director of Aber Food Surplus. She is passionate about the role of food in connecting us to nature, and hopes to see Aberystwyth growing more food and become a wonderful example of a zero food waste town in the near future. This year she is particularly excited to see how aubergines grow.

Gwersi o’r gorffennol, mewn torth o fara

Gan Jane Powell [read article in English]

Os byddwch yn lwcus y gaeaf yma, gallwch brynu torth arbennig iawn ym Marchnad Machynlleth ar ddydd Mercher. Gyda dim ond chwech o dorthau’n cael eu pobi bob wythnos gan bopty Penegoes Rye and Roses, gwneir y bara o wenith a dyfir ychydig filltiroedd i lawr y lôn yng Nglandyfi a’i falu â maen a phŵer dŵr yn y ffordd draddodiadol yn y Felin Ganol, Llanrhystud. Mae’n amser maith er pan dyfid gwenith ar raddfa fawr i wneud bara yn y rhan yma o Gymru a dyma ganlyniad arbrawf gan griw o unigolion brwd o’r enw Tyfwyr Grawn Dyfi. Mae’r grŵp hefyd yn tyfu ceirch.

Un ohonynt yw Katie Hastings, sydd hefyd yn gweithio i Mach Maethlon ac yn tyfu llysiau ers sawl blwyddyn. “Mae gen i wir ddiddordeb mewn bwydo’r gymuned leol a dechreuais i feddwl a fyddai’n bosibl tyfu ein bara a’n huwd ein hunain yma yn Nyffryn Dyfi? A ches i wybod bod gwahanol fathau o rawn yn arfer cael eu tyfu drwy’r dyffryn ar ei hyd 50, 60, 70 o flynyddoedd yn ôl. Arferai pobl dyfu grawn ar ddarnau o dir sydd bellach, yn ôl rhai, yn anaddas i gynhyrchu bwyd, ond nid felly oedd hi o gwbl yn y gorffennol pan fyddai’r amrywogaethau Cymreig hyn yn cael eu tyfu”.

Tyfu gwenith yn Nyffryn Dyfi, 2019. Llun drwy garedigrwydd Katie Hastings.

Dechreuodd Katie a’i chydweithwyr ar arbrawf hirfaith, gan ddysgu sut i aredig, hau, cynaeafu a dyrnu’r grawn. Buont yn ei gynaeafu â llaw ac yn hytrach na defnyddio combein, cawsant fenthyg peiriant dyrnu o Glwb Hen Dractorau Meirionnydd. “Wrth i ni dorri’r grawn a gwneud cocynnau yn y cae, roedd pobl yn dod i lawr o’r bryniau i weld beth roedden ni’n ei wneud ac yn awyddus i helpu,” medd Katie. “Roedd defnyddio’r hen injan ddyrnu wir yn gadael i fi ymgysylltu â ffermwyr o’r hen do oherwydd bod ganddyn nhw y peiriant yma roedd ei angen arnon ni a’u bod am ein gweld yn ei ddefnyddio eto. Fydden ni ddim wedi gallu ei wneud o heb y ffermwyr hŷn yma’n dangos y ffordd i ni.”

Un o’r rhain yw Alun Lewis o Benegoes sy’n cofio ei dad yn tyfu gwenith, haidd, ceirch a thatws ar fferm y teulu ac yn bwyta bara, caws, cig a llysiau wedi’u cynhyrchu gartref yn ystod cyfnod pan fyddai Dyffryn Dyfi’n tyfu cyfran uwch o lawer o’i fwyd ei hun nag sy’n digwydd heddiw. Yn nes ymlaen, treuliodd 27 o flynyddoedd fel contractwr yn mynd â’i beiriannau dyrnu o fferm i fferm. Yn wahanol i gombein, mae injan ddyrnu’n sefyll yn ei hunfan a rhaid i bobl fwydo ysgubau gwenith neu geirch i’w chrombil er mwyn gwahanu’r grawn o’r gwellt a’r us.

