“Nothing less than a paradigm shift in agriculture is required” UN report

Developing and developed countries alike need a paradigm shift in agricultural development: from a “green revolution” to a “truly ecological intensification” approach.

This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high external-input-dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.

We need to see a move from a linear to a holistic approach in agricultural management, which recognizes that a farmer is not only a producer of agricultural goods, but also a manager of an agro-ecological system that provides quite a number of public goods and services (e.g. water, soil, landscape, energy, biodiversity, and recreation)
UNCTAD’s Trade and Environment Review 2013 (TER13) contends

(My emphasis) This is a global call up for permaculture and it is about time too. All over the World there is a huge groundswell of interest (and lack of funds for alternatives) in organic, diverse systems. Working with nature means copying its patterns, its chaos, its diversity. These kinds of practices tend to regenerate not just soils but the whole ecology surrounding and supporting productivity. Permaculture, holistic, bio-mimicry practices, often called agro-ecology also sequestrates carbon and builds stable and sustainable revenues from the land. Large corporate and global markets also need to be kept out of especially developing world subsistence food market. The economics had be right as well as the farming practices.

It is a very powerful report, I urge anyone with an understanding in food security to at least read the key abstracts and summaries. 

Cuba leads the way in sustainable agriculture

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Click to hear the interview with Roberto Rerez

Here is Cuban permaculturalist and agro ecologist Roberto Perez talking about sustainable agriculture in Cuba.

Roberto was a main voice on the successful and powerful documentary ‘The Power of Community’

Incredible Edible

Community gardening is growing! This Saturday over 100 people attended the Be Incredible Conference in Todmorden, the home of the international Incredible Edible movement. It was inspiring to see so many people ‘progergander’ gardening in their towns. Todmorden started Incredible Edible in 2007 and now the town is absolutely full of edible plants, it’s fantastic to see.

Youth Centre raised beds

Youth Centre raised beds

Communal herbs outside the Theatre in Todmorden

Communal herbs outside the Theatre in Todmorden

The idea behind the movement is to provide good local food for everyone through working together, supporting local businesses and learning about food. We are doing all of these things right here in Newtown, so it was great to meet up with other people doing the same thing across the country.

In Todmorden, even the new Health Centre has been planted up with pears, apples, raspberries and herbs all up for grabs. The canal path is lined with mint, the station with herb beds. There is even a ‘vegetable tour’ to take in all the sights.

Edible bench in the Health Centre car park

Edible bench Todmorden Health Centre car park

The movement has captured the imagination of so many towns, that a national network has been developed to allow people to share ideas and get in touch with other projects.

We have a fantastic community garden established next to the College…is it time to branch out and start ‘propergander’ gardening around the rest of Newtown?

Food Inc

The way the World produces its food has changed completely over the last 50 years and the FOOD INC documentary film explores the changed world of food production in illuminating detail. This is a must watch for anyone interested in a food secure future.

The Pen Dinas Garden, one year on

The community garden at Pen Dinas is now a year old. We spent a week of July last year running our first Community Garden Design course here to design the 2 1/2 acre space here. One year on and we are getting close to having all the main elements of that design in place. It is hugely exciting and gratifying to see it all coming into place.

The potential for urban and sub-urban growing is absolutely huge. Organic techniques mean we are only really using what are currently considered waste materials and we are constructing highly productive and nature friendly environments in the process. And of course we have made lots of new friends… regular volunteers, students, apprentices, art classes and more.

Support the development of community growing via our Crowdfunder campaign

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Please support our Crowdfunder campaign

Together with Cwm Harry Skills and Training, Sector39 Permaculture, and Project Dirt we are launching our first Crowdfunder Campaign

We want to invest in key project volunteers and participants by funding places on our up and coming Permaculture Design Course, in October. We have set the target of £2,000 to raise, over the next 4 weeks. Small donations and lots of them is what we are asking for!

It’s a great new way we can spreads the benefit and learning from great projects like Get-Growing. Permaculture and urban growing is the fastest grass roots movement around the World, help us play a more active part in that process.

