Bishopston Murton and Manselfield was and should be again part of Gower’s food growing heritage. Numerous market gardens thrived and fed local people through supplying local markets and in turn created livelihoods for thousands of people. We must set up this local food growing system again in a short window of time to mitigate the coming food crisis.
What Crisis you may ask?
A food crop of any kind requires adequate doses of fertility, sunshine and rainfall for a bountiful harvest. In the UK due to climate change rainfall patterns are changing. According to our own government research from Cranfield university (contained in the Climate Risks Assessment 2 Evidence Report) and Exeter University the most serious risk from climate change is the loss of half to three quarters of the best arable land (grade1,2 and 3a); in current crop production areas of the South and Eastern England and Scotland. We also checked this with Dr Iain Brown of Dundee University one of our leading Climate Scientists and coordinator of government climate reports. In effect some of the best cereal growing land due to drying and lack of dependable water supply for use on farms will no longer be able to bring crops to harvest. Imported food cannot be relied on as growers abroad will be facing the same issues as we are. Last summer was evident of this trend where we experienced a global summer drought.
We will need to grow more food locally but how do we do this? We cannot rely on artificial fertilizers and pesticides which use natural gas in their production due to the emissions, cost and availability: Russia is the biggest producer. GMO crops require harmful herbicides and are not the panacea frequently proclaimed. The issue of food security is not high enough on the agenda of government at all levels but what manifests proportionate and precautionary food policy now?
If we do the basic sums as our friends in Brecon Beacons have done as part of the Our food 1200 project we see that Swansea would need over 3000 acres of market gardens for very localised food production in its peri-urban districts. An estimate (on the low side) is that one person is required per acre to farm in a regenerative organic method. How do we make these numbers happen before food insecurity and potential famine dictates before it is too late. How will these people be trained, organised and access land for growing and living on? These are some of the questions Climate and Community a registered charity which leases a small field in Manselfield have been working on in detail.
In 2017 we set up an environmental educational charity after over 20 years learning, researching and setting up practical rural skills training projects aimed at providing a pathway for young people into sustainable rural skills. Coppice management, hedge laying, willow basket making and many ancillary skills were our main area. Later we worked with Ed Revill in Murton and learnt his pioneering methods using woodchip as a growing substrate for vegetable production. With the aid of fungal association in no dig beds; vegetable production and nutrient density are maximized by a chip based brown earth soil which draws down stable soil carbon. There are many forms of no till regenerative farming methods and this is just one of them however on a strategic level this growing system is beneficial because it requires no artificial fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. However it does require a steady supply of woodchip, the most sustainable would be from the management of coppice (some exists already in the area but we need to plant much more). It is only the waste branchy material which would be needed for woodchip, the small round wood timber would be a valuable resource in itself. This closed system would need trained people to plant new coppice and bring into rotation existing neglected coppice as well as set up no dig market gardens.
The charity has been setting up a demonstration plot with volunteer workers in Murton. We began on the field in 2020, got hit by COVID restrictions for 2 years but we are now recovering enough to have capacity to start setting up the site infrastructure and create a portable skills school. This is to enable volunteers to work, train and volunteer on the field. The project is based on another important practical example in history the ‘Civilian Conservation Corps’ which was part of the New Deal in 1930’s America. The aim is to grow a food growing, woodland management hub which produces trained young people, a demonstration plot for others to learn from and most importantly food: fruit and vegetables we can sell at local markets. The charity is part of the current environmental networks in Swansea such as Swansea Environmental Forum, Swansea Climate Action Network and 4the Region. However this is not easy and we are all volunteers working with very limited resources. We need all the support from local people, community council and county council to have a chance of making this work. Currently planning policy is a major barrier to new entrants starting out in agriculture of any kind which is not attached to an existing farm head. Our set up does not have any need for permanent development. The skills camp is designed to work on an itinerary of work sites using military shelters and Mongolian yurts very low impact and locally made. It is quite exemplary for low fossil fuel use. This is a genuine response to the climate risks facing us and an attempt to help in overcoming the impending food crisis.
If you would like to know more, help, volunteer, donate please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org