An additional 2 million tonnes of fruit and veg is required to feed the UK’s growing population, yet less than 1% of the UK’s agricultural area is used for producing it. With the right support and resources we could seize this as an opportunity to boost the local food and farming sector in the UK. In Greater Manchester the Kindling Trust is working to do just that, making fresh organic veg available to communities, and encouraging new people into growing as a viable career option. This September the FarmStart programme is open for a new generation of Greater Manchesters sustainable growers.
According to the Fruit and Veg Alliance, an exciting alliance of UK producers launched in parliament last month, growing fruit and veg is worth £2bn to the economy. By bringing an extra 100,000 hectares of land into production, the value of the sector would increase from £2.bn to £3.1bn - making it the highest grossing sector in agriculture (above pig and poultry production). Done in the right way, this could boost struggling rural economies, provide skilled and worthwhile jobs and build healthier communities, through increased access to fresh, local, healthy food and wildlife friendly farming.
Admittedly, increasing production by 2 million tonnes won’t happen overnight, especially with an aging farming population and a fear that we are about to lose all of our farm labour due to brexit, but pioneering programmes in North America and France have shown that a rejuvenation of agriculture is possible. Programmes like FarmStart (FarmStarter Belinda Everett pictured) encourage and support new entrants into farming and at the same time reap the social, economic and environmental benefits of increasing fruit and veg production locally.
Farming can seem inaccessible as a career option for most of us, especially if you’re not from a farming family. However, our farming population is aging and local healthy food is as important as ever. FarmStart is a programme which aims to address this, offering an affordable opportunity to train as an organic grower. It can be described as a ‘farm incubator’ - enabling prospective farmers to experience growing on a commercial scale in a supported environment before going it alone.
“FarmStart provided courses over the year to learn the many skills I would need like crop rotation, planning, green manures, book-keeping and other useful things. We’ve also had an established grower looking at our crops and giving advice. Visits to farms and wholesalers and talks from people with more experience who can mentor you also helped. Things have really progressed on the site from when I first started and it really seems to be coming together and getting better all the time.” Simon Duffy (Pictured)
FarmStarter’s embrace the real world experience of customer preferences and supplier relationships working with local co-operative’s Manchester Veg People and Unicorn Grocery.
"It doesn't get much better than half an hour down the road, this is the 'field to plate' freshness offered to us by Farmstart. It's been great to witness novice growers getting such a buzz from seeing their produce on our shelves. Our involvement has afforded them the opportunity to get to grips with the retail end of growing... customers' quality expectations, pricing etc. The next challenge will be whether the FarmStart-ers can convert their enthusiasm & newfound skills into viable organic growing businesses. Hopefully, the answer is yes, certainly Farmstart is exactly the kind of enterprise we feel is invaluable in nurturing budding organic growers". Dan Weston, Veg Buyer, Unicorn Grocery
If you live the Greater Manchester area and are interested in trying your hand at farming, the Kindling Trust would love to hear from you. They recommend attending the 'Do you want to be a farmer?' session (Sept 10th 6.30pm) to find out more and hear from the FarmStarters. You can also get a taster of what’s to come on the intensive 4 day Commercial Organic Growers Course (held over three weekends in October). For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
There are a growing number of FarmStarts and other support programmes across the UK, so if you aren’t based in Greater Manchester don’t despair, there are programmes in London, Tamar Valley and Scotland.