Pathways to Farming – strengthening the local food economyMay 22, 2019
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One year into the Pathways to Farming project, Coordinator Katie Hastings gives a run down on the work being done to strengthen the local food economy in Machynlleth.
When we designed our project Pathways to Farming, we had a vision to see everyone in the Dyfi Valley eating food grown in the Dyfi Valley. A seemingly humble yet crucial piece of the jigsaw for a sustainable future. With funding from the Rural Development Programme (European Social Fund) and a great deal of support through our partnership with CAT, we have set about teaching our 13 trainees about commercial sustainable food production.
Under the guidance of our food production mentor Emma Maxwell, our trainees have taken part in classes on soil health, business planning, crop rotation and scaling up for sale. Inspired by other ‘farm start’ projects, our training programme has been geared towards helping these growers to earn a future livelihood in what is a notoriously difficult business to break even in. While we know that our fledging food producers will have to compete with cheap imported food and subsidised large scale agriculture, we also know that the food they will be producing will be crucial to the future food resilience of our community.
Having spent the winter months preparing our ‘microfarm’ sites – one at CAT, one at a local market garden and one in Newtown – our trainees are now ready to start testing their business ideas. Ideas range from small scale grain production to children’s vegetable dips to a new veg box scheme, our trainees have written business plans and are sowing seeds for harvest later in the year.
Possible markets for locally grown food
While we know that we need to increase food being produced locally, we also know that we need to find tangible markets for this food to be sold into. Armed with the understanding that it is very difficult to persuade customers to buy local when that means paying more and eating seasonally, we have been meeting with food businesses around the town. What we found is not what we expected, local cafes and restaurants are more than ready to support their local growers by paying a fairer price and pre planning menu’s to include seasonal fluctuation. A wider understanding of the importance of ecologically grown food is fuelling a demand for local produce and businesses are ready to step up.
What we have found lacking in the local food economy is systems for businesses to buy the local produce they want. While growers are busy working the land, buyers don’t know how to connect with their crops. We have been working with a group of existing local food producers on setting up a small pilot sellers coop. Using the software provided by the Open Food Network, producers will be able to easily display their produce in an online shop and market their food collectively. At the moment this pilot sellers coop will be aimed at selling to a limited number of hospitality businesses. We hope that as local food production increases, so will the scope for new customers.
Partnerships with local chefs
We have also been working to build partnerships between growers and chefs, offering chefs the chance to effectively have their own kitchen garden by influencing the crops and flavours a grower produces for them. These partnerships provide the growers with much needed pre commitments to buy, and enable them to better communicate with their customers about weather fluctuations and unavoidable changes to harvests. We hope that these partnerships will be lasting and will offer a better model than the simple capitalist transaction.
Building a resilient local food economy
With all this work to build better markets for locally produced food in Machynlleth, we hope to provide more fertile ground for our trainees to start selling food. Step by step we are hoping to build the foundations for a more resilient local food economy that can weather the storms of climate change and global food price fluctuation. Our work will continue to be funded until the end of 2020 and applications are currently being accepted for a new intake of trainees in September 2019. We continue to work with businesses wanting to support their local food producers and test new selling models.