Peiriant dyrnu. Llun drwy garedigrwydd Amgueddfa Ceredigion

“Ar ôl y rhyfel, oedd pob ffarm yn gorfod tyfu ŷd a tatws, er mwyn ffidio pobl,” medd Alun gan gyfeirio at y Pwyllgorau Gwaith Amaethyddiaeth Rhyfel lleol (neu’r War Ag) a sefydlwyd ym 1939 gyda phwerau i hawlio tir gan ffermwyr nad oeddent yn cydymffurfio. “Mae’r llyfrau ’ma yn dangos bo ni yn dyrnu bron yn bob ffarm yn Benegoes ’ma, amser ’ny, ac ym mhob ardal arall, Talybont, ffor’ na i gyd, pob ffarm un ar ôl y llall.” Gan nad oedd gan Alun a’i dad ond tri pheiriant dyrnu a’u bod yn gweithio dros ardal cyn belled i’r de â Llan-non, roedd yna dipyn o bwysau i gwblhau’r gwaith. Yn ffodus, gallent fenthyca peiriant ychwanegol gan y War Ag ac roedd yna help gan garcharorion rhyfel a genod Byddin y Tir.

Mae Alun wedi bod yn rhannu ei atgofion gyda phrosiect o’r enw ‘Ffermio cymysg – hanesion a’r dyfodol’ sy’n ymchwilio i arferion ffermio dros y ddwy ganrif ddiwethaf. Ynghyd â hanesion llafar gan drigolion hŷn dan ofal y partner arweiniol ecodyfi, mae’r prosiect yn edrych ar fapiau degwm o’r 1840au, lluniau o’r 1940au a dynnwyd o’r awyr gan yr RAF, ffilm o archifau’r BBC a dogfennau eraill. Mae System Gwybodaeth Ddaearyddol yn cael ei defnyddio i ddwyn yr holl ddata yma at ei gilydd gan fwrw golwg fesul cae ar sut y byddai’r tir yn cael ei ddefnyddio.

Ymysg y data hanesyddol ceir cyfres o fapiau o’r 1930au a luniwyd ar deithiau maes gan blant ysgol a’u hathrawon. Ei gyhoeddi fel yr ymchwiliad cyntaf i ddefnydd tir yn y DU ers Llyfr Domesday, mae’n adnabod saith categori, gan gynnwys coetir, dŵr ac ardaloedd adeiledig ac yn dangos faint mwy o ffermio âr oedd yn digwydd yn ardal Machynlleth yr adeg honno. Trefnwyd yr arolwg gan y daearyddwr o Lundain Syr Dudley Stamp, a’i gwelodd yn rhannol fel ymarferiad mewn dinasyddiaeth i bobl ifainc, ond aeth y mapiau yn eu blaenau i wneud cyfraniad go iawn i ddiogelwch bwyd yn ystod y Rhyfel.

Defnydd tir yn ardal Machynlleth yn y 1930au. Brown tywyll = tir âr a gerddi marchnad, porffor = gerddi, perllannoedd a rhandiroedd. Seilir y gwaith yma ar ddata a ddarparwyd drwy http://www.VisionofBritain.org.uk gan ddefnyddio deunydd map hanesyddol o’r Arolwg Defnydd Tir sydd o dan hawlfraint Arolwg Defnydd Tir Prydain Fawr, 1933-49, hawlfraint Audrey N. Clark

Yn adleisio hyn, un o nodau’r prosiect Ffermio Cymysg sydd â Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, Prifysgol Aberystwyth ac Environment Systems Cyf. ymhlith ei bartneriaid, yw cyfrannu i drafodaeth gyhoeddus am ddyfodol ffermio yn yr ardal.

“Amserau cythryblus i ffermwyr yw’r rhain ac mae’n helpu i edrych ymhell i’r dyfodol. Mae ffermio wedi newid yn aruthrol dros y ganrif ddiwethaf mewn ymateb i newidiadau economaidd a chymdeithasol ac mae’n gallu newid eto. Rydyn ni am sicrhau bod gwybodaeth ac adnoddau ar gael i ffermwyr a darparu data’n sail i’r drafodaeth gyhoeddus,” medd Chris Higgins, rheolwr y prosiect.

Gwenith Hen Gymro. Llun drwy garedigrwydd IBERS, Aberystwyth

Nid mapiau ac atgofion yn unig sy’n ein cysylltu â’r gorffennol. Ym Mhrifysgol Aberystwyth, mae Dr Fiona Corke yn esbonio sut maent yn meithrin gwenith traddodiadol o’r enw Hen Gymro. “Fe’i casglwyd o ffermydd yng Nghymru ym 1919 gan Syr George Stapledon, cyfarwyddwr cyntaf Bridfa Blanhigion Cymru, ac mae’n cael ei adnabod fel landrace nid amrywogaeth oherwydd mai cymysgedd o fathau oedd o, wedi ymaddasu i’r lleoliad lle’r oedd yn cael ei dyfu,” meddai. “Mae gwellt hir i’r hen fathau o wenith a ddefnyddid at doi ac mae pwysau’r cnydau’n is na phwysau gwenithau modern. Fodd bynnag, roeddent yn ddibynadwy ac mae diddordeb ynddynt eto erbyn hyn, yn arbennig gan dyfwyr organig oherwydd nad oes angen fawr o wrtaith arnynt”.

