Ashfield Community Enterprise: A horticultural resource for the local community

By Pamela Mason

It’s a pity it’s so hard to generate an income from growing vegetables. Grown organically, they are amongst the healthiest foods on the planet. But you have only got to see the sore hands and, often, painful backs and stiff joints of those who have worked hard in the fields for a long time, to realize just how tough it is to produce these healthiest of foods and get them to market.

This is, in part, what the people who have bought Ashfield Community Enterprise, near Llandrindod Wells in mid-Wales, are learning and struggling with. They do much more than grow vegetables, as a group of us on a recent Federation of City Farms and Gardens (FCFCG) Tyfu Fyny study day discovered, and that is partly about creating a diverse enterprise but also about the sheer hard work of making money out of vegetables alone. But with just six months of experience in growing tomatoes and chillis in the one of the centre’s polytunnels, grower nickm – as he is known – is up to the task and has bottled a glorious rainbow of differently coloured chillis in glass jars for the Christmas market in Llandrindod.

Herbs are a winner too, he says, in that people are very willing to pay £2.50 for a pot of hyssop or oregano. He’s grown a variety of parsleys, corianders and basils, including one I hadn’t come across before – cinnamon basil, which I believe is great mixed with garlic and olive oil for pesto.

Fliss, the project co-ordinator, told us that Ashfield is a seven-acre piece of land which locals came together to buy for the whole community. Purchased in 2010 with the Village SOS Big Lottery Fund, it had been used by people with learning difficulties. Ashfield has allotments, one of which is used by a local primary school, five polytunnels, an orchard, greenhouses, training rooms for hire and an office. There is also a 4 star kitchen from which our group enjoyed a lovely lunch of vegetable curry and damson fool in the community long room.

Volunteers come and help to grow for veg boxes and market, learn gardening, cooking, healthy eating, beekeeping and composting. Fliss explained that they have referrals from local organisations for volunteers to benefit from the therapeutic space and the activities. Three micro businesses – including an aquaponics project – have been set up here by young people. There is a Local Roots Forest School for children, and a Men in Sheds group.

A beautiful dry stone walled sensory garden had been recently completed on the day we visited. Sensory gardens are particularly beneficial to people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, helping to keep them calm and interested. Funding for the garden was obtained from the Tesco Bags of Help initiative which uses revenue raised from its 5p carrier bag charge to help community projects and projects.

Rhian leads on gardening activities. She is employed 12 hours a week and gives 12 hours a week of her time for free. Vegetables are sold on Llandrindod market on a Friday and also to local pubs. A burger bar in Builth Wells buys some of the salad vegetables. Veg boxes are available for collection on site or at a newsagent in Llandrindod.

In March this year, Ashfield was successful in acquiring funding from ARWAIN (the LEADER programme in Powys) to run a three year feasibility project to establish a community facility for people of all ages and abilities to develop skills in growing, cooking, preserving and reducing food waste.

Ashfield runs all these activities with just four and a half staff and a lot of volunteer time. Last year, this equated to 2000 volunteer hours and this year 82 different people have volunteered. Overall income is around £45,000, a third of which comes from renting out two flats on site.

Fliss told us she is in two minds about whether to apply for more funding in 2018 as, understandably, she wants Ashfield to stand on its own feet financially. Without the impressive bunch of people we met, it would be very much harder than it is. And nickm, who had no experience growing tomatoes and chillis before this year, is already planning for next year. He has learned a lot in 6 months and most impressively he told us that he had recorded everything he had learned within the greenhouse in a notebook. Armed with this knowledge, making passata, chilli sauce, pickled cucumbers and sun-dried tomatoes are on his to-do list for 2018. These added value products should hopefully bring in more revenue and reward for this, to my mind at least, the hardest of jobs that produces the healthiest of foods.

Pamela Mason is a nutritionist and author, see sustainablediets.co.uk

 

 

 

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Rethinking food in Wales: a view from Cardiff

Submitted by Katie Palmer of Food Sense WalesFood Cardiff new

Food Sense Wales is a part of Cardiff & Vale Health Charity (registered charity number 1056544). It was born out of the work of Food Cardiff, a multi-award winning cross sector food partnership and member of the Sustainable Food Cities network, which aims to make healthy, affordable and sustainable food a defining feature of the city.