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There is a regular art club group who meet on Wednesday’s to sketch and paint in the Pen Dinas garden.

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Bees on lavender, a contribution from this week’s art club

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The tool shed is carefully placed where community gardeners and site crew can most easily access them, It s also in shady place that isnt much use for growing.

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The Hugl Kultur beds have disappeared under the marrow, pumpkins and courgettes

Some of the crop, the box was too heavy to lift!

Some of the crop, the box was too heavy to lift!

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Some lovely brassicae plants growing in the community garden micro plots.

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Permaculture principles number 2: Catch and Store Energy. Water is a vital energy!

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The wildlife is loving the garden, this slow worm is helping regulate garden pests,

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One of our own designed raised beds with a bean tower which we made on one of the crafts courses here.

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A regular contributor to the garden in Sue Stickland, who will be running day long workshop on Seedsaving next month, click image for details.

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Finally the 2 polytunnels are going back up, Dave, Tom and Crew have been working hard on this..

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Some of the community micro plots… it never ceases to amaze me how much produce can come out of a small space.

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Catch and Store Energy #2. We copmp[ost everything, and are taking on all of the grass clippings from the next door college as well. It makes an excellent compost when mixed with card and shredded paper waste

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Catch and Store Energy # 3. This is the water for the micro plots.. any excess will be channelled to the wetland area at the end of the garden.

The frist stage of gettin gteh Roundhouser back up is almost complete, thanks to all the hard work by Dave T and Colin

The frist stage of getting the Roundhouser back up is almost complete, thanks to all the hard work by Dave T and Colin.

NHS Report on the imperatives and potentials of Urban Food Growing. Click to enlarge

NHS Report on the imperatives and potentials of Urban Food Growing. Click to enlarge.

 

 

Sustainable agriculture.. a visit to the Wakelyns

Every facet of the modern industrial economy is predicated upon cheap energy. Not only that but an expanding supply of cheap energy, to enable economic growth. A key facet of the economic growth paradigm is that we free the workforce from the chore of food production by creating vast surpluses via industrial mono-cultural food production systems. Agri business. There is of course a fundamental flaw in this system.. or several in fact.. that the energy supply can endlessly grow is an obvious weak point in the plan, and the thought that by replacing the complexity of biology with the simplicity of monoculture that we could actually build something sustainable using these methods. Agribusiness burns 10 times more energy in the form of fossil fuel than what it produces in food and it does it at the expense of diversity which turns out to be the key mechanism by which nature and evolution flourishes.

The Wakelyns, is no ordinary farm, it is one where they have been exploring the alternatives to monoculture, and more importantly they have been producing the data to back up most of the key premises in permaculture design. That diversity gives resilience, that feedback and natural selection allow plant populations to evolve and respond to a changing environment. So it was tremendously exciting to be invited there to speak on  the subject of Permaculture, agriculture and energy to help set the context for the vital research and experimentation they are doing there.

Wakelyns is no ordinary farm, as you can see in the picture below the narrow strips of horticultural land is protected by strips of agroforestry, in this case 2 rows of hazel trees each side, forming a living barrier to wind and pests, also providing habitat for beneficial birds and insects and contributing significantly to building an ecosystem rather than a constantly degrading agricultural system.

Wakelyns field trip.. 20 years of agroforestry research underlines the importance of biodiversity for long term sustainable farming methods

Wakelyns field trip.. 20 years of agroforestry research underlines the importance of biodiversity for long term sustainable farming methods

The fields are all trials of different aspects of working with biodiversity.. exploring the relationship between crop yields, nature and wildlife, soil stability resistance to disease and much more. Apart from anything else their work challenges the idea of ‘produce’ – we only usually measure the yield of a farm in terms of how many KG per acre.. rather than in terms of what we have produce sustainably, or what is the yield in terms of how much wildlife have we also supported, or top soil accumulated, which in the longer term are of course much more telling measures.