Wrth gefn adfywio grawn traddodiadol mae Fforwm Grawn Cymru, sef rhwydwaith o felinwyr, pobwyr, towyr, bragwyr a distyllwyr sy’n ymrwymedig i adfer economi rawn genedlaethol. Yn allweddol i hyn mae creu diwylliant bwyd sy’n croesawu amrywiaeth ranbarthol, wrth i rawn esblygu i weddu i wahanol amodau. Chwedl Katie, “Rydyn ni am i bobl brofi’r blas sy’n deillio o gymysgedd o wenith sy’n wahanol iawn i’r blawd rydych chi’n ei brynu oddi ar y silff. Mae blas Dyffryn Dyfi ar y dorth yma, gan adlewyrchu’r pridd a’r hinsawdd lle cafodd ei thyfu.”

Ariennir y prosiect Ffermio Cymysg yn rhannol gan Sefydliad y Teulu Ashley ac yn rhannol gan yr Undeb Ewropeaidd drwy Weinidogion Llywodraeth Cymru. Cafwyd cyllid gan Gronfa Amaethyddol Ewrop ar gyfer Datblygu Gwledig drwy Lywodraeth Cymru, Cyngor Sir Powys a’r tri Grŵp Gweithredu Lleol sydd ar waith yn ardal Biosffer Dyfi: Arwain, Cynnal y Cardi ac Arloesi Gwynedd.

Mae’r prosiect yn rhedeg tan hydref 2020 gan groesawu cyfraniad gan bobl sydd â diddordeb yn hanes amaethyddiaeth yn yr ardal a dewisiadau arallgyfeirio o ran cynhyrchu bwyd yn gynaliadwy. Cysylltwch ag ecodyfi i gael gwybod mwy.

Mae Jane Powell yn ymghorydd addysg sy’n ysgrifennu am fwyd yn www.foodsociety.wales

Lessons from the past, in a loaf of bread

By Jane Powell [darllen erthygl yn Gymraeg]

If you’re lucky this winter, you can buy a very special loaf at Machynlleth’s Wednesday market. Baked in a limited edition of six a week by Penegoes bakery Rye and Roses, it’s made from wheat grown a few miles down the road at Glandyfi, and milled the traditional stoneground, water-powered way at Felin Ganol, Llanrhystud. It’s many years since wheat was last grown at any scale to make bread in this part of Wales, and it’s the result of an experiment by a group of enthusiasts called the Dyfi Grain Growers. The group is also growing oats.

One of them is Katie Hastings, who also works for Mach Maethlon and has been growing vegetables for many years. “I have a real interest in feeding the local community, and I started thinking, would it be possible to grow our own bread and our own porridge here in the Dyfi Valley? And I found out that grains used to be grown all over the valley 50, 60, 70 years ago. People used to grow cereals on areas of land which people now say are unsuitable for food production, but really weren’t in the past when these native Welsh varieties were grown”.

Growing wheat in the Dyfi Valley, 2019. Image courtesy of Katie Hastings.

Katie and her colleagues embarked on a long experiment, learning how to plough, sow, harvest and thresh the grain. They harvested it by hand, and rather than use a combine harvester they borrowed a threshing machine from Meirionnydd Vintage Club. “When we were cutting the grain and making stooks in the field, people were coming down from the hills to see what we were doing, and keen to help,” she says. “Using the old threshing machine really allowed me to connect with the older farmers, because they had this machine that we needed, and they wanted to see us using it again. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without these older farmers showing us how.”

One of these is Alun Lewis of Penegoes, who remembers his father growing wheat, barley, oats and potatoes on the family farm, and eating home-produced bread, cheese, meat and vegetables, in an era when the Dyfi Valley grew a much higher proportion of its own food than it does now. Later he spent 27 years as a contractor, taking his threshing machines from farm to farm. Unlike a modern combine harvester, a threshing machine is static, and requires people to feed sheaves of wheat or oats into it, in order to separate the grain from the straw and chaff.

A threshing machine, courtesy of Ceredigion Museum.

