Local Community Aid Society Our Food 1200 is off to a good start in its search for 1200 acres of land for local small-scale regenerative horticulture.
The organisation, which launched its hunt for land and growers on Wednesday March 3, has already received 19 offers from farmers and landowners in Monmouthshire and the Brecon Beacons.
Co-project manager Duncan Fisher said offers ranged from just under an acre to a parcel of around 35 acres.
“We have been overwhelmed with the response – and we have also received inquiries from people wanting to start regenerative horticulture in this region as well as existing growers who want to join our network.
“The bottom line is that all of these people – farmers, landowners and growers – share our ambition to build a vibrant local food economy and help address the climate emergency through humble fruits and vegetables.”
Seventy-five people attended last week’s launch event on Zoom, including representatives from Public Health Wales, Monmouthshire County Council, Powys County Council, the National Park Authority of Brecon Beacons, Tyfu Cymru, Black Mountains College and the National Trust.
Speakers included Crickhowell councilor John Morris, an organic cattle farmer and apple juice producer who took the plunge two years ago to lease one of his fields to local regenerative producers Katherine and David Langton. Their business, Langtons Farm, is now a thriving business, supplying weekly boxes of vegetables to 80 local households and selling seasonal organic produce from their Saturday market stall.
Speaking from his experience, John Morris said: “This is not a new concept: farmers have always rented their land. But renting land for horticulture is a bigger commitment due to the infrastructure change required with polytunnels etc. So it’s vital that you put things on a business footing from the start and be honest with each other, because it’s a bit of a leap of faith. And this requires a good agreement between the owner and the tenant.
“It’s also important to have an exit plan, because you’re not doing grass maintenance for six or 12 months: you’re committing your pitch for at least two years and preferably five.”
Stewart Waters, managing director of the land sales team at real estate agency DJ&P Newland Rennie, discussed other aspects including rental agreements, as well as the planning and tax implications for farmers considering a provide land.
He said the project appealed to him because “most farmers have this small piece of land – 2 to 5 acres – that is not fully suited to the rest of their farming system. I see that an enthusiastic young grower can bring a whole new dynamic to a farmer’s life. And of course it provides what is nowadays a very rare opportunity for young farmers and new entrants to get started.
Meanwhile, Catherine Mealing-Jones, chief executive of the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, spoke of the key role that regenerative agriculture and horticulture would play in shaping the future of the park, but said said that unless it is supported by the political sphere, “to make this big change”. from extractive agriculture to regenerative agriculture, attempts to change things will remain niche – and that’s not where we want them”.
She also acknowledged that “part of the landscape change that needs to happen is the ability of people to live much closer to the land they farm”, adding: “I am not convinced that land use policies as they exist today really allow that.
“We have enormous potential in this region and the surrounding communities to feed ourselves and others with the best quality seasonal local produce. But we have to start doing something fundamentally different.
“We are meant to offer the Brecon Beacons National Park as a testing ground for the thinking that will shape future policy. And I truly believe that if we work together, we can make the changes we want to see.
Summarizing the event, Duncan Fisher said: “It was all incredibly positive; we couldn’t have asked for a better answer.
“Over the next few weeks, our experts will visit everyone who has proposed land for an initial assessment to assess their suitability. We will then produce a one-page profile for each piece of land, post it on our website and promote it to producers looking for land.
“This is an incredible start for a project that has the potential to transform our region for the better in so many ways.”
• To sign up for project updates and for more information, including how to get in touch, visit www.ourfood1200.wales or join the Our Food 1200 Facebook group.