Food Sense Wales’ aim is to apply the knowledge, expertise and experience gained from Food Cardiff and stakeholders across the Welsh food chain, to help shape food policy that makes sense across the whole of the food system in Wales; to the economy, the nation’s health and the environment.

The scope of this inquiry is vast, ranging from local food production to Food Tourism. The evidence presented here is a series of “observations” informed by Food Cardiff/ Food Sense Wales’ practical experience over the last 3 years. Particular emphasis is placed on the fact that whatever aspect of food one is considering, it should not be looked at in isolation but as part of a system. Food Sense Wales is a member of the following organisations/networks/Programmes of work:

  • Food Cardiff Partnership, Sustainable Food Cities Network
  • Wales Food Poverty Alliance (see also separate submission from Oxfam Cymru)
  • Food and Drink Wales Industry Board
  • Peas Please Programme Board (Joint initiative led by Food Foundation to increase veg consumption).

The five observations are as follows:

  1. There is a lack of strategic “join up” across the policy areas that link food.
  2. Welsh Government’s strategic direction with regards to food and wellbeing across the life-course is inadequate.
  3. Food Poverty is a growing concern and there is no cohesive policy for monitoring or addressing it.
  4. There is no established Wales wide network or organisation bringing the shared experience of the Food System together to help inform policy.
  5. Brexit is fraught with challenges but Wales has the opportunity to develop a unique brand.

Download the full submission: Rethinking Food in Wales by Food Sense Wales

All submissions to the Consultation are now available to read here.

Rethinking food in Wales: linking food production and public health

Submission to the Assembly’s Rethinking food in Wales consultation, from Amber Wheeler,  University of South Wales and Peas Please Steering Committee

There is much good food work being done across Wales in terms of production, manufacturing, processing, brands, food poverty alleviation, community growing, food sustainability and more with many enthusiastic and successful stakeholders. However, there is more that can be done to enhance the food and drink sector, and particularly the food we eat, by adopting a more collaborative approach and adding to that work.

For many years I have been conducting doctoral research around a vision for a sustainable food system in Wales that is linked to fulfilling the health requirements of the nation. The particular focus of my research has been fruit and vegetables but I have learnt a lot, through extensive consultation and engagement, that can be applied across the food sector. I have found there is a lack of overall vision, lack of a plan and lack of an organisation and network to deliver a food secure and sustainable food system in Wales. Some key points : –

  1. It is clear from my research and the research of others, see particularly http://foodfoundation.org.uk/publication/force-fed/, that the food system, as it stands, is not enabling the population to eat as healthily as it should.
  2. Historically the approach has been to try and drive food system change through focussing mainly on the consumer, but this narrow focus has not been enough to drive change : –AW graphic 1
  3. What might be needed is a new systemic approach where food sustainability and public health issues are worked on by every aspect of the food system : –AW graphic 2
  4. This model needs exploring further in Wales. Through participatory doctoral research I became involved with the Food Foundation, Nourish Scotland, WWF-UK and Food Cardiff in organising national initiative called Peas Please to increase vegetable availability and increase consumption through supply chain collaboration. As a result of Peas Please, major stakeholders in the supply chain will be pledging to increase the availability of veg in the UK at summits held in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff on October 24th 2017. This initiative represents a test bed of a systemic approach to public health and sustainable food and yet it is being delivered in Wales by myself as a volunteer, and by Food Cardiff who are coming up against the limits of their capacity to deliver Wales wide work. Wales is missing a national food organisation.

To achieve a sustainable and secure food system in Wales it is clear that we need the following : –

  1. A Food Needs Assessment

We need to model the secure and sustainable food needs of the Welsh population. In relation to fruit and vegetables my research remains the only research to date, showing that there is a large deficit in terms of production and availability compared to public health requirements of the population. Fish and wholegrain needs would be an easy next step to analyse. Once secure and sustainable food needs have been established national aims can be set and actions generated.

  1. A Plan

We need a new ‘Sustainable Food For and From Wales Action Plan’ based on a Food Needs Assessment and the current Food and Drink Action Plan.

  1. An Organisation

Progress does not happen without a driving force. Scotland has Nourish Scotland http://www.nourishscotland.org/ and England has the Food Foundation http://foodfoundation.org.uk/ who are pushing forward these agendas with small, flexible teams. Wales does not have a national organisation, though Food Cardiff has been increasingly helping in this capacity. We need a national organisation, funded from central resources, as Nourish Scotland, which drives this agenda in tandem to the other nations.

