Pro­duce, pro­duce ev­ery­where, but not a thing to buy. With su­per­mar­kets dom­i­nat­ing the sup­ply chain, ac­cess to lo­cally grown food is of­ten hardest in more re­mote rural ar­eas. Now, grow­ers are fight­ing back with cre­ative ways to con­nect cus­tomers to their f

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - Words by rachael oak­den

Many grow­ers are now de­vel­op­ing cre­ative ways to bring fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles to mar­ket for cus­tomers to buy di­rect in rural ar­eas

IT’S SUN­DAY MORN­ING IN IL­FRA­COMBE, DEVON, and the Las­ton Green com­mu­nity veg­etable patch is buzzing with fam­i­lies who have come out to en­joy the early spring sun­shine. While chil­dren get busy in the out­door ‘mud kitchen’, their par­ents set to work tend­ing raised beds, har­vest­ing leeks and parsnips, and ex­am­in­ing au­tumn-planted gar­lic and broad beans. Sun­flow­ers, toma­toes and peas are pot­ted in the shed; let­tuce and radish seeds are sown in the poly­tun­nel. A re­tired gar­dener digs horse ma­nure into the heavy clay soil while a new vol­un­teer lights the large camp­ing ‘Kelly ket­tle’ to make tea for ev­ery­one. When the ses­sion is over, ev­ery­one helps them­selves to the pile of leeks and parsnips while some pick bay and sage leaves to liven up their Sun­day roasts.

“I al­ways wanted to grow food with my chil­dren, but my gar­den is too steep,” says Lind­say Der­byshire, who spends ev­ery Sun­day at Las­ton Green with her three chil­dren, aged two, six and nine. “Il­fra­combe is so hilly – a flat gar­den is rare – and many of the huge Vic­to­rian houses are con­verted into flats, so there’s lit­tle grow­ing space.” While the quar­ter-acre patch of former waste­land pro­vides Lind­say and her fel­low gar­den­ers with a place to grow veg­eta­bles and share knowl­edge – without re­quir­ing the time com­mit­ment that pri­vately rented al­lot­ments would de­mand – it’s also a lively gath­er­ing

It’s an irony of rural life that you can be sur­rounded by fields but still de­pend on su­per­mar­kets for your veg­etable sup­ply

space, bring­ing gen­er­a­tions to­gether. “A play­group comes ev­ery Wed­nes­day; the scouts turn up reg­u­larly in sum­mer; adults from a sup­ported hous­ing de­vel­op­ment have their own bed,” she says. “On some days we can have 20 fam­i­lies here; it has had a pos­i­tive ef­fect on the whole com­mu­nity.”


Lind­say helps run Las­ton Green as a vol­un­teer for In­cred­i­ble Ed­i­ble Il­fra­combe, one of 120 projects born from the In­cred­i­ble Ed­i­ble move­ment that first took root in Tod­mor­den, West York­shire. It be­gan in 2007 with a kitchen-ta­ble con­ver­sa­tion about us­ing food as a com­mon lan­guage to en­cour­age stronger com­mu­ni­ties. Ac­tivists started plant­ing herbs, fruit and veg­eta­bles in road­side verges, car-park flowerbeds and ne­glected high-street planters – which any­one could then pick for free. Soon tow­paths, ceme­ter­ies and pub­lic spa­ces all over the mar­ket town were sprout­ing, along­side an in­ter­est in ‘pro­pa­ganda gar­den­ing’ that has now spread as far as North Amer­ica, New Zealand and Ja­pan.

“The idea of fly­ing beans half­way round the planet is bark­ing mad,” says In­cred­i­ble Ed­i­ble co-founder Pam Warhurst, with the same en­gag­ing blunt­ness she uses to con­vince lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to hand over re­dun­dant land for com­mu­nal grow­ing. No one who cares about their diet, en­vi­ron­ment or lo­cal econ­omy could dis­agree with her: food sourced close to home is fresher, costs fewer food miles and keeps lo­cal pro­duc­ers in busi­ness. Yet in small towns and rural ar­eas without the pop­u­la­tion size to sup­port reg­u­lar farm­ers’ mar­kets, for ex­am­ple, such pro­duce can be hard to come by. It’s an irony of mod­ern rural life that you can be sur­rounded by fields but still have to de­pend on su­per­mar­kets, and of­ten im­ported goods, for your veg­etable sup­ply.

The ob­vi­ous solution is to grow your own, although many of us lack the skills, time and land. That’s why more com­mu­ni­ties are em­brac­ing the idea of get­ting to­gether with like-minded peo­ple to share re­sources. Com­mu­ni­ties such as the ex-min­ing vil­lages sur­round­ing the Na­tional Trust es­tate of Gib­side in Tyne and Wear, where Mick Marston and his fel­low grow­ers cul­ti­vate pota­toes, onions and sea­sonal veg­eta­bles in a cor­ner of the 18th-cen­tury walled gar­den. “I wanted to eat lo­cally pro­duced food, but it wasn’t be­ing grown in this area,”

“The di­rect re­la­tion­ship be­tween farmer and cus­tomer benefits ev­ery­one, and many schemes of­fer so­cial benefits”

says Mick, a founder mem­ber of the Gib­side Com­mu­nity Farm, whose 25 mem­bers pay £52 per year for a share of the crop – and do their share of the spade­work. “It’s a so­cial ac­tiv­ity, too: we en­joy work­ing to­gether.”