“After the War every farm had to grow wheat and potatoes to feed people,” he says, referring to the local War Agriculture Executive Committees, or War Ags, set up in 1939 with powers to requisition land from farmers who did not comply. “Our records show that we were threshing on nearly every farm here in Penegoes then, and everywhere else, Tal-y-bont, all down that way, one farm after another.” As Alun and his father only had three threshing machines and they covered an area as far south as Llanon, there was a lot of pressure to get the work done. Fortunately, they were able to borrow an extra machine from the War Ag, and there was help from prisoners of war and the Land Girls.  

Alun has been sharing his memories with a project called ‘Mixed farming – histories and futures’, which is researching farming practices over the past two centuries. Together with oral histories from older residents organized by the lead partner ecodyfi, the project is looking at tithe maps from the 1840s, RAF aerial photographs from the 1940s, archive footage from the BBC and other documents. A Geographic Information System is being used to draw all this data together and provide a field-by-field overview of how land was used.

Among the historic data is a set of maps from the 1930s which were compiled on field trips by schoolchildren and their teachers. Hailed as the first investigation into land use in the UK since the Domesday Book, it identifies seven categories, including woodland, water and built-up areas, and shows how much more arable farming there was in the Machynlleth area in those days. The survey was organized by London geographer Sir Dudley Stamp, who saw it partly as an exercise in citizenship for young people, but the maps went on to make a real contribution to food security in the War.

Land use in the Machynlleth area in the 1930s. Dark brown = arable and market gardens, purple = gardens, orchards and allotments. This work is based on data provided through http://www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical Land Utilisation Survey map material which is copyright of The Land Utilisation Survey of Great Britain, 1933-49, copyright Audrey N. Clark.

Echoing this, one of the aims of the Mixed Farming project, whose partners include the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth University and Environment Systems Ltd, is to contribute to a public discussion about the future of farming in the area.

“These are turbulent times for farmers, and it helps to take a long view. Farming has changed enormously over the past century in response to economic and social changes, and it can change again. We want to make information and resources available to farmers and help inform the public debate,” says Chris Higgins, project manager.

Hen Gymro wheat, courtesy of IBERS, Aberstwyth

 It’s not just maps and memories that link us with the past. At Aberystwyth University, Dr Fiona Corke explains how they are maintaining a traditional wheat called Hen Gymro. “It was collected from Welsh farms in 1919 by Sir George Stapledon, first director of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station, and it’s known as a landrace not a variety, because it was a mixture of types adapted to the locality where it was grown,” she says. “The old wheats all have long straw, which was used for thatching, and they are low yielding compared to modern wheats. However, they were reliable, and now there is interest in them again, particularly from organic growers because they don’t need a lot of fertiliser”.

Backing the revival of traditional cereals is the Welsh Grain Forum, which is a network of millers, bakers, thatchers, maltsters, distillers and brewers committed to restoring a national grain economy. Key to this is creating a food culture that embraces regional variation, as grains evolve to suit different conditions. As Katie puts it, “We want people to taste the flavour you get from a mixed population of wheat, which is very different from flour you buy off the shelf. This loaf has the flavour of the Dyfi Valley, reflecting the soil and climate where it was grown.”

The Mixed Farming project is funded partly by the Ashley Family Foundation and partly by the European Union through Welsh Ministers. The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development has been made available through the Welsh Government, Powys County Council and the three Local Action Groups operating in the Dyfi Biosphere area: Arwain, Cynnal y Cardi and Arloesi Gwynedd.

The project runs until autumn 2020 and welcomes involvement from people interested in the history of agriculture in the area and sustainable food production diversification options. Please contact Ecodyfi to find out more.

Jane Powell is an education consultant who writes about food at www.foodsociety.wales.

Our Food: rebuilding the local food economy

By Duncan Fisher

Our Food is a new initiative in Wales to rebuild the local food economy. The project has just launched in the Brecon Beacons around Crickhowell and is the beginning of a long process in the local area.our food blackboard - web

The need to rebuild local food economies – which have been decimated by the global food system that drives the export of most of what is produced in a region and the import of most of what is consumed in the same place – is driven by three imperatives: climate change, a feeling of lost local mandate and depopulation.

Building local food economies is a core part of the response to the climate crisis. The global food system, according to this year’s IPCC report, Climate Change and Land, accounts for between 21% and 37% of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activity. This is driven by the massive global industrialisation of food. The report calls for “enhancing local and community collective action”.

Meanwhile, enhancing local economic activity is a vital response to the deep sense of loss of  control felt in Wales and across the UK over the things that shape our daily lives. This is driving an unprecedented political crisis.