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I am particularly fascinated by the work being done by the Elm Farm Research trust at Wakelyns as they are generating the data, the statistics ad research work that provides the evidence to support the core of the permaculture design theory. Sharing a platform with Dr Wolfe speaking a few weeks ago was very interesting as our talks almost cross referenced each other.. i provided all the bigger picture examples that he had the data and research to support. It is this academic rigor that in many ways has been the missing ingredient in permaculture.. we havent had the time or resources to do the hard research.. not least because first you have to build the farm or project before you can collect the data. This is very fruitful ground to be exploring, and of course the other dynamic is that permaculture is catching up as finally the academic work is being done as the subject matures and reaches ever wider appeal and involvement.

Emma Maxwell, lead horticulture tutor at Get-Growing visiting the Wakelyns organic rwsearch farm

Emma Maxwell, lead horticulture tutor at Get-Growing visiting the Wakelyns organic rwsearch farm

Emma Maxwell, above is an experienced RHS grower who is currently doing her MsC in Organic Horticulture at Schumacher college. SHe is moving moving between a world of research and scientific papers whilst bringing a huge body of practical and observed first hand experiences to the academic world. The edge between bological and horticultural research and small holding and community growing and as well as urban and guerrilla permaculture is a very interesting and potentially fruitful one.

Martin Woolfe, outstanding in his field.

Martin Wolfe, outstanding in his field.

Potato intercrop at the Wakelyns

Potato intercrop at the Wakelyns

Volunteers, keen and novice gardeners wanted in Newtown

Have you got growing skills to share or are you keen to learn?
Either way we would love to meet you and involve you in the Get-Growing project here in Newtown. We are still in our first year of development and are creating new opportunites for involvement all the time.

fennel-bulb We have a plant nursery where we are growing vegetable plug plants, as  well as ornamental, perennials, fruiting bushes, companion plants and more. We have been running Saturday market stall al this last month and are keen to try out lots more ways to reach out into our community to help build a strong local food economy and support wildlife and biodiversity

spud-trials

Our lead horticulture trainer Emma Maxwell is running crop trials on several varieties of potato as we try and find the most weed resistant strains that we can grow locally and we are very keen to be able to offer informed advice to local growers. We are passionate about wildlife and biodiversity and have come to realise that small scale organic cultivation has a major part to play in long term food security and in protecting our wildlife and biodiversity.

enterprise

We have been working with students from the local college on their enterprise projects and this week we have to congratulation the latest crop of students for their excellent enterprise pject, which we witnessed the presentation of yesterday, in readiness for their going to Newport next to compete for a national award. there are many facets to community growing and we are trying hard to bring them all alive here on our 3 acre site on the edge of Newtown
bloom

Currently we are looking at submitting a bid to the national lottery to re-wild and re-green a large public space in Newtown.. as part of a new national scheme to explore ways to bring public spaces into playing a much bigger part in protesting and enhancing biodiversity and involving a much broader section of the public in interacting, valuing and understanding those spaces

An impassioned address on The State of Nature report by Iolo Williams

Wales’ best known naturalist Iolo Williams giving an eloquent and impassioned speech on the state of nature in Wales. The collapse of biodiversity he has witnessed in his life is both alarming and troubling, Iolo challenges us all to heed the message and take action before it really is too late.

To go with the piece above here is a story from Wales On Line.. explaining how wildlife is suffering because councils are too obsessed with preening verges.. We have to stop seeing nature as messy. and understand that the jumble of different plants is nature’s order.. it is how it is meant to be.. our neatly trimmed verges, bare soil and bedding plants is what is totally unnatural and is causing huge problems for wildlife as well as wasting money on cosmetic approaches to land management rather than one based on a deep understanding of ecology.

Excavating a new pond at Pen DInas

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Mark Thomas and his digger at Pen Dinas last week – he removed stumps of poplar trees which were sending suckers into the growing area, and dug out a pond in the wet area at the bottom of the site.

