Our successors Glebelands City Growers and our old site appear in shining form in the short film below.Put together by the Kindling Trust it shows a number of intiatives/schemes underway across Manchester, well south Manchester at least. Good to see Unicorn still blooming and hawkeyes will see prices remain keen. Chorlton the district at the centre of much food activity is hardly typical of the wider city, never mind the UK, but it is important to show that it doesn't have to be Tesco and other big box dross. Much of the rest of Manchester suffers a New Labour laissez-faire regime,strong influence from developers such as Peel Holdings and a belief that more shopping =an economy!
The better food and pub/bar situation in Chorlton is a big part of the area's popularity, certainly not the case when Unicorn opened in 1996.A downside has seen house prices reaching the highest in the city and the city council desperate to get a new supermarket site developed, despite continuing significant local opposition. The big issues such as transport, technical innovation, energy usage and planning remain as stark in Chorlton as anywhere else. Grassroots dynamism as above we can only hope leads to replacement of the current civic non-leadership.
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House refurbishment! At times it seems endless and has certainly kept us away from our new growing site so far.We now have our machinery and equipment here thanks to the excellent Wilcox Transport and merely letting the existing grass cover continue ungrazed has seen some improvement.
The previously "poached" (=cattle trampled) and patchy surface has grown into thick sward with roots that will be burrowing down letting fresh air in and boosting biological activity. Clover has established itself in quite a few areas and the badger and fox runs look busy. The challenge next Spring may well be to turn old pasture into fertile soil in reasonable timescale, without explosions of cutworms/wireworms/docks or couch grass. We shall see.
Our work at the Riverside Market Garden Coed Hills site has been reasonably successful with hefty yields on most crops.The new box scheme running in Cardiff has certainly not lacked supply and some restuarant takeup has been gratifying.
The hot conditions proved challenging in June/July but established crops thrived in the high light levels. Ltd water stopped one or two crops in their tracks. David Brown (a 1290 this time, owned by Dai a local contractor) proved decisive once again in getting ground prepared and crops in. The green manure cover sown on the main field area was a close run thing as a few decades of Docks and Thistle seeds return to the fray after laying dormant all through the dry Summer.
The site located within a larger intentional community (www.coedhills.co.uk) may prove ideal for a recent apprentice or new grower in due course. Let us know if of interest.
In the wider world we continue to wrestle (enthusiastically!) with Welsh language structure and all those vowels and are looking at Clastir as a translation of "Glebelands".
Attempts continue by several organisations to unify Welsh horticulture but as elsewhere supermarket operators dominate supply to the public. As elsewhere also it is hard to judge the success of intiatives by independents. CSAs and farm shops feature sporadically although the lottery funded mishmash of community food projects seen in England is absent (free coastal lime dust course for anyone who can define what a community food project is).
A commercial outlook for food producers seems critical and the old Daily Bread/Unicorn adage of there being no social agenda without profits to fund it seems as true as ever. While Organic growers struggle against supermarket competition in many locations there often seems a mood of some defensiveness and fear of more hostile media coverage.
This seems perverse when most informed writing on land use points at organic production systems as highly necessary. We have plenty of content and facts to convey but lack of sales clout seems to undermine conviction in delivering them.
It is sobering to think how a conventional marketeer might weigh up the respective attributes of conventional versus organic produce when considering either for a campaign. Assuming a typically close price differential, one is regulated, traceable and attempts long-term yield. The other looks the same but offers no credible production standard,could easily taste less favourably and will contain residues with names that sound scary to people. One product has lot more saleable content than the other.
Beyond the ebbs, whims and agribusiness hostility a continuing public demand doesn't seem so surprising. Understated but firm and honest marketing=credibility in the long run. It is interesting that Unicorn Grocery organic veg sales remain pretty steady after 2 years of volatility in supermarkets and elsewhere.
Control of retail space or any route to the public is a difficult issue, the product and sentiments surely are not. Now seems a very appropriate time to be talking about nitrate fertiliser, herbicide residues and GM crusading in the 3rd world. While immediate acceptance may not be achieved these issues are at hand and organic growers are as informed as anybody to be speaking forth.....
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In fact the seaside,as it is more saline than fresh water at the mouth of the River Teifi.