And finally, building local economies in rural areas is a means of challenging depopulation, creating meaningful jobs at the local level.

Where to start rebuilding a local food economy?

Work starts from a very low base – low demand for local food (nearly everyone goes to supermarkets), low supply (so many small producers have been put out of business by global food chains) and low skills (young people leave to find work elsewhere). Where to start to reverse this long spiral downwards? We believe the first step is driving up demand, through marketing of what local food there is and through raising consumer awareness about the true consequences of buying food in supermarkets that could be produced locally. Demand must exceed supply for businesses to start producing more – customers clamouring for more are better than businesses without markets!

We also believe the process must be driven by businesses. Local government and consumers have a vital role as the purchasers of products, but businesses have the skills and incentive to market products and drive up demand, and only they have the means of responding to increasing demand.

Our inspiration: Schwäbisch Hall, Germany

The inspiration for the Our Food approach is the food project in Schwäbisch Hall in Germany, one of the most successful initiatives to rebuild a local food economy in the world.

This project started with a handful of farmers in 1988 and has grown enormously, with over 1500 businesses participating. The farmers tackled the problem of supermarkets by building their own chain, attached to really nice food halls. The association now owns and runs a large meat processing factory producing a wide range of processed meats from pork raised by local farmers. The farmers set up a charitable foundation that bought the region’s castle, now run as a hotel and conference centre. The organisation heavily emphasises organic production, works to get a fair price for all products, builds marketing capacity, works to improve farm incomes and promotes regional development.

The founder of this project, Rudolf Bühler, is coming to Wales for the Real Food and Farming Conference, and will present the work there in plenary session. The day after, 13 November, we are continuing the discussion with Rudolf in Crickhowell. You are warmly invited!

Our Food across Wales?

As the Our Food approach starts to drive up demand for local produce, we want it to spread. So we have structured the website to be able to be used by other places. The Crickhowell site is our-food.org/crickhowell, so another place could be our-food.org/anotherplace. We will start by inviting other towns around the Brecon Beacons and working to raise funds with them.

Please join in signing a joint letter to Welsh Government!

We are also lobbying Welsh Government to provide more support for rebuilding food economies. We have drafted a letter recommending strong attention to locality and to climate change in the new Welsh Food & Drink Strategy. We are collecting signatures for this: please do sign!

Duncan Fisher is a campaigner on children’s issues and on climate change. With global food systems producing 21-37% of greenhouse emissions, local food systems are something big that Wales can do. www.linkedin.com/in/duncanfisher

Images: Tim Jones, As You See It Media.

 

Gweledigaethau Gwledig – Cynhadledd Gwir Fwyd a Ffermio Cymru (CGFFfC)

Gan Eifiona Thomas Lane

[Eifiona reflects on the Oxford Real Farming Conference and its new Welsh offshoot; use Google Translate to find out more]

Ar ddechrau’r flwyddyn newydd eleni cefais fy mhrofiad cyntaf o’r ORFC, sef Oxford Real Farming Conference, sydd yn amlwg yn cael ei threfnu yn Rhydychen. Cyfle oedd hyn imi drafod syniadau am sut allai dyfodol tu allan i Undeb Ewropeaidd effeithio ar gymunedau ffermio – yn benodol oblygiadau iaith a pheryglu diwylliant gwledig Cymreig.

Ond cyn fy seswin cefais gyfle i fwynhau bore braf yn crwydro o amgylch y gynhadledd. Yr argraff gyntaf wnaeth arnaf oedd bod amrwyiaeth o stondinau safonol lle roedd pwyslais nid – fel oeddwn yn ei dybio (o ystyried ansawdd y stondinau) – ar ffermio dwys comersial ar gyfer y system fwyd a masnach byd eang, ond yn hytrach ar ffermio llai arddwys lle roedd torreth o wybodaeth defnyddiol ac ymarferol ar ddulliau a busnesau.

Roedd yno hefyd nifer o grwpiau cynghori ffermio oedd yn hybu parchu’r pridd, cyfoeth ecosystemau naturiol a thirluniau amrwyiol. Dyma’r union systemau rwyf wedi arfer gorfod eu amddiffyn a ceisio egluro eu potensial i gyflwyno gwasanaethau ecosystemau rheoli a diwylliannol. Neu, mewn iaith arall, cynnal treftadaeth, cymunedau ffermio a chefn gwlad mwy cynaliadwy.

