This workshop contained three interlinked talks about local food growing initiatives.
Steve Jones from Bolton said words to the effect of “I should be one of the most pessimistic because of where I live but it’s the opposite.” What a fresh voice. Stories from Bolton Urban Growers, Sow and Grow and Community Roots all tell the tale of the positive impact of growing. He reminded us in the 50’s and 60’s the working class was very skilled but consumerism, access to credit and ultimate debt has led to a loss of skills, unaffordable organic food, and stuck in habits that perpetuate the cycle of food poverty. Access to good quality food for all was his aspiration. He spoke of the benefits of local growing to heal wounds and divisions between different ethnic and other groups who “don’t get on”. He qualifies the known fact that growing food helps recovering addicts from his direct experience. Permaculture is delivered in a non intellectual way. He describes his own garden on the estate, as a means of propaganda; hops are trained across the garden, examples of edible and medicinal flowers and productive veg and fruit areas are demonstration pieces. He invites people around and they have a good time he says but the garden is a means of showing what permaculture can achieve. The most inspiring story of the weekend for me was Steve’s tale of the ex-offenders who after 10- 20 years inside learnt to grow and cook with him. One man expressed his glee at the successful baking of a loaf as though he had scored a winning goal. He confessed that he had never made anything in his life before. And I am reminded that those locked up don’t cook. That’s cruel.
On the one side there are ¼ of a million people getting food from food banks and on the other side there are Permaculture, Community Supported Agriculture and the Incredible Edible movements. He said that these people who are getting to grow now- won’t stop. It’s gaining momentum. The bags of spuds will get more and more expensive so they won’t stop.
Alan Schofield spoke from The Organic Growers Alliance and Growing with Grace.
Agriculture is responsible for a third of our greenhouse gas emissions. DEFRA still won’t hear the good sense of agro-forestry.
Here are some ways that those at the Organic Growers Alliance are sharing their 25 years of knowledge and skills:
1) Apprenticeship Scheme: 2 year package, accommodation wages and tuition and mentoring with experienced growers. Apprentices are sent on a conference each year to learn and to network socially.
2) Mentoring Scheme: a six month fast track scheme which is self funded. It has less take up and is under review for reframing.
3) Forum considered by newer growers to be the best way to get information for trouble shooting and problem solving.
4) Seed bank Working with the biodynamic association (BDNA). Commercial growers are dependent on seed from massive multi- national companies and use F1 hybrids for reliable germination. Crowd funding is being sought for the set up of a seed bank so that good quality fresh seed can be offered.
“The task for the new generation of growers is to build a resilient agricultural system which will provide food for everyone.”
Bio char Tony Haslam
Tony explained what Biochar was. It’s facility for sequestering carbon and his experience of using it on his large vegetable garden and suggested that there is potential in a local livelihood in its production.
Bio char is burning of waste wood at a low temperature. The product is a highly porous type of charcoal said to have a massive surface area. Its honeycomb structure acts as a habitat for microorganisms.
This year he has used seed compost mixed with biochar and added biochar to his soil. His strawberries, for example, have doubled in yield. His sense is that he’s pleased with the results so far, confident that the product does something that it says on the packet; improves soil fertility, retains water, and improves yields.
He is a reseller for Carbon Gold http://www.carbongold.com/. He can sell the product on Transition stalls etc. Even better would be the purchase of a kiln and local production. Waste woody biomass is plentiful locally – another one for Re-economy.