I joined the steering group for FoodSmiles back in September when it formed - the outcome of a public meeting run by Transition members as part of the St Albans Food and Drink Festival. The idea was to start a CSA - Community Supported Agriculture - project in St Albans. CSAs across the world take many forms, from meat-shares and food co-ops or 'hubs' to community-run farms, but our aim was to rent a smallish piece of spare land from a local farmer or grower, grow our own produce there, and share it among our members, with the aims of reducing food miles and making food-growing and locally-grown food more accessible to the community.
In April we secured a piece of land at the organic-certified Hammonds End Farm, just outside St Albans. It's small, but it's a lovely spot, with polytunnels already onsite, and we couldn't ask for a more supportive landlord!
Starting late in the spring has meant it's a bit of a race-against-time to get all our seeds in the ground, which is hard clay and very stony (the farmer generously ploughed and harrowed it for us before we arrived, but it still needs lengthy prep before sowing!) and a bad flea beetle problem has meant resowing the first of our brassicas. The polytunnels had some big holes and needed repairs before use (one still does), and the organic certification of the farm, while a really positive thing, means we have to be very careful to use only organic seeds and plants, soil amendments and treatments, and keep strict records of everything we do onsite. So as 'site co-ordinator', I have been quite busy...
But we've got some dedicated and enthusiastic members, we've had some great support from local garden centre Aylett Nurseries, who donated organic compost and equipment to get us started, and it's all go on the site! Our potatoes, carrots, lettuces, parsnips, swedes and broad beans are all growing well, we're raising courgettes and squashes ready to plant out soon, and we're about to fill the polytunnels with cucumbers (from seed), peppers, chillies and tomatoes (from Rocket Gardens).
As you'll know if you read this blog often, bringing food production back home and back to communities is something I'm really passionate about, so I'm enormously honoured and proud to be so heavily involved in a project like this, and very grateful to those with the vision to kickstart it! We can only support 25 to 30 members this year, but we hope to grow and grow, possibly producing eggs, meat, and who-knows-what-else in the future, and truly bringing a new source of local food to St Albans. Its hard work at the moment but the plot's already a wonderful place and I know in a few months it will be bursting with lovely fresh veg for us all - and it's great to see lots of new friendships between like-minded people blossoming too!
FoodSmiles is on facebook and twitter if you want to know more or follow our latest updates. We still have a few membership places available so if you're local and you'd like to join us, get in touch!