  1. A Network

A national organisation will need to be backed up by a Wales Food Network where good practice can be shared and spread across the nation in an efficient way.

Without these steps progress is likely to be slow and disjointed. With these steps Wales has a really good chance of becoming a leading light in sustainable food and helping to ensure Wales has a thriving food sector as well as a healthy eating nation.

Amber Wheeler is working on a PhD at the University of South Wales and is on the steering committee of Peas Please. She is based in Pembrokeshire.

 

Rethinking food: a response from Paramaethu Cymru

Paramaethu Cymru, the Welsh arm of the Permaculture Association (Britain), has responded to the Assembly consultation on rethinking food in Wales. Here is the introduction and a link to the full article.

paramaethu logo1.1   Paramaethu Cymru is in contact with more than 500 individuals, families, groups and small businesses across Wales with interest in permaculture practices. They especially include growing food in healthy, sustainable ways. It also teaches design principles to people on courses, short or long, and easily understood, so that they are empowered to make earth-friendly, people-friendly choices in their lives.

2017-6-18 marquee with dog.jpg

Trafod dyfodol bwyd a ffermio – discussing the future of food and farming at a recent gathering

1.2   A permaculture approach requires careful design commencing with Survey and Analysis, so we welcome this survey and especially the fact that it requests referenced evidence rather than simply opinion. However, the short time scale given to it may not lead to thorough and inclusive bilingual responses, especially in these months when food producers are particularly busy.

1.3   Permaculture is guided by three ethics: Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share. Earth Care is implied in the issues you selected. A Permaculture approach is also guided by 12 principles, one of which is to integrate, rather than segregate. It results in a planning design which takes a holistic view, exploring interrelated outcomes, seeing our relationship with food as a web of connection to other factors (eg soil health, human health, biodiversity, social justice, employment, education, history and culture), as indicated by the 2015  Aberystwyth University Food Values project, and the 2009 IAASTD Agriculture at a Crossroads Global Report. Our response tries to explore some of those interconnections.

To download the full response, see Rethinking food – Paramaethu Cymru

A new economic framework

By Dr John Clements

The contemporary economic system has broken the vital relationship between Land, Food and People. There is a crucial need to renew the system that has produced this breakdown. Brexit represents a propitious historical moment to respond decisively to a range of critical issues relating to the disproportionate empowerment of corporations, landowners and shareholders—an empowerment that has come at the cost of our national health, the democratic concerns of systemic stakeholders and the legitimate expectations of land-workers, in particular.

The figure below models and critiques the current economic system, using three overlapping circles, representing Land, Food, People and the crucial overlaps between them, of production, consumption and participation.

land-food-people

Land

The vast majority of UK land is owned by a tiny minority of the UK population. Wealthy landowners include: aristocratic families, the Anglican Church, the military, the government, utility companies and financial institutions. As a result, most agricultural land forms part of large estates, inevitably effecting how it is managed. Just 2% is built upon. Put simply, land ownership is undemocratic because the general population, even rural dwellers (and particularly land workers) have practically zero influence over how UK land is utilised—such as how to appropriately respond to the housing crisis.

People

The UK population is increasingly urbanised, so that even those who live outside of towns are increasingly resourced by urban services (surgeries, hospitals, supermarkets, shops etc). It is also increasingly diseased: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer etc. Our national health system is pharmaceutical-centric, yet drugs are generally unsuited to curing chronic disease, root causes of which lie in diet, lifestyle and environmental factors, leading to lifelong prescriptions: good for pharmaceutical corporations, bad for patients.

Food

The basic problem with the food we eat is nutritional. Many people, including (actually, particularly) obese people, are undernourished. Consuming a surplus of calories, yet lacking an adequate intake of healthy nutrients. Furthermore, there is endemic, damaging confusion about the pros and cons of carbohydrate and fat. “Time-poverty” has led to a perceived need for convenience, leading to the availability, promotion and use of processed foods and subsequent deterioration in the social value of food and food preparation as an integral element of family life.

Consumption

The relationship between food and people is dominated by supermarkets. Supermarkets, like all corporations, are driven by the need to create shareholder profits. When corporations calculate their profits, they typically ignore large, un-costed ecological consequences. Despite ubiquitous TV programming, fresh food preparation is an increasingly lost art in many homes, as well as hospitals, care-homes and schools.

