Growing community resilienceJuly 1, 2020
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In CAT’s home in the Dyfi Biosphere an inspiring new project has emerged as part of the community response to coronavirus. Simon Griffiths explores how growers are working together to help build more a resilient and sustainable food system.
Years of innovative work by various local organisations, projects, growers and vendors, including Mach Maethlon (Edible Mach), the Fresh and Local producers’ coop, and more recently CAT’s own MSc Sustainable Food and Natural Resources, mean that the Dyfi Biosphere is well prepared to lead the conversation around local food production.
Planna Fwyd! (Plant Food!) is a new group established in conjunction with Mach Maethlon and the Machynlleth Coronavirus Community Response group, with a remit to increase local food production and strengthen the resilience of the Dyfi Biosphere’s food economy.
The panic buying and empty supermarket shelves that greeted the opening stages of the COVID-19 pandemic woke a lot of people up to the reality that our global food chains are increasingly vulnerable. Planna Fwyd! came about as a result of this surge of interest in growing food and they quickly established an amazing variety of projects and schemes to help the local area to feed itself in the coming years.
Education is key, and Planna Fwyd! is providing a range of resources to help growers. A webpage offers lots of useful information and online growing courses for home growers, whilst a weekly online video conference provides the opportunity for peer-to-peer field-scale knowledge exchange. A virtual seed and seedling swap, the Tyfu Dyfi (Grow Dyfi) Family Seed Pack project, has distributed 200 packs to local families, each of which included growing instructions drawn by local school children.
The practical side of growing field-scale veg for the local community is a major aim. One Planna Fwyd! project has so far helped to bring eight new plots of land into use for veg growing, including an area of the CAT site, while another has established a Land Army and organised volunteer workdays on local farms.
Students, graduates and staff from CAT have been involved in many of these initiatives. A community compost group has been set up with help from CAT Natural Resources Water Officer Fin Jordao, who says: “We want to make soil together, close organic cycle loops and cut transport miles!” The group will develop a patchwork of different composting styles and ingredients, focusing on local materials such as bracken and wool.
Helen Freudenberg, a CAT MSc Sustainability and Adaptation graduate, is working on resources for growers, digital media and administration. She’s found Planna Fwyd! to be a positive and vital response to the current situation.
Chris Jackson, permaculturist and CAT Masters student, has helped local grower Kate Fenhalls expand her market garden at Melindwr Farm. This has involved assistance from Hamish, a local working horse, who has harrowed and ridged a quarter acre in preparation for planting potatoes.
There’s no doubt that challenges remain: supermarket food is unnaturally cheap and yet food poverty remains a major issue, veg growers find it difficult to access land, and there’s a real lack of financial support from the government for small producers. But with several articles in the national mainstream press focusing on this flourishing local economy, it’s hoped these lessons from the Dyfi Biosphere can provide inspiration for other communities, and furthermore that such developments and conversations can pressure the authorities to provide meaningful support for small food producers.
And perhaps the most important role in these entwined and mutually beneficial relationships is the one that many of us can play. Whether or not we have the time and energy to sign up to join local growing schemes, we can support our local food producers wherever possible. We can buy their produce and we can buy it for a fair price. After all, it’s only through earning a living wage that these producers will be able to continue putting food on our plates.
About the author
Simon Griffiths is a writer, poet and chef who is part of the Planna Fwyd! project. His short stories, essays and poems have appeared in various publications, including Unthology, Sarai and Lumpen. He is currently writing a poetry pamphlet focused on the catering industry.
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