On the outskirts of Chepstow, across two acres of farmland located between the Wye Valley and the Forest of Dean, a quiet revolution is happening, called Hanley Landshare.
It is a partnership between organic farmer Lyndon Edwards and the local community – people grow their own fruit and vegetables on a designated area of the farm, in return for an annual rental fee and a percentage of their produce, which is sold in the farm’s popular shop.
A licence agreement is used for the growers (both individuals and a community group called Transition Chepstow, which brokered the original deal). A payment of £50 per plot is made and the growers have the opportunity of selling their produce in the farm shop, splitting the receipts 50:50.
The farm shop benefits from being able to sell locally grown vegetables, which is a beneficial addition to the shops product offer. The growers are regular users of the farm shop and café and good advocates for it in the wider community.
This arrangement is just one example of a small but growing trend, where farmers looking to innovate are finding there is potential for both personal and financial rewards in opening up part of their land for community growing.
Turning over land for privately rented allotments is not the only model available. Others are gaining a foothold, including Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). This is a partnership between farmers and the local community, in which the responsibilities, risks and rewards of farming are shared.
Farmers can potentially gain a stable and secure income and CSA members can benefit by eating fresh healthy food, feeling more connected to the land where their food is grown and learning new skills.
The most common produce for CSAs is vegetables, but they can also include eggs, poultry, bread, fruit, pork, lamb, beef and dairy produce. CSAs are also developing around woodlands for firewood and also more recently fish.
Much of the impetus behind these ideas is the sustained interest in local food growing that has developed in recent years. After decades of disconnection between people and the source of their food, small groups are leading the way by creating community gardens and allotment sites, both in urban and rural environments.
This trend shows no sign of abating, but there is a barrier in the way – available land. Which is where farmers can step in, though inevitably, many of them are wary of this development – seeing community growing on their land as a potential Pandora’s Box of problems. Equally many are unaware that support is available.
The Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens (FCFCG), a national charity which has years of experience in working with community growers and landowners, is a great resource for people to find out more about community growing in both urban and rural areas.
And as part of their remit to help tackle the hurdle of land availability, FCFCG manages a unique project called the Community Land Advisory Service (CLAS), which currently operates in Wales, Scotland and England.
CLAS offers direct advice, or information via its website, aimed squarely at helping landowners, including farmers, consider the options available to them if they wish for some of their land to be used for community growing. To kick things off, a guide is available on the CLAS website which takes users to useful documents including a heads of terms template and a flowchart for lease types.
FCFCG chief executive Jeremy Iles said: “While working with local people – or a community growing group – may not be the most obvious course of action for many farmers, there is potential for small but regular financial rewards, as well as creating something which has environmental, social, educational and health benefits.”
“I would say without doubt it is something worth considering for farmers who are interested in issues such as sustainability, where food comes from and connection with the land.”
What is community growing? Community Growing covers many different activities and situations, including allotments / allotment-type plots, community growing areas, wildlife areas, therapeutic gardens, orchards, woodlands, or perhaps other community uses of land.
A good place to find information about becoming involved is the Community Land Advisory website: www.communitylandadvice.org.uk look for the Offering Land button.
For case studies about types of farming/community models try
- Community Sharehold farm: http://en.communitylandadvice.org.uk/case-study/case-study-fordhall-farm-shropshire
- Community Supported Agriculture: http://en.communitylandadvice.org.uk/case-study/case-study-stroud-community-agriculture
Images courtesy of Hanley Landshare and Farmshop