Production

Currently, food production is based largely on an intensive, industrialised model, which relies upon exploiting ecological resources, in unsustainable ways, such as those that lead to soil nutrient erosion, widespread use of chemical pesticides, livestock welfare issues, flora, fauna diversity loss, ecological destruction, erosion, flooding etc. These economic patterns have also contributed to a general loss of social, economic, cultural diversity in rural regions.

Participation

The link between land and people is essentially broken: a whole generation of young people lack understanding about food origins, whilst urbanised populations associate “countryside” primarily with recreational activities and believe that countryside issues should be left to farmers to resolve. As allotments have disappeared, the growing of vegetables—once a national pastime—is now considered “quaint” and irrelevant, despite our nationally importing about 40% of our food, raising important issues of “food sovereignty”.

Is systemic renewal possible?

There are reasons to be hopeful. Fresh, innovative perspectives are being informed by emerging research, highlighting formerly-overlooked issues. Useful examples include: Common Wealth, by Martin Large1, Blessed Unrest, by Paul Hawken2 and Doughnut Economics, by Kate Raworth. 3

The figure below models some primary elements that need to be addressed if the current economic system is to be renewed in favour of creating one more appropriately weighted towards the holistic needs of the general population, systemic stakeholders (everyone holding a stake in any particular system) and land-workers, in particular.

land-food-people-2

Production

By focussing economic rewards on marginal, small and family farms, it becomes possible to move steadily towards environmentally-sustainable means of production, such as organic, biodynamic and permaculture. Local food production and distribution can go hand-in-hand with allowing more people to live on the land—as envisaged by Wales’ innovative—but currently under-utilised—One Planet Policy.

Consumption

A renaissance in freshly prepared, local, organic food, based around authentic nutritional knowledge and use of local food produce, will allow the relationship between food and people to be restored. Nutritious, (chemical) pesticide-free and organic food will contribute to better health amongst populations that partake—of special relevance to schools, care-homes and hospitals.

Participation

As people become increasingly ecologically aware, the possibility exists to integrate rural and urban living more holistically than before. Innovative expression such as Food Assemblies—now over 900 existing around Europe—such as the one I am involved in pioneering in Llanelli, and Community Supported Agriculture schemes, such as Banc Organics, established in the marginal land of the Gwendraeth Valley, herald unique opportunities for participation, including volunteering, education and potentially significantly higher employment rates per hectare, compared to intensive farming.

Summary

In comparing two economic models, I’ve highlighted a series of critical issues relating to the contemporary system in relation to land, food and people.

  • The first model illustrates how the current system “distributes” wealth to shareholders and landowners. It is my contention that the current state of the UK economy and health of the population-at-large confirms that in this scenario, there are few winners and many losers.
  • The second model illustrates the potential for reimagining and “redistributing” economic empowerment to stakeholders and land-workers. A scenario, I would contend, with the potential to create many winners, few losers. Getting there will require not only innovative thinking—thankfully, there is much of it about—but more importantly, a great deal of determined, pioneering action, coupled with political liberation from the shackles of the contemporary system—if there is to be any hope of significant change.
  1. Common Wealth—For a free, equal, mutual and sustainable society, 2010, Hawthorn Press, Stroud.
  2. Blessed Unrest—How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, 2007, Penguin Group, New York.
  3. Doughnut Economics—Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist, 2017, Random House, London.

John Clements is based in Llanelli and writes at https://jbclements.wordpress.com

 

Scallop fishing in Cardigan Bay: sustainable or not?

By Jane Powell

It’s easy when talking about Welsh food and food security to forget that a significant part of what we produce comes not from the land, but from the sea that surrounds it. The Welsh fishing industry is small in scale, with little more than 400 vessels, most of them under 10m long. Combined with some marine aquaculture, the first sale value is £29m annually. But fishing in Wales has a historic, cultural and social significance, and in rural coastal villages where there are few jobs to retain young people, every small business counts.

Making sure that Welsh fisheries have a sustainable future is the work of the Welsh Fishermen’s Association (WFA). Although it is now funded by the Welsh Government, the WFA began as a voluntary organisation bringing together five regional fishermen’s associations who wanted to bring their traditional livelihood into alignment with the modern world of quotas and EU regulations. Its growth has been a personal quest for chief executive Jim Evans, a second-generation fisherman based at Aberporth near Cardigan, and his wife Carol.