Yn ystod fy nghyflwyniad, a oedd yn rhan o sesiwn Maniffesto Bwyd Cymru, trafodwyd ystadegau o’r ystadegau Sensws (2011) ac astudiaeth gan Undeb Amaethwyr Cymru 2018, sy’d dangos bod 40% o ffermwyr yn siarad Cymraeg, sef ddwywaith yn fwy nac unrhyw gategori gwaith arall ar draws Cymru. Mae 100% o ffermwyr cymunedau Dolbenmaen, Y Bala / Llanuwchlyn a Melindwr yng Ngheredigion yn siarad yr iaith. Cyflwynwyd ymateb Llywodraeth Cymru a’r Undebau Amaethwyr Cymru i’r her byddai dirywiad yn amaeth yn ei gynnig:

  • ‘Moves which undermine the viability of Welsh Agriculture are likely to represent significant threats to the Welsh language particularly in communities where the proportion of the population who speak Welsh is low or intermediate.’ (UAC 2018, Ffermio yng Nghymru a’r Iaith Gymraeg)
  • ‘The composition of our farming sector is very different to the rest of the UK, particularly to England. Our landscape is more varied, our rural communities are a much greater share of the population and our agriculture is more integrated into the fabric of our culture, especially the Welsh language. We have a once in a generation chance to redesign our policies in a manner consistent with Wales’ unique integrated approach, delivering for our economy, society and natural environment.’ (Dyfodol Amaeth a Rheolaeth Tir, Lesley Griffiths, Mawrth 2017)

Y prif her byddai gwanio’r economi wledig draddodiadol ac arwain at sefyllfa ansicr iawn o ran argaeledd bwyd ffres, iach a fforddadwy mewn cymunedau sydd yn ddaearyddol fwy ymylol.

Felly – a’m sesiwn drafod wedi bod – roeddwn yn falch iawn o allu cefnogi syniad eithaf trawiadol, sef y dylai cynhadledd debyg ddigwydd yn Nghymru sef cyfle i ganolbwyntio ar ffermio a bwyd Cymreig. Byddai hon yn wahanol i gynhadleddau academaidd ar amaeth ac hefyd yn wahanol i’r Sioe Fawr yn Llanwelwedd, oherwydd byddai yn dod a chydrannau y drafodaeth wledig ynghyd. Cynhadledd integredig, ymarferol ydy’r gwledigaeth (gyda chytundeb trefnwyr yr ORFC gwreiddiol) a fydd yn lledaenu ymarfer da. Yn ystod y sesiynnau trafod traddodiadau hynafol Cymreig ar gyfer rheoli amgylchedd ac amaethu organig ac anarddwys, cynhyrchu bwyd da iach, ac yn caniatau trafodaeth ar bolisiau a gwleidyddiaeth.

Yn yr ychydig misoedd dilynol cafwyd trafodaeth brwd ar ei lleoliad ac a dylai fod yn symudol fel yr Eisteddfod, a wedyn mwy byth o drafodaeth am yr enw yn  Gymraeg. Er mwyn crynhoi felly, eleni ym mis Tachwedd 2019 bydd Cynhadledd (gyntaf) Gwir Fwyd a Ffermio Cymru yn digwydd yn Aberystwyth. Mae’r lleoliad yma yn draddodiadol, hygyrch a rhesymol am eleni; cawn weld am flynyddoedd i ddilyn.

Mae nifer fawr o fudiadau cefn gwlad ac unigolion egniol a phrofiadol nawr yn cydweithio i sefydlu a cynllunio’r digwyddiad, ac yn sicr bydd eraill yn ymuno, ond araf deg mae dal iar! Gobeithiaf yn fawr iawn y bydd yn egino a thyfu yn driw i egwyddorion cynhadledd ORFC, sef parodrwydd i herio rhai agweddau o amaethu diwydiannol, ac y bydd yn cyfarfod lle mae cyfle ar gyfer trafodaethau rhyngddisgyblaethol, gwahanol ac amgen.

Mwy na hynny, rwyf yn gobeithio bydd y gynhadledd hon yn adlewyrchu amrywiaeth gwir gyfoeth bwyd a ffermio Cymru, ac efalla hyd yn oed mwy pwysig i mi yw bod y CGFFfC yn cychwyn a parhau i fod (pan bydd yn llwyddo a thyfu ) yn gynhadledd wledig wir Gymreig.

Mae Eifiona Thomas Lane yn ddarlithydd mewn Daearyddiaeth yn yr Ysgol Gwyddorau Naturiol, Prifysgol Bangor.

Llun: Eifiona Thomas Lane