The first farm of its kind in Scotland

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Posted here by Peter Crosskey on Sunday, April 19, 2015

Whitmuir Community Farm, a few miles south of the Scottish capital Edinburgh is selling itself to the local community. Literally. For a couple of years now, Whitmuir Community Benefit Society has been selling shares in the working organic farm, with a view to securing the future of the educational work that already goes on there. “Transferring the land from private ownership to community ownership not only protects the long term future of the farm, but also allows greater collaboration with the educational and science sectors than is currently possible and enables the development of accommodation and teaching facilities on site,” explains Pete Ritchie, director of Nourish Scotland, who is currently farming Whitmuir with his partner, Heather Anderson.

The process of selling shares was launched in 2013, with the first share being bought for then five-year-old Maya by her family. The launch event was also attended by the Scottish Parliament’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, Richard Lochhead. There are now 14 shareholders under the age of 16 and the Whitmuir Community Benefit Society is well on its way towards reaching its first target of GBP 400,000.

This year Whitmuir has funding for a 2,000 square metre project, to show visitors just how much food can be grown on two hectares of arable land, along the lines of the ARC2020 study. The project will test a rural food waste recycling scheme for up to 60 households and work with two local primary schools to recruit up to 40 community growers to grow vegetables for the schools.The long term aim to develop a Living Learning Space where future generations can learn about food production and its place in the environment. The educational aspects of Whitmuir have been accelerating over the past seven years and the farm now hosts around 50 tours a year as part of the 80,000 visitors to the farm shop, gallery and restaurant.

Whitmuir has a very wide base of support. MEP Alyn Smith describes it as: “…a truly inspirational example of sustainable organic farming.” He went on to say: “Scotland’s got a good story to tell when we talk about high-quality food, and consumers knowing that they’re getting fresh, organic produce is a significant part of that.”

Local SNP candidate Emma Harper is particularly impressed by the scale of the educational programme at Whitmuir: “As a nurse educator I am especially impressed by the focus on education at Whitmuir, in that both visitors and the local community can reconnect directly with farming and food production.” Over the past five years, Whitmuir has hosted 355 educational events for a wide range of audiences, from primary schools onwards.

In April, work starts in earnest on the two thousand square metres project. Heather Anderson explains how Whitmuir will put the “local” into local food. “From April 2015, with support from the Climate Challenge Fund, the farm will be working with two local schools to grow vegetables for the schools. Every person on the planet has 2000 square metres of arable land and 4000 square metres of pasture, so the site will demonstrate the land use decisions we can make in Scotland, like similar projects round the world.”

New discovery – ‘Growing Health’

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Discovered a new (to me) Sustain project today – Growing Health – interesting stuff – see more here.

Evidence – the health and wellbeing benefits of food growing

The health, wellbeing and social benefits of gardening, horticulture therapy and food growing are becoming better established and documented and there are many examples across the UK, of growing initiatives that are used by different groups to provide opportunities for exercise, to address physical and mental problems, to encourage social interaction and to develop skills, while also providing access to fresh, local fruit and vegetables.

The Future of Urban Food Production and Why Land Reform Matters

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Article originally posted on Scottish Land Action Movement website here.

Recent news that Edinburgh City Council are planning to increase the rental prices of allotments by an average of 105% – and up to 500% for some renters – has caused serious backlash from the city’s allotment owners. This news comes at the same time that new research has shown city allotment soils are far healthier and more productive than much of the United Kingdom’s depleted farmland. Globally, around 30% of the world’s arable land has now been abandoned as poor farming practices leave soils depleted of nutrients and exposed to the risk of erosion.

Food security is one of the most serious concerns we currently face: from depleted soils, to the threat of climate change, to corporate agricultural practices that force small farmers from their land and leave the global food system vulnerable to market fluctuations. With over halfof the world’s population now residing in urban areas, food production in cities is an increasingly essential development if a population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 is to be sufficiently nourished.

Edinburgh City Council’s plans to increase the rental prices of allotments pose a serious threat to the accessibility of land that city dwellers can use to produce their own food and build the skills and capability needed to survive an increasingly unstable food system – not to mention the educational, nutritional and health (both mental and physical) benefits that come from growing food. People on low incomes, such as those more likely to live in housing where there is no garden access (particularly in tenement-dominated Edinburgh), will once again be those who are priced out of the means to create a sustainable lifestyle for themselves.