The WFA works with Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales and fisheries scientists, combining the fishermen’s practical experience with modern scientific methods in order to shape fishing policy with an eye to the long-term future, as well as day to day profitability. One of their main objectives at present centres on the king scallop fishery in Cardigan Bay (so called to distinguish them from the smaller queen scallops which are caught around the Isle of Man) for which, in due course, the WFA hopes to obtain Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.

If the latest government proposals for the management of the fishery come into force, then according to a recent pre-assessment report by consultants MRAG, Welsh scallops should meet the requirements for the MSC label. This is accepted as the gold standard for sustainable fisheries and already held by scallops from the Isle of Man and Shetland. The label, the WFA hopes, could mean interest from supermarkets, investment in processing facilities and a secure market for a healthy product that contributes to the economic and social wellbeing of coastal villages.

“At present, Welsh scallops are taken to Cornwall, Ireland and northwest England for processing and export,” says Jim. “We want to keep that added value in Wales, and we also want people to value Welsh seafood as a healthy part of our diet, and of our culture. We care about our coastal communities and our traditional way of life, and that’s why we have tried so hard to ensure a sustainable outcome.”

There is a problem, though. The scallops in Cardigan Bay, although sometimes gathered by divers, are usually harvested by towing a rigid structure with a chainmail collection bag along the seabed, a process known as dredging. This has attracted strong criticism from environmental groups concerned about damage to the seafloor ecosystem. The controversy centres around the EU-designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC) near Newquay, where seabed features such as reefs and sandbanks, as well as a population of bottlenose dolphins, earned it protected status in the early 2000s.

Concerns were first raised in 2008, when growth in the local scallop population together with scallop fishery closures elsewhere in the UK led to a spike in fishing activity in Cardigan Bay, attracting boats from far afield. In response, environmental groups alerted the European Commission and the Welsh Government temporarily closed most of the SAC to scallop dredging. Now only one small part is open, from November to April each year, subject to annual assessment.

After that experience, the WFA convened the first meeting of the Scallop Strategy Group made up of Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales, Bangor University scientists, the seafood authority Seafish and fishermen. Its task was to collaborate on extensive new research into the fishery, including seabed mapping, studies of the impact of different fishing intensities and trials of technology to monitor the use of dredging gear.

This led in 2016 to proposed new management measures that are now being considered by a new government-led group. This includes environmental organizations and will in due course form an advisory board to monitor a future fishery. The new Measures will involve limiting both the annual catch and the amount of seabed disturbance, as well as monitoring fishing activity and avoiding certain areas altogether, and it is this which will be the route to the MSC label.

The controversy that was sparked in 2008 has not gone away, however. Environmental groups (who were not included in the Scallop Strategy Group because NRW was present as statutory conservation advisor), would still like to see a complete ban on dredging in the SAC. They argue that the Bangor study did not take into account damage that had already been done by fishing, and that a fairer approach would have been to use a pristine area of seabed as a reference point. They also point out the value to tourism of the dolphins, and fear that they may be affected by the dredging.

The debate about the scallops of Cardigan Bay raises many questions, and one of the most important has to do with the decision-making process itself. In a world where nearly every aspect of human life has some impact on the natural world, people will always disagree about where the limits are to be set, and compromise is inevitable. How do we do that in a way that hears everyone’s concerns, honours the complexity of the situation and allows a shared understanding to emerge? Wales has the Well-being of Future Generations Act which places a requirement on government to collaborate with business and civil society on these important matters, but we are only just beginning to find out what this means in practice.

Jim is clear on the WFA’s position. “We have always maintained that decisions about the scallop and any other fishery in Wales must be evidence-based. We understood the risk of participating in the Bangor study, because there was no guarantee of payment for the month-long experimental fishery and we had to cover vessel costs from the scallops we harvested, and of course we knew that the scientific evidence could have concluded that scallop dredging wouldn’t work in Cardigan Bay. We continued with the research because we are passionate about maintaining our fishing communities and the mixed fisheries on which they depend.  I am delighted that seven years work has resulted in early indications that we are on course to meet MSC certification requirements.

“Unless we all agree to abide by the evidence and the democratic and regulatory processes, how can we have a proper debate? It becomes a battle of opinions and that is no way to decide our futures.”

Jane Powell is a freelance educator and writer active in local food matters in Aberystwyth.   She writes here and on her own site, www.foodsociety.wales