Gib­side Com­mu­nity Farm is one of about 100 ex­am­ples of lo­cal food projects in the UK fol­low­ing the com­mu­nity sup­ported agri­cul­ture (CSA) model. Im­ported from the US, the CSA move­ment is about tak­ing on both the risks and re­wards of farm­ing: the schemes typ­i­cally in­volve mem­bers com­mit­ting to buy a pro­por­tion of the har­vest, and while some are ini­ti­ated by pro­duc­ers – not only veg­etable grow­ers but also bak­ers and livestock farm­ers – many are set up by com­mu­ni­ties seek­ing an af­ford­able source of eth­i­cal, trace­able food.

“The di­rect re­la­tion­ship be­tween farmer and cus­tomer benefits ev­ery­one,” says Maresa Bos­sano, co­or­di­na­tor of the Uk-wide CSA Net­work, which of­fers ad­vice and men­tor­ing to new and ex­ist­ing schemes. “The farmer has a re­li­able source of in­come and the cus­tomer has ac­cess to af­ford­able, re­spon­si­bly grown food. Many schemes in­vite mem­bers to help on the land, too, which of­fers so­cial benefits and ex­er­cise.” MAR­KET SHARE

Not all CSA schemes in­volve get­ting your hands dirty, though, and not all com­mu­nity-sup­ported grow­ing projects are based on crop-share. In Cum­bria’s Eden Val­ley, for ex­am­ple, the 155 box-scheme mem­bers who re­ceive Vista Veg’s weekly de­liv­er­ies do not take a risk – the scheme guar­an­tees a set quan­tity of pro­duce. How­ever, they do sup­port a small co­op­er­a­tive of lo­cal grow­ers who pro­duce en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly sea­sonal sal­ads and veg­eta­bles and de­liver them on the day they’re picked. “I don’t un­der­stand why you would buy Span­ish cour­gettes from a su­per­mar­ket when some­one is grow­ing them down the road,” says founder Lynn Barnes, who was an am­a­teur grower when she started Vista Veg eight years ago as a way of sell­ing sur­plus pro­duce from her gar­den in the

vil­lage of Crosby Ravensworth. “Buy­ing from lo­cal grow­ers also keeps your pound in the lo­cal econ­omy.”

The co-op has just taken over a farm shop out­side Pen­rith, en­abling even more cus­tomers to sup­port an en­ter­prise that also gen­er­ates green en­ergy, makes biodiesel, leads gar­den­ing clubs in schools and runs beginners’ grow-your-own days. It’s the sort of ini­tia­tive that ev­ery vil­lage would love on its doorstep. But even without the phys­i­cal pres­ence of a shop or shared grow­ing space, com­mu­ni­ties de­ter­mined to ac­cess lo­cal food are find­ing new ways for­ward.


In the For­est of Dean, for ex­am­ple, the Dean For­est Food Hub has har­nessed the po­ten­tial of on­line shop­ping to cre­ate a vir­tual farm­ers’ mar­ket. Be­gun four years ago as a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween lo­cal res­i­dents and mem­bers of a com­mu­nity of eco-war­riors, the hub of­fers a wide choice of food from lo­cal farm­ers, bak­ers, butch­ers, cof­fee roast­ers, cheese­mak­ers, honey pro­duc­ers and jam mak­ers; cus­tomers col­lect weekly food boxes from a net­work of pick-up points. A sim­i­lar ser­vice is avail­able in some mar­ket towns and cities from The Food As­sem­bly (foodassem­, a na­tion­wide so­cial en­ter­prise com­pany. “Peo­ple who buy from us tell us that they are go­ing to su­per­mar­kets far less of­ten,” says Ju­dith Wil­liams, a vol­un­teer mem­ber of the work­ers’ co-op­er­a­tive that runs the hub. Its 150 reg­u­lar shop­pers can lend fur­ther sup­port by vol­un­teer­ing as pack­ers or join­ing monthly gar­den­ing days. But even those just log­ging on for a weekly bread and ba­con or­der are con­tribut­ing to the slow-burn­ing food rev­o­lu­tion that In­cred­i­ble Ed­i­ble en­vis­ages.

“The more you sup­port lo­cal pro­duc­ers, the more you make lo­cal food prof­itable and cre­ate a vir­tu­ous cy­cle that leads to more lo­cal grow­ing,” Pam Warhurst says. Be­fore sow­ing a seed or be­gin­ning an on­line search for the near­est CSA scheme, the eas­i­est first step we could all take would be to sup­port mar­kets in your area, she adds. “They are the nat­u­ral place for grow­ers to take their pro­duce yet they’re strug­gling all over the coun­try be­cause they don’t have multi-mil­lion-pound ad­ver­tis­ing bud­gets. Vi­brant mar­kets cre­ate a buzz around lo­cally grown food. Stim­u­lated by the shar­ing of skills and bet­ter ac­cess to land, that can in­spire the grow­ers of to­mor­row and build a dif­fer­ent food econ­omy.”

ABOVE Volunteers learn new gar­den­ing skills and get to take home the pro­duce they’ve grown

ABOVE Lo­cal grow­ing ar­eas can be hugely ben­e­fi­cial to com­mu­ni­ties and help to bring gen­er­a­tions to­gether

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