Pond at Pen Dinas slowly filling

Pond at Pen Dinas slowly filling


Ponds are of course essential for biodiversity, attracting amphibians, birds, bats and all sorts of beneficial wildlife into the garden, helping cycle nutrients and regulate pests. Every garden should have a pond or at least some open water.

May sun – the garden comes alive

Barbecue in the garden with Pont Hafren

Barbecue in the garden with Pont Hafren

Finally.. after a winter that felt like it had lasted all year we get some proper sunshine and spring can begin, albeit about a month late. It feels now like spring is happening all at once, as all the plants try and make the most of the opportunity now that the weather has turned. So it was great to see the Pont Hafren crew come over and enjoy the space and have a barbecue in the garden, this is after all what it is all about.. enjoying the space, being outside and bringing people together.

compost-bays

Compost bays at Pen Dinas

Composting is something that is near to the heart of every gardener, or should be.. but for us it has even more importance as of course Cwm Harry made it name and established itself as an enterprise with its food waste composting business. We have set ourselves the challenge of utilising as much waste as we can from the College next door.. we are receiving their grass clippings are are now looking for a high carbon source of waste to balance with the high nitrogen grass clippings.  Paper towels and disposable card coffee cups seem to be our best opportunity and we will be experimenting with those in different mixes with grass cuttings. A visitor to our compost area, is this slow worm, who seems to love it in there.
slowworm

Plastic field (below) – I pass this field on the way to work in the morning..to my eye this seems so unlikely, unnatural and energy intensive. As I understand it the film is to help germinate maize.. it is not biodegradable, and at best is used twice if not only once and has to be removed again once the plants have reached a certain size. It has holes in it to let rain through and allows the seeds to germinate earlier and more quickly. In many ways it underlines the connection between agribusiness and oil and petro-chemicals.

Modern farming is essentially a strategy to turn oil into food.. what with all the diesel powered machines, for ploughing and harrowing, for fertilizers and pesticides and their application, and of course the amount of plastic film now used as weed suppressant, for packaging haylage and silage as well as packing and distributing the resulting crops. This heavy reliance on oil in agriculture exposes us to price hikes and dangers from supply disruption and is one of the many reasons why we choose to grow organically here at Get-Growing.

plasticfield  If you want to eat local and organic produce then the best way to do so is to join a local veg box scheme..  a strategy to get out affordable, seasonal quality veg in an area. Cwm Harry has supported the development of a local food company, currently Cwm Harry Food Co and about to be re-branded as Hafren Local Food. They have set up their veg packing operation in the one half of the shed at Pen Dinas and this is where we will be developing a local food hub over the coming years. All businesses have to start somewhere.. and we hope and expect this one to have a big and important future as a shift to a more localised  food system seems inevitable development for the future.

Packing local/ organic veg boxes at Cwm Harry

Packing local/ organic veg boxes at Cwm Harry

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Emma Maxwell with the plan of her 5 acre small holding

Emma Maxwell, lead horticulture trainer at Get-Growing also has her own 5 acre plot which, together with her family and a team of volunteers she is developing as Ash and Elm horticulture. Here she is with a plan of the plot ready for submitting to the local planning department. Emma is pioneer of small scale organic growing and the plot she is developing, a diverse productive and nature friendly space is a template for upland small scale growers all over the UK. Ash and Elm horticulture are demonstrating many of the potentials of what can be done in this landscape beyond merely the sheep based monoculture that occupies most the uplands here in Wales. Planners seem nervous that diverse horticulture plots might change the look of the landscape whilst possibly failing to grasp that it is the presence of the sheep, maintaining a largely treeless landscape that is having the biggest impact on the land of all.

Seed Swap… Saturday 23rd February

seed swap

This is becoming a regular annual event for us.. and will link into a seedling swap in May. Saving seed is the foundation of food security and protecting and adding to biodiversity. We will be offering workshops and tips on seed saving as well as having lots of seeds available for swap or donation.

If you are in any doubt about how important seed saving is and the role of organisations like Heritage Seeds library then do watch the video posted earlier.. Seeds of Change.