By Duncan Fisher
In Monmouthshire and the Brecon Beacons, we have started to build a new local food economy. The undertaking is vast but the best way to achieve it is to start. Launched on 30 March this year, local community benefit society Our Food 1200 / Ein Bwyd 1200 is searching for 1200 acres of land for local small-scale regenerative horticulture; 1200 acres would be enough to feed every household in the region with seasonal vegetables.
An appeal went out to landowners to make land available for horticulture. In the first week, 21 offers of land were received. Once all these are assessed and profiled online, the search for growers can begin. All over the UK, skilled growers are looking for land to grow on and we would like them to come here. Working with the local regenerative horticulture training course at Black Mountains College, we will also nurture a new generation of growers from among young people raised here.
The aim is, over 10 years, to rebuild a vibrant local economy, serving additionally the nearby towns and cities of Cardiff, Newport, Bristol and Hereford, so that all local farmers can access new markets that pay better prices and offer them and buyers more security. And keeping local ownership of the supply chain, means profits are kept ‘near the roots’. Local trading builds community.
Some 75 people attended the online launch event, including representatives from Public Health Wales, Monmouthshire County Council, Powys County Council, Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, Tyfu Cymru, Black Mountains College and the National Trust.
Speakers included landowners who have already leased land to successful horticulture enterprises, such as John Morris in Crickhowell. John leased land to Katherine and David Langton to create the farm pictured above. Speaking about his experience, he said: “It’s not a new concept: farmers have always rented out their land. But renting land for horticulture is a bigger commitment because of the infrastructure change that’s required with polytunnels and so on.”
Local land agent, Stewart Waters of DJ&P Newland Rennie, said “most farmers have that small parcel of land – 2-5 acres – that’s not entirely suited to the rest of their farming system. I can see that a young and enthusiastic grower could bring a completely different dynamic to a farmer’s life. And of course it’s providing what is these days a very scarce opportunity for young farmers and new entrants to get a start.”
Catherine Mealing-Jones, CEO of the Brecon Beacons National Park, pledged support. “We’ve got huge potential in this area and in surrounding communities to feed ourselves and others with the best-quality, local seasonal produce. But we’ve got to start doing something quite fundamentally different. We are expected to offer the Brecon Beacons National Park as a test bed for the thinking that will shape future policy. And I really believe that if we work together, we can make the changes that we want to see.”
For more on this project, watch the discussion at the Wales Real Food and Farming Conference last November, where Duncan spoken in a panel with Prof Tim Lang, Monmouthshire RDP Manager Michael Powell and farmer Peter Greig.
Duncan lives in the Brecon Beacons and is leading the Our Food 1200 project with Sue Holbrook. He is a campaigner for sustainability and also, with another hat on, for child welfare.
Image: Tim Jones/As You See it Media.