However, allotments are not the end of the story for urban food production and land access. Allotments themselves were originally created following the Enclosures Acts which forced many people off the common land which they had worked for centuries – they were an offering to the poor who were suffering from lack of access to productive land for food production. Today, however, allotment provision is simply not enough – a system created to placate people following the Enclosures is not a system that will ever create a radically different, community-focused form of urban land ownership. Not only can the waiting time for an allotment be anything from 4 to 10 years in Edinburgh, the very nature of individual plot ownership means that anybody who is short on time, physical health or even just gardening confidence makes allotments a luxury that are increasingly available only to the middle class, and not to those most in need of healthy, accessible, free food.

It is clear that a radical shift in urban agricultural land access patterns must therefore take place to create food-growing systems in cities that are accessible and egalitarian. In Edinburgh and throughout the UK, one way in which this is taking place is through the creation of community allotments such as The Grove at Fountainbridge, or Granton Community Gardens. Community food production such as these sites allow people to contribute as much time and skills as they are able without the pressure of being solely responsible for caring for the plants themselves. They act as sites of knowledge and skills exchange, friendship and community-building, and of course provide their members with food.

In cities where residents are denied access to land through the system of housing provision itself, priced out of access to allotments, and detached from food production systems, increasing the amount of land available to community groups must be a key tenet of any strategy looking to increase the resilience of cities against climate change, increasingly unstable global food markets, and urban poverty.

But this is a broader issue than food security or even an egalitarian land ideology. This is about maintaining – and in some cases, reviving – a direct connection with the land in an urban society where people are increasingly distanced from the soils they depend upon for life. If people are unable to access land, unable to experience the total dependence that we have on the soils and plants of the world to provide the means for continued survival, how can we really expect to foster a deep care for the earth in an age where disregard for planetary health has led humanity to the brink of a tipping point where our very survival hangs in the balance?

Miriam Dobson

A dairy farmer’s perspective…

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Originally posted here.

Written submission from Emma Dennis

Thank you for this opportunity to share my views on the Dairy industry in my area. I am a tenant farmer milking 70 head of dairy cows, which is classed as a relatively small farm these days. I live on the Island of Gigha and run the family farm where I was born in 1969; my brother works the farm with me, with help from my siblings at silage and hay-making times.

There are 4 dairy farms here on Gigha, with all our milk collected by First Milk every 2nd day. It used to be collected every day but this became too costly for First Milk so we were advised to put bigger milk tanks in to enable milk collection every 2nd day.
We were also told by First Milk that we the farmers had to start paying for the milk tanker’s carriage on the ferry. The farmers on Gigha all stick together to keep costs down, we use the same cow feed merchants, fertiliser merchants, veterinarian etc.

One Million and a half litres of milk has to be produced on the Island to make it still viable for First Milk to keep on collecting our milk, and now with First Milk’s bombshell 10 days ago (about the fortnight’s delay in payment) as well as and only getting half our milk cheque, farmers here are very worried about our future on
Gigha.

I know the farmers on the mainland are just as worried and have every right to be but at least they do not have a strip of water between them and the mainland. We are out on a limb here on Gigha. We have already had to dump our milk twice this winter
due to stormy weather since First Milk will not collect our milk when its 3 days old, so we have to pour it away. Luckily the ferry is never off for 4 days in a row. I know First Milk cannot do anything about the weather but they could give us a preservative (as they do with farmers on the mainland when they need to) to pour into our milk on the 3rd day so it can still be collected on the 4th day.

I hope I have given you an insight to the dairy farmers lives here on Gigha and how hard it is to try make a living here. But I should add that my Dad and Mum farmed here before me, I have 3 sons all born on the farm, and this is where we want to live
and work. But if one farmer decides that he is going to stop milking here on Gigha then I am afraid that means we all have to pull out of milk as we cannot meet the million and a half litres with only 3 farms.
25 years ago my father was paid 34 pence per litre for his milk. Allowing for inflation this is equivalent to 80 pence per litre now. So in “real terms” we are being paid less than one quarter as much as came in 25 years ago, and yet all of our costs have
gone up. It doesn’t take a lot of calculating to see that the dairy farmers are in a terrible bind, as all our hard work just sends us into debt these days. Our costs work out at about 28 pence per litre, so it’s no wonder dairy farmers are quitting. There’s not even a glimmer of light at the end of what appears to be a very long dark tunnel.