We have now bought a 6 acre parcel of land, close to our base in St.Dogmaels, N.Pembrokeshire but also effectively alongside the town of Cardigan. The new site is mild with great views if not really the optimum south facing aspect. Overgrazing and removal of fertility means there will be some work and time rebuilding soil structure and life.
Obtaining suitable land for horticulture is difficult against competing uses for horses,recreation,development,grazing,etc with little recognition or protection for it as an important land use. Prices have also continued a steady climb, although historically cheap, most yields in farming would not meet the land cost at present. The price reflects speculative buying and future prices. Common usage of 1 year periods for rented land is also very unhelpful for growers, as we need long-term systems and security.
So what are we up to aside from admiring the beautiful surroundings here? Some significant house renovations are eating time and cash, but improving our understanding of stone built structures. We committed to getting the new Riverside Market Garden site, www.riversidemarketgarden.co.uk, off the ground in March. This is based in the scenic Coed Hills near Cowbridge,Vale of Glamorgan, the traditional supply area for nearby Cardiff.
While start-ups on virgin sites are rare in any area of farming market gardens are rarer still. This is a brave and timely venture at a time when there is recognition of then need to restart fresh food growing near to settlements but precious few examples so far. The site is ex-pasture land requiring recharging of organic matter and soil quality but benefits from mild SW winds and southerly aspect.
Wales, and to a lesser extent Scotland,have Governments working at a better horticulture sector than present. Their interest also makes DEFRA's work in England like that of a rogue laissez-faire state.
Two significant, if expensively funded, projects are running in Wales looking at supply chains and trying to suggest improvements.The situation now is pretty much all veg leaves Wales to go via a supermarket depot in England back to Welsh stores.The independent sector is limited with the Riverside Markets in Cardiff a rare exception. Nothing vaguely resembling a Unicorn style shop exists. Several shops we've seen might justify a call to trading standards to halt their unfresh sales.
Most significantly there is a horticulture strategy for Wales to improve the situation. Whether this will address any policy issues may determine how far there is progress more than short term subsidy of growing.
The powers the Welsh Assembly have particularly over planning law may also be limiting but some suggestions below to stimulate the sector and fresh food volumes;
Reduce 3 hectare holding size qualification for support payments (but qualify as active horticulltural use Eg no horses onsite)
Provide guidance to planning officers on dealing with polytunnel applications ie will they be commercial, productive and wind appropriate rather just aesthetics
Immediate application of secure section 106 agreements enforcing agricultural ties on all smallholding type properties
Regulatory guidance for onsite composting applications, to recognise nutrient reuse rather than waste processing
Standardised crate format adopted
Recognition and protection of productive areas with mild weather and viable soils, ie no covering in concrete
Local authority obligation to provide allotment sites taken seriously
Establish a basic tec and agronomy support service at Organic Centre Wales or similar
Apprenticeship scheme for horticulture restarted
The dire retail situation might be improved with a number of measures;
Charging business rates on supermarket car parks
Mandatory labelling of all produce with country of origin at point of sale
Assumption that out of town applicants will fail
Apply walking test from existing centre for change of use applicants ie do they support the town centre
Free short term parking in town centres
Recognition that oil and fuel costs really are going to go up a lot
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We are finally moving to SW Wales after a protracted period trying to find a suitable home and land. The latter part we are still finalising but we do have a beautiful house with Teifi Otters for neighbours.
In the wider world much remains the same with frantic money printing, growth is the only show in town, etc, all predicated on oil remaining cheap enough, forever? Some real cost increases have arrived in the UK and the west but most peole have not been significantly affected so far. The most common reaction appears to be economising on fresh food, big ticket items and socialising with enforced credit restrictions quietly working away in the background. A wealthy but sizeable minority are perhaps little affected. Money printing is diluting savings/pensions (robbing the less nimble?) but also debt such that many mortgage holders suddenly found they had more income!
Discussion around a more resilient UK are progressing slowly with imagery of muddy smallholdings populated by a pig and some hens not helping.The big issues of nutrients, soil, fuels, climate, water are not well understood popularly. More serious output from Tim Lang and others may not be enough to persuade a public not particularly ready for Dig For Victory II just yet. An oil "lifeboat" of $150/barrel or above might be the only real stimulus to action,lets hope it arrives soon.
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